This paper is a discussion of the Canada/U.S. border and its role in the protection of national security. It is argued here that the relationship between security and the border is more tenuous than had generally been acknowledged before the events of September 11. The bor- der, as it is now constituted, provides inadequate protection to either country against global threats to its security. Its main effect at this point is to protect each society against the real and perceived imperfections of the other. Given the high level of compatibility and growing economic integra- tion between them, this role falls short of an objective that would justify the costs. Those costs, direct and indirect, are considerable. With an excessive mix of functions, under- resourced institutions and stressed infrastructure, the border is a source of risk to the smooth movement of flows on which the prosperity of both countries now depends. The paper suggests that the concept of physical, earth-bound borders needs to be updated in the age of globalization. The threats to our countries in North America come largely from outside our territories. The border we erect to defend our- selves must address the reality that these external threats come from ”œeverywhere and nowhere” in physical space, from borderless networks empowered by technology.

This paper proposes that our governments:

  • Commit, at the highest possible level, to the cre- ation of an ”œArea of Mutual Confidence” for the protec- tion of security in North America, and in the spirit of that commitment:

  • Continue to intensify action within, and coopera- tion across, their jurisdictions to address global security threats;

  • Expand this bilateral cooperation on to the multi- lateral level; and

  • Establish a shared, high-level institution to help guide binational approaches to borders.

This paper is focused on the Canada/U.S. border. There is no question, however, that Mexico’s border with the United States provides unique challenges that also need to be addressed. There is also no question that any approach developed on the Canada/U.S. border would need, in time, to be adapted to that on the south. The same dynamic of economic integration that unites Canada and the United States also joins them to Mexico. The level of comity between Canada and the United States, however, is not yet matched in the south. Every effort must be expended to ensure that it is, and that Mexico is able to participate fully as soon as possible in a North America area of mutual con- fidence to defend our continent against global threats.

One of the first actions of the U.S. authorities on September 11 was to seal the northern border (along with every other). This reaction was a natural component of its response to external attack, though it seems to have added little to the country’s security and stranded many U.S. travel- ers in Canada (where the population demonstrated a charac- teristic and spontaneous openness). The move did have a use- ful didactic effect. With the border first sealed and then ”œworking to rule,” the interdependence of the two societies became brutally clear. Daily mer- chandise trade worth $1.5 billion was jeopardized, as was the passage of an average of 600,000 people who cross the border daily. Uncertainty about the seamlessness of the border raised concerns in Canada about the viability of the Canadian econ- omy. ”œJust-in-time” manufacturing was suddenly seen as vulnerable. Governments worried about perception of additional ”œcountry risk” among investors. Other issues that had not yet earned a place in the national discourse suddenly loomed large on the public agenda, including the concern that Canada’s own defenses were inadequate.

A more limited discourse on border issues developed in the United States. At first, it focused on the perception that the northern border had become a point of vulnerability. It was only grad- ually that the close nature of cross-border rela- tions and the economic importance of a smooth- ly operating border with the country’s most important trading partner came into the picture.

The binational wake-up call was an important breakthrough (and, may provide a moment of opportunity to get the border right). It has already energized efforts by the two national governments to bring the shared or ”œinner” border between Canada and the United States up to date. Various agency-to-agency initiatives were already pursuing this objective (The Border Vision, the Cross-Border Crime Forum, the Border Accord) and were making progress. Nonetheless, resource constraints, and the lack of national priority attached to these efforts, kept change within narrow limits.

In 1999, as a way to engage a broader con- stituency and to foster a national discourse, the Prime Pinister and the president mandated a broad process of consultation labeled the ”œCanada-U.S. Partnership” (CUSP). The process was intended to produce a new vision of a border that was appro- priate to the 21st century. CUSP did produce an interim report of some interest, drawing on the views of stakeholders at two major consultations. The report stressed the imperative of a balanced approach to border management with a view to both providing security and facilitating the seam- less passage virtuous flows essential to both coun- tries. It was the intention of the two governments to carry forward this consultation with stakehold- ers and thus establish a binational consensus in favor of more far-reaching changes in border man- agement. Then, September 11 intervened, and the process of reinventing the border assumed an unprecedented urgency. It will be no less challenging now than before September 11, but the basic problem, at least, is better understood: the very notion of a traditional land border between Canada and the United States needs to be updated.

Global flows, both constructive and threaten- ing, increasingly treat borders as irrelevant. Though citizens in both our countries value the inner border, neither Canadian nor U.S. society feels constrained by it. Quite the contrary, inte- gration between the two economies is posited on the implicit notion that the border would become ever less a factor. More generally, physi- cal borders that are maintained separately by individual jurisdictions are increasingly redun- dant in the context of a global economy, the growth of a global community of values and the increase of commerce in virtual space.

Questions about the purposes of the Canada/U.S. border as presently conceived are par- ticularly clear in the minds of economic decision- makers. They see the border’s role largely in the context of North American economic integration and contrast it with the success of a more intense process of regional community building in Europe, which has resulted in the virtual elimination of internal borders.

Public perception in our countries is, however, more complex, and shows a high level of attachment to the border. While many are ready for change, many see the present border as an important symbol and effective guarantor of sov- ereignty. Those, particularly in Canada, who are concerned about reform of the ”œinner” border often see such an effort as a proxy for diminishing Canada’s sovereignty. They are worried about the loss of a capacity for independent action in eco- nomic and social policy, in the adjudication of individual and collective rights, in the allocations of public goods. Thus, the debate about reform of the Canada/U.S. border needs, at some point, to engage in issues that have little to do directly with the border itself, but about the policy space behind it. The scope of this paper is restricted to the bor- der’s security purposes, but even in that area, there is a tension to be resolved between the desire to ensure sovereignty on the one hand and expecta- tions for seamlessness on the other. That tension was building before September 11. Now, it is unavoidable, and demands action. Its resolution will be among the defining policy challenges to the two governments over the coming years. It will demand agreement on a broader approach to security and about the nature of borders in gener- al, including those that face outward.

It might be useful, as we contemplate its future, to recall how closely the Canada/U.S. border’s long history has tracked the evolution of a rela- tionship between our societies from savage hostility to intimate friendship.

The colonial powers began to map out their claims to North American territory in the 16th cen- tury. The fact that those claims often overlapped had marginal practical meaning until well over a century later when the New World became a peripheral front in broader European war. Control (often theoretical) over vast territories and power over increasing numbers of (real) North Americans was traded repeatedly. The conflicts in North America may have been a sideshow for Europe, but there were real economic and physical security issues at stake in where the boundaries were drawn for those on the ground. Access to fur trade routes and guarantees of physical security for colonists were at the heart of cross-border disputes as then waged by British, French, and Aboriginal protago- nists. Terrorism of the most lurid kind was part of the arsenal employed in this intra-North American conflict, as was what we would now label ”œethnic cleansing” as borders were drawn and redrawn throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The bor- der continued to be characterized by conflict after the American Revolution created two polities out of British North America. Land invasions were a fea- ture of the Revolutionary War and resumed again in the early 19th century. Former Americans fought alongside former French colonists to maintain Canada under the British Crown. Over the next decades public opinion gradually came to terms with the notion that what had been British North America would remain permanently divided. Cross- border raids by dissenters, however, persisted well through the 19th century. The Civil War and its after effects had a dramatic impact on the relation- ship and the border. Quixotic Confederate schemes to invade the Union from Canada and a view that Britain had supported the Confederacy led the United States to abandon the form of free trade established under the Reciprocity Treaty of June 1854. (A demand for passports for Canadians to enter the United States was put into effect earlier.)

Once the new Dominion was established, however, the United States acted against those who sought to invade Canada. It would hence- forth never countenance military action against its northern neighbour (an approach gratefully reciprocated). Though progress was far from smooth, the security role of the border, in short, evolved dramatically and for the better through- out the 19th century.

By the beginning of the last century, the basis of the present-day relationship was firmly estab- lished, with the settlement of the last major border dispute over the B.C./Alaska border (an imperial betrayal in Canadian eyes) and the expressed desire in both countries to formalize cross border cooperation. That desire was driven in Canada’s case in large part by a desire to assert its sover- eignty and interests, independent of Great Britain.

The establishment of the International Joint Commission and other border arrangements sig- naled the beginning of this new, shared approach. ”œGood neighbourliness” developed, despite the hiccup of Prohibition, into a value shared by both societies"a pride in having between them ”œthe longest undefended border in the world.”

President Roosevelt and Prime Minster Mackenzie King made the first commitment to a shared defense against external threats. They advanced the notion of North American ”œspace,” when, in 1940, at Ogdensburg (well before the United States entered World War II), they com- mitted the two countries to mutual defense.

The post-war era saw further advances in both border and security cooperation, including in the foundation of NORAD for continental air defense. Free passage for people across the border was the norm (facilitated by the introduction of measures like air pre-clearance in the 1970s), despite the con- trols that remained on the passage of goods. All this to say that the border has been a living expres- sion of the broader relationship. Arguments for the immutability of the border ignore history. Border management has evolved to become a comfortable (perhaps complacent) and often informal partner- ship. Changes in the environment demand that this partnership move now to a new level.

The Canada/U.S. border today is a jumble of contradictions. The publics in our two soci- eties retain apparently conflicting sentiments about it. They expect it to pose no impediment to their movements, but they also treat it as an essential attribute of sovereignty, necessary for the protection of national security and the integrity of national institutions. Despite free trade, the border still fulfills an accretion of responsibilities that, it can be argued, are often redundant and inappropriately restrictive. The CCRA administers over 180 legislative instru- ments on the border, many of which protect duplicative regulatory systems with identical or at the least, compatible objectives. Trade-restrict- ing policies (e.g. those relating to rules of origin) are also applied at the border.

Governments had, until recently, largely neglected border reform as a strategic priority. They did so, it should be said in their defense, in a spirit of realism as well as expediency. They had a clear sense of the limits on what even a well- tended border could do, given geography. More important, they were acutely aware of the diffi- culties implicit in trying for real change, given contradictory public expectations and bureau- cratic inertia. Nonetheless it was clear to both governments, even before September 11, that the persisting mismatch in the purposes and capaci- ties at the border was becoming expensive and risky. They were moving, carefully, to fix it. What were the risks that governments saw?

Though the two countries have historically been important trading partners, the FTA has had a revolutionary impact on the level of mutual trading dependence. Volumes of flows have been growing exponentially since 1988. Over 40 per cent of Canadian GDP is now accounted for by exports to or through the United States. Ensuring that those flows move unimpeded is a matter of survival for the Canadian economy. Given the differences in size and of their dependence on external trade, the importance of unimpeded access to Canadian mar- kets is much less talked about in the United States. Only 2 per cent of U.S. GDP is accounted for by exports to Canada, though Canada is the first export market for 38 U.S. states, and is critical to some. Canada is, it needs to be repeated, the United States’ most important trading partner (with Mexico, its other land neighbour, following quickly behind). It is also the locus for U.S. foreign invest- ment of the first order, and is its most critical and diverse external source of natural resources.

Whatever the differences in the intensity of interdependence, the fact that the border was not keeping up with growth in traffic has been a growing source of concern in both countries, the more so since impairment of its capacity is, at least partly self-inflicted. The bulk of Canada/U.S. traffic moves by road, and crosses at seven points. Most of the goods crossing the border do so free of duties or quantitative restrictions, subject to health and safety regulations that are as effective on one side of the border as on the other. Yet all these shipments are subject to the same levels of verification. Effective risk-management requires a different approach. As the CUSP report observed, over 99 per cent of flows are compliant. Efforts to focus in on the less than 1 per cent that is not need to be accelerated if the border is to continue serve a useful purpose in risk-management. The CCRA’s Custom Blueprint has initiated important changes in this direction. The Smart Borders agreement concluded last month promises fur- ther, bilateral movement.

Investment in additional infrastructure at approaches to the border and at the actual crossing points will also be essential to accommodate what are certain to be growing volumes of cross-border traffic as economic integration proceeds. The most recent Canadian budget has assigned funding for this purpose on a scale out of keeping with any that has been available before. In the United States, T-21 funds are available. State and provin- cial commitments will need to be part of the mix.

More dramatic improvement is possible on both fronts. What it requires is sustained political attention even once the immediate anxieties raised by September 11 have passed. This will be the more important because meaningful change will also need to involve a reassessment of what responsibilities the border now fulfills, and of the differences in social and economic policy that it is meant to safeguard. But making the border more efficient will address only part of the prob- lem. Traditional borders are less and less capable of providing security from global threats.

Borders exist to control the movement of peo- ple and of physical goods. They continue to perform that role, but now, advances in informa- tion technology make it possible for significant flows to circumvent the physical border altogether. Flows of benign information"news, culture, capi- tal, scientific data, non-governmental network- ing"as well as virulent information"illicit funds, propaganda, terrorist networking"cross borders in virtual form. The view that physical borders can impede these growing flows is manifestly outdated.

A useful demonstration of how limited our own border is in such an environment was provid- ed by the case of Sports Illustrated. That magazine, like all other foreign publications, had been pre- vented from publishing a split-run edition in Canada by virtue of legislation passed in the 1970s. In 1996, Sports Illustrated decided to defy this prohi- bition by the simple expedient of beaming it across the border for subsequent printing within the coun- try. Special legislation, relating not to the border but to tax treatment of advertising and postal rates, had to be introduced to counter this move.

This relatively minor instance is perhaps out of context here. It does, however, serve to demonstrate the point: borders, (particularly the border between two countries so closely bound by virtual as well as physical flows as Canada and the United States) cannot any longer serve to pro- tect national space from electronic penetration, even of the most innocuous kind. The only way that this ”œvirtual” challenge can be addressed is in its own medium. ”œVirtual borders” need to be created for this purpose through a mix of domes- tic legislation, regulation and policing, as well as networking on a global basis, all based in the deployment of sophisticated technology.

Similarly, new approaches, which place less stress on the physical border between Canada and the United States, are also demanded by global traffic in arms, drugs, people, capital and haz- ardous goods. These flows are the domain of sophisticated criminal organizations operating on a global basis; they are aimed at both the United States and Canada (among other societies whose openness and affluence provides markets). The border that separates our own two polities can only serve as an incidental line of defense against these offshore flows. Once they have reached this inner border, they have already succeeded in pen- etrating a largely integrated space. Even reinforc- ing our external physical borders at ports and air- ports that provide entry to North America would in of itself be insufficient, given the volumes of such virulent flows, the ease with which these flows can be hidden within the vast volumes of legitimate global trade, and the sophistication with which criminals organize globally. Fighting such flows also demands the construction of glob- al and ”œvirtual” borders, consisting of action with- in national jurisdictions, partnership between neighbors and multilateral cooperation.

Pressures for border reform were already in conflict before September 11: the first, to protect our joint economic security by ensuring that the border was as seamless as possible and offered the least possible impediment to the growing flows that were both the foundation of North American prosperity and critical to our identity as open soci- eties, and the second, to protect ”œhuman security” by ensuring the best possible controls to impede ”œvicious” flows of drugs, trafficked people, arms, hazardous goods, hate propaganda and the circula- tion of laundered money within North America.

The issue of ”œnational security” as such, did not meaningfully enter the border mix until the arrest of the millennium bomber, an illegal resident of Canada, at the border in December 1999. The frustration of that terrorist plot was a signal accom- plishment, and the result, in part, of cross-border cooperation. (It left a different impression, howev- er: one of near failure. It also established a sense of Canada in U.S. media as being an unreliable partner in the fight against terrorism.) Intensified coop- eration followed, but there were no moves towards such change in border management as would upset the balance between the dual imperatives of eco- nomic and human security. Both governments (rightly) stressed the success of cross-border coop- eration. Most proposals for radical moves to ”œtight- en” the border (such as the initiative to introduce mandatory documentation of all entry and depar- tures by foreigners to the United States) were dropped or diluted as unworkable or unnecessary.

This hiatus ended on September 11 when it became clear that a war, launched by invisible enemies, was to be waged on many fronts, including in North America. National security entered the mix of objectives to be pursued at the border with a vengeance.

Government actions that followed the first fre- netic days have been measured and constructive. Cooperation among agencies, already closer since December 1999, was intensified and, by all accounts, works well. The U.S. Administration sent signals of determination by expanding security spending and powers as well as measures like the temporary deployment of the National Guard to provide back up at border crossings. The Canadian government took unprecedented steps to limit abuse of its refugee and immigration systems. It strengthened anti-terrorism legislation in ways that would have been politically unacceptable before September 11. It bolstered investment in security dramatically, including (but not only) at the border, in part to ensure that Canada’s determination to prevent terrorists from ever reaching the U.S. border was beyond reproach. Despite these improvements, fundamental change in mandate is still required. The border is still a dividing line between two com- patible societies. It is still a hazard to the flows between two interdependent economies; it is still landlocked, irremediably permeable by dint of geography, and still anachronistic as a principal line of defense against global threats. Many improve- ments are possible and in the works, both relating to improved infrastructure and better use of tech- nology. All these improvements will only yield opti- mal benefits if they are made on a shared basis rather than separately. Canadian and U.S. agencies operate, as they must, independently. They serve separate jurisdictions, are charged with protecting different space on either side of a legal line. Since our national interests in security are very similar, they inevitably spend resources in duplicating each other’s efforts. They are constrained to cooperate across the line only with the greatest caution, and hence, inadequately. We will need to move beyond the conception of the border as fundamentally sep- arating our jurisdictions, when in truth our interests largely argue for treating it as more of a shared asset.

But even with dramatic improvements in effectiveness and efficiency, the inner border, by itself, can do no more than provide modest pro- tection for our security. The best way to ensure that it provides value, paradoxically, is to down- grade it. It should become one element in a broader arsenal to ensure continental security.

The leaders of our two countries (and Mexico when it is ready) should commit now, as Roosevelt and Mackenzie King committed in Ogdensburg, to a new security partnership. Our enemy then was the Axis; ours now include glob- al terrorism. We were engaged then in a war of great powers intent on territorial conquest; we are in a war now against shadowy enemies who rely on access to our territory for profit or victo- ry. To respond, we should advance our existing cooperation to the development of an ”œArea of Mutual Confidence.” Under such an umbrella, each country would act within its own territory to defend not only itself, but by extension, also its neighbour. The sovereign actions of one part- ner would be recognized and reciprocated by the other. Authorities of both would cooperate inten- sively in our shared space and offshore.

Such a partnership would not imply elimi- nating our ”œinner” border, but would allow it to perform functions that it can reasonably be expected to fulfill in a way that respects the basic balance among economic, human and state secu- rity imperatives. It could still continue to protect such areas of difference in our policies and in our constitutional space that we each consider important to our sovereignty.

Agreement on such an approach between two (and potentially, three) partners of greatly dispro- portionate size and power will be, to say the least, a challenge. It would only be possible if it were conceived in a spirit of respect for and in support of our sovereignties. Its purposes would have to be clear and receive the support of our societies. It would have to be based on the partners’ accept- ance of agreed obligations. It would, nonetheless, be a historic achievement, inconceivable (though already necessary) before September 11. It is per- haps possible, today. What would be needed to make an ”œarea of mutual confidence” reality?

The way to security in a globalized environ- ment lies in building multiple borders that address the multiplicity of challenges it poses.

One way to see these multiple borders is to view them as concentric rings of action.

First, both of our countries provide security within their territory and at external borders. This effort is already being intensified. This ”œdomestic” action already provides the first guarantee of our societies’ security. It could be made a component of a broader strategy, if the two countries formally recognized each other’s efforts and built on them cooperatively. Such an inner ring of security, within our sovereignties, could operate in a spirit consistent with nation- al values and constitutional imperatives. It would do so at a level of intensity that met an agreed set of objectives. There is, in this sense, no contradiction between harmonizing our goals and mutually recognizing the validity of each other’s efforts.

The second ring should be our borders, reformed. The earlier section of this paper sketched the challenges of governance on the inner border. The paper has also pointed to the need for a more complex and strategic pproach to borders, inside and outside North America and in virtual space. We now have no institution to lead in formulating such a joint strategy. We must invent one. The importance of the undertaking demands it; the urgency of the moment may, uniquely, permit it.

One approach would be to assign leadership to a senior-level, summit-mandated, binational body, a ”œJoint Border Commission.” A JBC could help overcome the disconnects between national agencies, build protocols for cooperation among agencies, and stimulate the investment in tech- nology and infrastructure at the inner border and points of entry into North America. It could also provide leadership for multilateral cooperation. The idea of joint effort, including on the borders, is not unprecedented. Ogdensburg provided for it. The International Joint Commission, though an institution with a limited remit, provides lessons. Great shared security projects of the post-war peri- od (NORAD and the DEW Line) were built and managed jointly. The FTA/NAFTA gave our economies a joint impulse. Such a joint approach would also be consistent with modern norms of community construction, most particularly echo- ing the approach of the European Union, where both internal and external borders are now large- ly shared under the Schengen system.

The asymmetries in size and political struc- tures will pose real challenges for such an institu- tion working on a truly shared basis. The difficul- ties inherent in the challenge should not, howev- er, deter governments from making the effort, because it would bring real benefits to both coun- tries. The JBC, with Summit-level accountability, would allow management of the borders to be driven by the long term. It would allow the com- munities most directly affected by the border a means to participate in its management. Lastly, it would be a powerful symbol, expressing the mature partnership between two uniquely kindred societies. These new North American borders, given a common impulse, should be the second ring assuring our security.

The third ring would lie offshore. The notion that a line around the continent would, of itself, defend North America, is fanciful. This is a world where threats come from networks without geog- raphy. Offshore cooperation then would need to take the form of networks to monitor and antici- pate threatening flows.

There is already considerable, if greatly uneven, information sharing among authorities worldwide. Canada and the United States should initiate an institutionalized, extended and inten- sified approach to networking. The effort needs the involvement of all societies concerned about global threats from terrorism and the traffic in drugs, people, hazardous waste, and illegal and corrupting capital. That means pretty much the whole world, and cooperation on that scale could best be built on multilateral principles and struc- tures. Our partnership with Mexico (through the Puebla process) and with Europe would appear to be among the first upon which to build toward this goal. This international security cooperation would then be the third ring of our security.

There is a fourth ring: increasing ”œhuman secu- rity” outside our area. Terrorism is a monstrous per- version in the conduct of human affairs. It is perpe- trated by individuals who have to hide in, and draw sustenance from, a broader environment of resent- ment created by want, insecurity, ignorance and intolerance. There is, more broadly, ample misery distributed through the world to foment threats other than terrorism to our security: drug cultiva- tion provides what is often the only alternative to absolute poverty. The illegal migrations that so con- cern our societies are the tip of an iceberg. Over 150 million people are on the move involuntarily around the world. No amount of border restrictions will stem such a tide, caused as it is by material mis- ery, lack of basic rights, and paralyzing personal insecurity. The disregard of human, civil and prop- erty rights; corruption in the practice of democracy; ineffective legal and public security systems; pan- demics that decimate populations; environmental degradation; and lack of economic and educational opportunity are all real threats, direct and indirect, to our security in a globalized world. Given this real- ity, the last ring of security has to be a renewed commitment to action for positive change in the broader world. This is not a new imperative. What it needs is not to be forgotten as we focus in on the threats we see as imminent. It needs more than that; it needs our leadership, commitment, resources, and institutions to implement it.

Decisions of the kind advanced here will (to understate the point) be politically challenging. A structured ventilation of the issues as well as the opportunity for all affected communities and interests to make their inputs will be important to ensuring that decisions reflect a politically acceptable, and hence sustainable, consensus. The CUSP forum made a start in stimulating a more limited discourse. Governments will need to consider what level of engagement they will wish to stimulate with parliaments, sub-national jurisdictions stakeholders, and publics.

The idea of ”œborders” we now have is obsolete. Our shared border in particular is a weak instru- ment for the protection of our societies. The best way to address the real threats that we share is to address them on their own terms, through a mix of domestic action, continental partnership, and glob- al cooperation. For the short term, in order to ensure that our shared border is efficient enough not to affect our economic security adversely and acts as a meaningful filter for threats against our societies, we must invest in and reform it. For the longer term, we must reinvent our borders, both those that lie between us and those that we present to the world, and make them part of a broader framework of secu- rity and cooperation in the world. That broader framework will require a vigorous commitment to multilateral cooperation to address both direct and the less direct threats to our security.

The issues raised here are public policy chal- lenges whose successful management would need sustained commitment. Our political leaders need to consider how to engage with stakehold- ers and publics to secure it.


This article was first presented at a symposium on ”œGovernance and Public Security” organized last January by the Campbell Public Affairs Institute of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.