Being involved with political groups of a Libertarian persuasion, I get on the mailing lists of all sorts of well-meaning, but somewhat loony people on both the right and left of the political spectrum – and sometimes those two extremes are hard to tell apart. One of the things which is high on their list of concerns is the impending surrender of the sovereignty of the United States under the authority of a new continental government sometimes referred to as the ‘North American Union’. I get a different email warning about it every few days.
For those not familiar with this looming threat, the North American Union is going to be a government similar to the European Union which will supersede the current governments of the United States, Canada and Mexico and bring all three countries together under a single unified legal, taxing and administrative structure. Unlike the European Union which originated as a clearly identifiable treaty voted on and adopted by the existing governments of the member states, the NAU is being secretly implemented through a series of treaties and trade agreements which add up to de facto political unification of the continent.
At least this is what paranoid anti-globalists at Human Events, WorldNetDaily, InfoWars and EagleForum plus of course news network lunatic Lou Dobbs all believe. Some of these sources have a certain amount of legitimacy in the political circles they appeal to – they aren’t all professional scaremongers like Alex Jones – and there are a dismayingly large number of people who take Dobbs seriously.
The basic scenario is that a combination of treaties, agreements and government initiatives adds up to a new de facto government for all of North America. The conspiracy theory has deep antecedents. It originates in the fear of the Council on Foreign Relations which the John Birch Society and related groups have targeted for almost 50 years on the theory that the CFR is a sort of shadow government which secretly sets US policy on behalf of secretive international interest groups. In 2005 the CFR issued the task force report Building a North American Community, which seems to draw together the threads of a wide range of government activities into a single grand web of conspiracy to create a North American Union. This report is cited as the ‘blueprint’ for the new continental government. The report was authored by Professor Robert Pastor of American University who has since gone to considerable lengths to explain in detail that it never proposed the idea of any kind of union or any reduction in national sovereignty, but apparently no one is interested in listening to his explanations.
The mechanism for implementing the supposed North American Union is trade agreements like NAFTA, international highway programs like the Trans-Texas Corridor, regional security initiatives like the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, and various efforts to deal with illegal immigration like guest worker programs. Much of the legislation which is supposed to implement this plan is as yet unpassed and likely unpassable. Congressmen introduce more than enough potentially scary legislation to feed all sorts of conspiracy theories. All of these things together add up to opening the borders, replacing our courts with international tribunals, outsourcing all of our jobs, overriding the Constitution and tearing down all of our cultural and political institutions. Well, that’s what they do in the twisted minds of people who can take harmless efforts to promote trade and protect the country and totally reinterpret them out of context, inflate them into something radically different from their intended purpose and then throw in a good dollop of pure paranoia to create an idea like the North American Union which should more properly be known as Fantasyland.
Of course, the US government is already hard at work implementing this plan through the Security and Prosperity Parnership program, an informal arrangement to try to coordinate efforts to promote trade and establish border security throughout the region, which conspiracists like Jerome R. Corsi believe is a secretive plot to bypass the legislative process and “to advance the agenda articulated by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) to establish a North American Union as a new regional super-government by 2010.” In reality, the CFR report which this theory is based on doesn’t even begin to suggest the formation of a regional union or anything resembling a government. What’s more, in response to the conspiracy theorists, the Department of Commerce has gone to great lengths on their SPP website to make absolutely clear that the SPP in no way creates a North American Union:
“The cooperative efforts under the SPP, which can be found in detail at www.spp.gov, seek to make the United States, Canada and Mexico open to legitimate trade and closed to terrorism and crime. It does not change our courts or legislative processes and respects the sovereignty of the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The SPP in no way, shape or form considers the creation of a European Union-like structure or a common currency. The SPP does not attempt to modify our sovereignty or currency or change the American system of government designed by our Founding Fathers.”
Clear statements of intent like that aren’t likely to stop die-hard conspiracists like Jerome R. Corsi, a frothing nativist who refers to the CFR as a ‘left-of-center’ organization despite the fact that the group was formed primarily to fight the spread of communism and socialism through the promotion of international capitalism. Corsi has written extensively on the North American Union and the twisted logic of his ‘research’ seems to be pretty seductive. Corsi goes looking for threats and finds them everywhere, even if it means grossly misrepresenting events and broadly reinterpreting the nature and content of treaties and legislation. Corsi’s message plays well to the overheated imaginations of nativists on the right and anti-capitalists on the left, so it gets picked up widely and gains increasing acceptance as his ideas get repeated in articles all over the web, on op-ed pages and on the air by buffoons like Lou Dobbs.
I’d be the first to stand up against anyone who wanted to give away our sovereignty or sacrifice our interests on the altar of globalism, but is that really what’s happening here? Read the CFR task force report. It’s the most incredibly innocuous document. It’s not a blueprint for a new oppressive regional government, it’s a rather vague and harmless set of suggestions for improving trade and security. The same is true for the rest of the source material. If you read what the conspiracists claim and then look for the sources for their claims, you inevitably discover that some harmless idea has been reinterpreted as something radically different or that a single isolated example has been expanded on as part of a greater plan which doesn’t really exist.
One frequent claim of the conspiracists is that the NAU will override the US Constitution and replace our court system with ‘international tribunals’. This seems like a natural extension of the paranoia of anti-globalists about institutions like the International Criminal Court. The basis for this claim is the presence in some free trade agreements like NAFTA of special courts which are intended exclusively to hear trade disputes which cross international borders. These special courts have very clearly delineated powers and in no cases do they include appeals from US criminal courts or the ability to override domestic law within the United States.
Another common complaint of the conspiracists is that one of the routes to the NAU is through the construction of international mega-highways like the Trans-Texas Corridor which will eliminate border stops and put an end to border security. The TTC is a true nightmare project which will trample property rights and destroy communities throughout Texas, but it’s not quite the threat they make it out to be. To start with, it’s the only project of this sort currently being implemented. There are no similar highways or extensions which are planned for other states. What’s more, construction on the TTC has been stalled by the Texas legislature and there’s no guarantee it will ever even be implemented. In the face of this fact, the claims of the cleverer conspiracists is that the federal government is building ‘secret’ highways which will later be turned into this new international network, but in most instances the new construction they point to as part of this plan is not even federally funded, and consists of highways which are purely regional in nature and could not be easily joined together for the purposes they propose exist.
Another typical misrepresentation arises from proposals for regional security. For example, the SPP proposes establishing a regional security perimeter to screen dangerous travelers before they enter any of the three North American countries, an obvious way to address the problem of potential terrorists sneaking over the huge northern and southern borders of the United States by catching them at their port of entry. The conspiracists overlook the legitimate security purpose of this idea and instead interpret it as a plan to get rid of borders between the US, Canada and Mexico so that there will be an unrestricted flow of Mexicans into the US work force. Administration proposals for guest worker programs fit right in with this and are seen as the first step towards opening the borders and welcoming in a flood of immigrants. Never mind that such a program is designed primarily to make sure that immigrants are identified and controlled and can be limited and removed more easily as is impossible under the current system.
Trade agreements are also a frequent target of the conspiracists. They see every effort to make trade with Mexico easier as a plan to take away US jobs or lower wages. What’s really going on, of course, is an effort to build up the economy of Mexico while at the same time holding down inflation in the US. As inexpensive produce and consumer goods come into the US from the south, they lower the cost of living for our citizens. As more Mexican goods find markets in the north, that builds up the economy of Mexico, raises wages there and reduces the incentives for Mexican workers to sneak into the US. Expanding trade with Mexico also attracts US and international businesses to Mexico with the result of creating more and better paid jobs there. If we can make Mexico worth living in then the population is a lot more likely to stay there, so contrary to the claims that these programs will lead to a flood of population into the US, the actual end result is a reduction in the flow of immigrants and an end to the loss of jobs, achieved through positive regional economic change rather than through draconian measures like building a border wall.
In many cases the claims of the conspiracists fail the test of internal logic altogether. For example, one frequent claim is that the NAU is being established through secret treaties and solely on the authority of the executive branch without consulting Congress. Yet in virtually the next breath the conspiracists will point to Congressional legislation which they claim is part of the implementation of the NAU and accuse certain representatives as being stooges for the administration and the NAU plan. The claims that secret plans are being acted on behind the scenes also fall flat. Corsi himself obtains most of his information from public sources and anyone can find the ‘secret’ documents online with ease, though if you’re looking for conspiracy you’ll be disappointed.
Whenever the government comes up with a plan, someone is bound to interpret it as part of a great conspiracy, and there are those who find something suspicious in any a government initiative. There are real reasons to be concerned about excessive globalism and there are certainly elements of agreements like NAFTA and the TTC which are worth looking at with a critical eye, but conflating every little unrelated concern together into one vast conspiracy doesn’t really make any sense.
In most conspiracy theories, the real genesis is the irrational belief in the minds of the believers that a conspiracy must exist, which is followed by an effort to dig up or manufacture evidence and fit it into the theory, no matter how much hammering and reshaping of the facts is required. When you go and find the original facts, they don’t even begin to support the elaborate conclusions which were drawn by the conspiracists. The truth is almost always simpler and more reasonable than any conspiracy theory.
That certainly seems to be the case here. There is no North American Union and no plan to form one. There’s no evidence of a taxing mechanism, a military structure, a permanent bureaucracy or any of the other institutions of a functional government, nor is there any evidence of the intent to establish them. Once again, as is so often the case, the government isn’t up to anything more nefarious than trying to advance the interests of big business and find an easier way to provide for national security, while trying to drag the weak sister of North America out of its pit of poverty for the good of the entire region.
Ooh, be afraid. Then ask yourself what the motives of the fear mongers who make this garbage up might be? Maybe that’s the real conspiracy.