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Geography and destiny: Ukraine and Mexico

9 March 2022

I believe the author of the saying was either Tallyrand or Metternich, but what held true in Europe in the early 19th century still holds true today. A country can’t chose it’s neighbors, nor control its destiny. Mexico, like Ukraine, has had a “problematic” relationship with the imperial power on its borders… up to and including “border adjustments” usually involving invasions and occupations.

That said, when a relatively weak country’s existential threat is its next door neighbor, North America offers two alternatives. A country, can — like Canada — resign itself to being a satellite of the bigger power (easier when there is a common language — mostly — and the cultural baggage isn’t all that different). Or… like Mexico… avoid confronting the big power directly, building into its political structure the understanding that the imperialists will interfere and undermine any attempts to change the status quo, and working within limited options.

Mexico — cultural aliens to the United States — follows the latter path (though not always by choice). It’s one reason its foreign policy, vis-a-vis Ukraine seems … well… undefined.

On the one hand, within the United Nations (with Mexico … purely by accident… chairing the Security Council) steers clear of any military solutions, calling for more (and more) talks, even — as it was forced to do in 1848 — it means Ukraine might be forced into some territorial losses. If anything, the US invasion of 1846-48, seared into the brains of the country (especially when the president is a historian) has to factor into diplomatic thinking here.

On the other hand, there is that “don’t piss off the gringos”. And… just to complicate things further… a tradition of upholding the rights of neutral nations and what might be called an anti-imperialist bias.

So… it’s no wonder that former Mexican Ambassador to the United States, Martha Barcena — who has become a critic of Mexican foreign policy (or, rather of Foreign Secretary, Marcelo Ebrard) had this to say in Proceso last week about the present government (Morena) and its (non) reaction to what it admits was a Russian violation of international law.

“I think that dissonance is perceived; at least Mexico’s important partners perceive a desire to qualify [the government’s response to the invasion] when international law is violated. They are sending the wrong signals, which can sow doubt in the minds of many about Mexico’s commitment to international law and democracy,”

“The position of the Mexican government to reject the use of force, strongly condemn the invasion, demand the cessation of hostilities and protect the civilian population, co-sponsoring a resolution with France to allow humanitarian aid to enter Ukraine, is impeccable. ”

“Why were the first statements [about the invasion so lukewarm] … I don’t know, but we’ve been flirting with the dogmatic wing of Morena for the entire six-year term, ”

Bárcena observes a difference in the party founded by López Obrador between “those who are committed to democracy and respect for the principles of law, and those who are clouded by their anti-Americanism.

“I don’t understand how the president and the chancellor don’t talk to the dogmatic wing of their party to tell them: ‘Gentlemen, this is a position that attends to the history of Mexico; Mexico has been a country subject to invasions (…) Mexico’s main weapon in its foreign policy is its adherence to international law and that is a violation of international law’.”

Mathieu Tourliere, “Embajadora Martha Bárcena: Ante el conflicto Rusia-Ucrania, México envía “señales equivocadas” Proceso (7 March 2022)

That is to say, within Mexico… and especially within the party, both those who reject the United States and all its works (the United States being the devil we know) and those who hope law and morality will prevail, there is a needless conflict. That is, the Russians aren’t an existential threat to Mexico, although their threat to the Ukraine is a direct analogy to threats Mexico has faced (and paid a high price for) in the past.

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