The American Imperative for Achieving a Climate Resilient Mexico

Water security in Mexico City provides an excellent example of why climate resilience in Mexico is critical to U.S. national security and economic interests.  This article will establish the role of Mexican stability in U.S. Security Policy.  Next, it will discuss the historical precedent for U.S. action and influence in the Western Hemisphere.  Then, it will discuss climate change and human challenges, such as governance and economics, focusing on water scarcity in Mexico City.  Finally, it will discuss the policy implications of the four instruments of national power, and how they can be used to stabilize and promote climate resilience in Mexico.

Before continuing, it would be remiss not to address the issue of migration. Human migration concerning the U.S.- Mexico border has long been a heated issue; however, the core issues of human migration are natural and economic resource related.  Drought, famine, failed government and economies are reasons that people abandon their homelands in search of better opportunities.  If these issues can be identified and addressed, then much of the core human migration tide can be stemmed leaving smaller, more nuanced, localized issues to work through.

Outside of its oceanic buffers, the Mexican and Canadian landmasses are the second and third most strategically important geographic features to U.S. Homeland Security.  Of the two, Mexico presents a clear priority to ensure stability for two reasons. First, Mexico’s population is four times that of Canada’s within a land mass that is ten percent of the Canadian territory.  Second, as a security threat, Mexican geography acts as a land bridge between the United States and every other potentially unstable country in Central and South America.        

If a nation’s political system is already fragile, the viability of a country experiencing sustained drought, famine, or other natural disaster is quickly tested.  Nations can endure for a time, even with supplemental aid from neighbors, but after prolonged exposure to climate forces, failed government and failed economies become a clear risk.  Unmitigated climate events catalyze the risks unrest, crime, corruption, resource hoarding, hostile foreign influence and revolution. Since these risks are rooted in the struggle for natural resource availability, changing climate and economic uncertainty, U.S. security and economic interest drive an American imperative for a climate resilient Mexico.

Geopolitically, the global commons are experiencing a myriad of changes.  There is the advent of U.S. energy independence through the fracking revolution.  There are shifting sands in trade and treaties such as the Great Power Competition with sanctions against China and other countries. The renegotiation of NAFTA into the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the fragmenting of the EU with the BREXIT are all indicators that the survival of the globalism that has developed for the last seventy years is in question going forward.

This disruptive geopolitical change is accelerated when climate instability is added to the mix. The National Climate Assessment has observed “…that more frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events are creating new and increasing risks across U.S. communities. Climate change poses risk to health, ecosystems, agriculture, infrastructure and economically and socially vulnerable populations.”[1]  Given these circumstances, in the name of national security there is a case to be made for prioritizing the stability and security of the northern western hemisphere over the world at large.

The precedent for U.S. interest and intervention in the Americas is not new.  With his 1904 address to Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt articulated the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. 

“Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.”[2]

With this proclamation, Roosevelt established as a matter of national policy that the United States would act as policeman to ensure stability in its own hemisphere.  Interpretations of Roosevelt’s intent range from protectionism of the Americas to the first stage of “Big Stick Diplomacy” seeking to execute U.S. interventionist imperialism. 

Future leaders walked back the Roosevelt Corollary with Presidents Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt implementing the “Good Neighbor Policy” which sought to foster more reciprocal trade with other Latin American countries.[3]  However, as the Cold War ramped up, this approach was scrapped in favor of a more proactive policy for fighting Communism in the Western Hemisphere such as Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua.  Thus, they returned to the elder Roosevelt’s strategy of 70 years before and practiced that until the fall of the USSR in 1991. Since the early 1990’s, U.S. Foreign Policy at large has been somewhat adrift, unfocused and unrefined.  Yet, given the speed and violence that U.S. executed the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns for so little political and strategic gain, it is absolutely possible for the United States to enact and execute a new military and economic policy based on the Theodore Roosevelt’s original text without great difficulty.

With the strategic imperative and political precedent established, the concept of climate resilience is next to define and discuss along with its implications for Mexican-U.S. relations.

The Center for Climate Change and Energy Solutions defines climate resilience as “…the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to hazardous events, trends, or disturbances related to climate. Improving climate resilience involves assessing how climate change will create new, or alter current, climate-related risks, and taking steps to better cope with these risks.”[4]

Climate resilience and sovereign stability go together and have both natural and human factors which can lead to crisis.  Poor climate can yield bad economy in the same way that bad economics and policy can squander resources. In the second scenario the bad stewardship of the resource makes takes and abundant natural resource and makes it a practical scarcity.  Such is the case of water in Mexico City.

Water is scarce in Mexico City. The quality of the water is poor and requires expensive treatments to make potable again.  The lack of access to clean, potable water is creating internal unrest where tanker truck drivers are being hijacked at gunpoint to deliver their loads to communities without water.  Mexico City has a climate resilience problem regarding water that has potential to become a national security problem for the United States.[5]  

 Mexico City presents a useful archetype for all the water issues that the Mexican Government deals with nationwide.  Since it is the capital, it gets the most federal money to attempt to remedy these issues.  As well, these same issues in less politically significant regions have potential to yield fallout that is exponentially larger because of lack of federal attention, lack of funds and breakdowns in governance.  Failure to distribute economic and natural resources sustainably leads to overcrowding in population centers which amplifies the problems even more.

 Mexico City was once referred to as “the Venice of the New world” with wide lakes and abundant water.  Now excessive development and poorly regulated industrial use, many of those lakes are either paved over, or have been so polluted that their waters no longer sustain a viable ecosystem and require massive treatments to become potable again.[6]

The Mexican federal response has favored centrally planned, engineering mega-projects over de-centralized, local incremental solutions.  Central planning tends to miss the nuance of local political issues and alienates communities from the decision-making process which can foment unrest.  Massive projects are also vulnerable to mechanical failure, which can result in catastrophic breakdowns in local civilization.  Mexico City “is one of the world’s great feats of hydro-engineering”[7] pumping water from reservoirs 120km away and up elevations of 300m within the city.  Finally, maintaining the infrastructure so that it can reliably deliver water becomes a risk for central planners.  Currently 40% of the water in the system is lost through leaks.[8] Instead of doing the very mundane work of fixing the inefficiencies in the current systems, Mexican leadership is looking for to add more pumps and pipes to increase its network size and spend more on new equipment and infrastructure. 

From a governance and economics perspective, mega-projects are ripe for corruption, graft and kickbacks in a way that local sustainability projects just cannot replicate.  The ruling hegemon can fund projects that create short term jobs. This is a good thing.  However, these projects frequently fail to address the underlying issues and create an economic dependence on the perpetuation of mega-projects. Additionally, mega-projects frequently create political and financial windfalls for the politicians who implemented them.  This sequence becomes a perpetual political cycle until it is reigned in or is overthrown in revolution.  When the system ultimately fails to supply the resources to its residents, it becomes a security issue for Mexico and the United States. Citizens are presented with two options: leave for more stable places to live or take up arms and fight the corrupt establishment.  Neither are options that are acceptable to U.S. interests.

Mexico City, the capital of the United States’ southern border country has mismanaged a historically abundant resource.  If the capital of a nation is at risk of failing to provide basic services to its citizens, then by default, it must be assumed that the entire country presents the same risk.

There are four root causes to Mexico City’s water scarcity.  First, there is massive demand unlike anything historically sustained in that region due to the overdevelopment and overpopulation of the city. This is accelerated by the loss of sustainable economics in changing climates in the rural areas.  Second, Mexico City has a pollution problem with its local industries dumping into the local water sources.  Third, Mexico City’s infrastructure is failing to effectively deliver the water they do have as evidenced by a 40% loss of product through the existing infrastructure.  Fourth, government is unaccountable to the local citizens who are deprived of their own local resources.

The good news is that water is and has been historically available to the metropolis.  The bad news is that the proper stewardship of this resource will require a political, economic and cultural shift to renew its practical usefulness.  This sort of change is difficult to execute, and the speed of progress can be painfully slow.  Fortunately, the United States wields an enormously powerful tool to expedite these changes: money.

The incentives of money and prosperity can accomplish rapid cultural change if executed well.  An effective, sustainable way to incentivize Mexico to change their culture and governance is with an effective trade agreement that creates industry, economic opportunity, and improved livelihood for Mexican citizens.

Economically, Mexico has been a significant resource for inexpensive labor and industrial support to the United States.  Before the virus, the Great Power Competition with China incentivized the United States to reduced imports from and impose tariffs on China.  The global pandemic has further reinforced the U.S. interest in having a more local resource for low cost manufacturing and labor.  Mexico is now in excellent position to take over much of the Trans-Pacific Partners (TPP) load as the resource of choice for inexpensive imports. 

Diplomatically, Robert Lighthizer, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), understands that Mexico has every incentive to ensure that it stays on good trade terms with the United States and take market share away from TPP countries.  Anything it can do to avoid tariffs on exports to the United States is enticing.  Countries that manufacture at low costs frequently pay unlivable wages and do not enforce environmental and safety standards for production.  Additionally, foreign producers frequently operate in nationalized businesses in which profitability is not the fundamental goal.  Nationalized industries skew competition against market constrained industries where profit is an imperative for survival.

On 1 July 2020, the USMCA, went into effect which updated the older North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to a trade agreement with tighter accountability for labor and environmental standards for the participating countries.  In his negotiations, Lighthizer required the treaty to include passage of a Mexican Act of Congress on labor standards, environmental standards and governance standards.  USMCA Annex 23A codifies for each country the right to collective bargaining, elimination of compulsory labor, abolition of child labor and elimination of discrimination.[9]  USMCA 22 discusses state owned enterprises and monopolies and goes to great detail into concerning the definitions and requirements to establish parity for these organizations in a free market.[10]    USMCA 24.2 provides that “Parties recognize a healthy environment as an integral element of sustainable development.”[11] As a part of the trade agreement, the USTR leads the enforcement panel which monitors Mexican and Canadian producers to ensure they are maintaining the environmental obligations of the treaty without violating any country’s sovereignty.  USMCA 27.2 establishes “measures to prevent and combat bribery and corruption relating any matter covered by this agreement.”[12] In USMCA 27.6, the enforcement article, “parties affirm their commitments to cooperate with each other, to enhance the effectiveness of law enforcement actions to combat the offenses in Article 27.3.”[13]

Diplomatically, the treaty framework promotes sustainable environment stewardship, labor standards, anti-corruption enforcement and requires Mexican Congressional law to be passed to codify compliance with the agreement.  The agreement presents an excellent foundation for the other tools of U.S. influence in the climate stabilization for Mexico.

Economically, the government owned industry regulations will prevent the Mexican government from exploiting American imports and ensure that trade remains desirable for both parties. The fair labor portions of the USMCA will provide for more livable wages for Mexican citizens.  The abolition of child labor or compulsory labor will alleviate human rights abuses and the squalor that accompanies them.  As a result, more of the money generated by Mexican industry will arrive in the hands of the workers which will have a stabilizing effect. 

Both of these provisions open the door for additional foreign direct investment (FDI) where “an investor resident in one economy establishes a lasting interest in and a significant degree of influence over an enterprise resident in another economy.”[14] In 2018 alone, Mexico received over $31 billion in FDI from international trade partners.[15] One example is Ford Motor Company’s 4.3 million square foot plant in Mexico City which employs approximately 885 hourly employees.[16] With the USMCA going into effect and the difficulties presented in the Great Power Competition, it is likely to see FDI in Mexico increase in the years to come.  Beyond the initial investment, this practice has one characteristic that is particularly beneficial to the receiving nation. “FDI is an important channel for the transfer of technology between countries, promotes international trade through access to foreign markets, and can be an important vehicle for economic development.”[17]  Technology transfer will yield production efficiencies as well as environmental best practices that will improve sustainability for challenges like water scarcity.

Diplomacy, Information and Economics have all been discussed, but the Military portion plays a truly unique role in this effort.  Presently, there is no clear and present danger which requires the United States to mount a major land invasion, bombing campaign or naval embargo of Mexico.  There is no need for President Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” at this point. The justification does not exist. However, President Roosevelt’s Corollary, Mr. Lighthizer’s treaty and Mexican Government’s new USMCA compliant legislation have opened the door for the use of the U.S. military in Mexico pursuant to the Anti-Corruption Articles of the USMCA.

If the Mexican Authorities are unable to effectively police and enforce their own laws autonomously, the USMCA language allows for parties “to cooperate with each other, consistent with their respective legal and administrative systems, to enhance the effectiveness of law enforcement actions to combat the offenses described in Article 27.3”[18]  All the Mexican Government has to do is ask for help, and the U.S. can support Mexican Federal Forces to enforce its laws with its sharper tools of sovereign power.  Given the depth and expanse of American expertise in small wars and special operations over the last 20 years, nuanced and surgical military operations executed jointly with the Mexican government to ensure the enforcement of the USMCA and stability of Mexico are highly probable in the years to come.  In effect, President Roosevelt’s Big Stick Diplomacy has been updated to include a sharp scalpel.

As stated before, climate resilience, economic stability and national security go hand in hand.  To that end, the United States has developed a framework with the USMCA to improve the stability of Mexico on all fronts.  Assisting Mexico in enforcing the rule of law and providing the Mexican economy with stable and livable wages will go far in reducing the pollution or exploitation of the local resources.  As technology transfer continues with the new wave of FDI, there is opportunity to decentralize the population centers.  If the Mexican government can reasonably distribute these investments and windfalls throughout the country instead of concentrating them around the capital, it will ease the burden on natural resources and critical infrastructure required to deliver those services.  Mexico can then focus its funds and resources on sustainable infrastructure such as transportation and energy networks.  All these developments would yield a more stable and secure nation to the United States’ southern border in a time where the structural pillars of the last century’s globalism are collapsing.


[1]Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “National Climate Assessment,” accessed 20 June 2020, https://www.c2es.org/content/national-climate-assessment/

[2] Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, accessed 28 June 2020. https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/roosevelt-corollary-to-monroe-doctrine

[3] Office of the Historian of the United States of America “Good Neighbor Policy, 1933” accessed 25 June 2020. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/good-neighbor

[4] Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “Climate Resilience Portal,” accessed 20 June 2020, https://www.c2es.org/content/national-climate-assessment/

[5]Jonathan Watts, “Mexico City’s Water Crisis -from source to sewer” The Guardian, 12 November2015, https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/12/mexico-city-water-crisis-source-sewer

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] USMCA, Chapter 23. Article 23.3, accessed 29 June 2020, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/agreements/FTA/USMCA/Text/23-Labor.pdf

[10]USMCA, Chapter 22. https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/ agreements/FTA/USMCA/Text/22_State-Owned_Enterprises.pdf

[11] USMCA Chapter 24. Article 24.2 https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/ IssueAreas/Environment/USMCA_Environment_Chapter_24.pdf

[12]USMCA Chapter 27. Article 27.2.  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/ agreements/FTA/USMCA/Text/27_Anticorruption.pdf

[13] USMCA Chapter 27. Article 27.3.  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/agreements/FTA/USMCA/Text/27_Anticorruption.pdf

[14] Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) iLibrary accessed 28 June 2020 https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/finance-and-investment/foreign-direct-investment-fdi/indicator-group/english_9a523b18-en

[15] Americas Society/Council of the Americas accessed 28 June 2020 https://www.as-coa.org/articles/chart-breakdown-foreign-direct-investment-mexico

[16] Ford Motor Company, accessed 2 July 2020 https://corporate.ford.com/company/plant-detail-pages/cuautitlan-stamping-and-assembly-plant.html

[17] OECD iLibrary

[18] USMCA Chapter 27

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