Canada Rodnie Allison

Canada-US Border Deal: No Slam Dunk

By: Rodnie Allison

When observing the Canada-US relationship it is important to take stock of the social, economic, and ideological features that unite us. We share the continent’s waterways, supply chains, airspace, and a much-touted undefended border. Simply put, we are being pushed together by forces  far greater than that which are pulling us apart.

Indeed many contend that “Continentalism is a force of nature.” However, sticking points abound throughout the various levels of each country’s political and economic structures. In the realm of integration, sovereignty is not something states readily give up or share. Nor do they do so without a significant degree of confidence in their negotiating partner.

Economic and security cooperation between Canada and the United States has ebbed and flowed considerably throughout our collective history. It is often driven as much by informed policy and aligned interests as it has by irrational fear and protectionism. There have been many cases where pragmatic and mutually beneficial polices have been cast by the wayside due to political wrangling and short-sighted apprehension.

On 7 December of last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US President Barak Obama announced the formation of a new long-term partnership built upon a perimeter approach to security and economic competitiveness. Following NAFTA in 1994, the post 9/11 security compact, and the now stagnant Security and Prosperity Partnership of 2005, the Beyond the Border Action Plan represents the fourth border policy inflection point in the past 20 years.

The Beyond the Border Action Plan contains four pillars to promote collective security and prosperity. The first pillar focuses on the prioritization of early warning mechanisms. Under this proposal there will be an increase in cross-border information and intelligence disclosure to support law enforcement and national security agencies. This increased cooperation is intended to yield a “common approach” to assessing threats and identifying those who pose a risk – all under the principle that a threat to either country represents a threat to both.

The second pillar comprises programs intended to further facilitate trade, economic growth and the creation of jobs on both sides of the border. These initiatives focus on two important spheres of economic interface: the movement of people and the movement of products.  The Beyond the Border Action Plan introduces new measures and builds on existing projects to facilitate movement. For instance, the popular NEXUS program which expatiates pre-approves travellers between the two countries.

Third, the Action Plan promises a further integration of cross-border law enforcement. Although there are several recent examples where Canada and the US have worked in cooperation to develop integrated models, the intent here is to widen their scope and take the programs from “pilot” to “permanent” status. The Shiprider pilot program, for example, has employed cross-designated officers in the patrol of maritime areas since 2009. According to Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, “Shiprider is a critical security partnership between the United States and Canada, improving our cross-border operations.”

The Ambassador Bridge: carrying more than 10,000 vehicles a day.

Building on the Shiprider program, the RCMP, Public Safety Canada, the Canadian Department of Justice, the US Department of Justice, and the US Department of Homeland Security will complete the scope of operations and program architecture for the Next-Generation pilot project by mid 2012. If the results of the pilot projects are positive, the operations will be regularized and become a permanent feature of cross-border law enforcement.

The fourth and final pillar of the Beyond the Border Action Plan focuses on cyber-security and critical infrastructure. These measures are intended to enhance the resiliency of shared critical and cyber infrastructure and to enable the two countries to rapidly respond to disasters and attacks. The first stage of this process will involve a regional resilience assessment program for the Maine-New Brunswick region, and create bilateral mechanisms for joint risk analysis. This information will be shared and, if proven useful, will lead to further development of joint analytic products ready for wider implementation.

Taken as a whole, these four pillars will work to create an enhanced zone of confidence in North America that could have wide ranging implications for the movement of people and products across the border. Considering the nearly one million dollars in goods and services that cross every minute, and the 300,000 people who cross every day it is only rational that cooperation be considered paramount.

However, as alluded to in the introduction, rational decisions and pragmatic policy do not guarantee implementation. Macro-level security and economic forces often confuse pragmatic management. With the US reaching an apex in its election cycle, along with the continuation of its subpar economic performance, Canada can expect an increasingly insular America over the short term. Thus, there is no guarantee that these measures will be implemented in their current form.

Such is the North American environment today – and not even the force nature can change that.


Further Readings: Beyond the Border Action Plan (Canadian Government Document), Beyond the Border Action Plan (American Government Document), Prime Minister’s Press Release Dec 7 2011, Lessons from life with Uncle Sam, Department of Homeland Security: Beyond the Border fact sheet

Rodnie Allison
Rodnie Allison was a defence procurement analyst at the NATO Association of Canada. He holds a Masters in Public Administration from Dalhousie University.