Fred Greaves / Reuters Demonstrators wave flags of Mexico and the United States and cheer at a planned protest near downtown San Diego, California, May 1, 2006.

Advantage, America

What Obama Should Do at the North American Leaders' Summit

To look around the world is to realize how fortunate the United States is to share a continent with friendly, stable, and democratic nations. Devastating conflicts in the Middle East, tense territorial disputes in Asia, a resurgent Russia, and now a historic threat to the European Union all underscore the extent to which North America offers the United States a uniquely advantageous strategic base.

But the relative calm and prosperity of this continent must not be taken for granted. The presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, has proposed a set of reckless immigration and border security policies that would invite discord and decline to the United States’ neighborhood.

There is a better way forward. Today, U.S. President Barack Obama will meet his Canadian and Mexican counterparts in Ottawa for the tenth North American Leaders’ Summit. The summit represents an opportunity for the three of them to set out a common agenda for taking advantage of North America’s unparalleled strategic position.

The continent’s first unique advantage is geographic. Canada, Mexico, and the United States enjoy productive and peaceful relations—embodied in more than 7,500 miles of calm frontiers and the buffer of two vast oceans. The United States’ main geopolitical competitors are not so lucky. Russia and China have a long history of insecure borders; Russia has fought two wars on its borders in the last ten years, and China finds itself in unresolved territorial disputes with nine of its neighbors. These countries’ aggressive postures have, unsurprisingly, only further antagonized those nearest to them.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (L) gestures as he talks with U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prior to a group family photo at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila, November 19, 2015

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (L) gestures as he talks with U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prior to a group family photo at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila, November 19, 2015.

The continent’s second advantage is economic. An open, integrated market of more than 450 million people, North America produces a combined annual output of $20.5 trillion—more than one quarter of global GDP. Trilateral trade has more than tripled in the 22 years since NAFTA went into effect, and today Canada and Mexico represent the United States’ two largest export markets. The United States exports nearly five times as much to Canada and Mexico as it does

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