Canada and the United States are expected to enter a new phase of border security negotiations in the coming months. The two countries have a long history of cooperating on border security issues, motivated by economic need. But expanding the so-called “security perimeter” to the borders of North America raises concerns of sovereignty for Canada.
The foreign ministers from Canada and Mexico will be meeting with US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton in Ottawa on Dec. 13. On the table is the formation of the "Beyond the Border Working Group", a group that would address US perimeter security concerns in Canada (while Mexico has its own arrangements with the US and Canada, it will not be involved in this working group). According to Canadian TV station, CTV, which has access to a document outlining the proposal, the working group will be discussing cooperation over issues such as; cargo security, border screening, cross-border information sharing, increased working relationship between the militaries and collaboration on preventing and recovering from cyber attacks.
This planned meeting follows a report issued by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce that emphasizes the negative impact that discords between US and Canadian regulations have on Canadian (and US) companies that rely on cross-border trade. In the conclusion of the Chamber’s report , they say
“Modern security challenges necessitate pushing back the border by identifying threats
long before they arrive. Such a perimeter approach to security allows for the identification
of threats long before they reach North American shores.”
The relative confidence and trust that the U.S. and Canada have in each other's ability to prevent major security threats from spilling over into the other country is not a given. Ever since Canada ceased to be a strategic threat via its relationship with the U.K. in the mid-19th Century, the isolation of North American continent was enough to satisfy Washington in terms of security. The 9/11 attacks fundamentally undermined Washington's perception of security in terms of entire continent. From the American perspective, the attack did not just fundamentally illustrate the weaknesses in American intelligence sharing and security, but also on the concept that North America's geographic isolation protects the U.S. and Canada from being directly attacked.
Security cooperation between the US and Canada is at the moment very robust. The US and Canadian militaries cooperate in monitoring and guarding North American air space at (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and in October, we saw Canadian air force escort a jet into US air space and hand it off to US fighter jets during the
targeting UPS and FedEx. Another example is the , a Somali man en route from Paris to Mexico City and who had a US warrant out for his arrest. Canadian authorities forced the plane to make an unscheduled stop in Montreal in order to take the man off of the plane and arrest him. All of these examples (plus many more) exemplify the cooperation between US and Canadian law enforcement agencies and militaries.
Despite the high level of security cooperation already in place the US has been increasing security measures along all of its ports of entry – – since 9/11. The purpose of the security perimeter is to exploit North America's natural geographic security advantages (bein surrounded on two sides by ocean) in order to allow their porrous land border to be more conducive to trade. Both the US and Canada see harmonizing security policies as a way of preventing security threats from making it to North America. If threats can be stopped in places like airports and seaports, where secuirty forces can be concentrated, there is less need to spread forces out along their over 5,000 mile long border.
According to the US Census Bureau, the US received nearly 75% of Canada’s exports in 2009. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce report stressed the importance of coordinating efforts between US and Canadian authorities along the border to ensure that trade is not impeded by security measures put in place by the US. A Vancouver Sun report from Dec. 10 estimates that extra security costs have cost Canadian manufacturers the equivalent of 2-3% of total trade; an estimated $400 – 700 million. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce report suggests that integrating the US and Canada’s security measures could reduce these costs.
This is where the cross border relations, along with the job of the “Beyond the Border Working Group”, get more complicated. The US-Canadian relationship is not an equal one. Unlike in the EU, which similarly has close border collaboration within the Schengen sphere, the disparity in power between Canada and the US is immense. Ottawa and many in Canada are concerned that the extention of the security perimiter around all of North America will erode Canada's sovereignty. The U.S. will essentially have a veto on border legislation and could in the future bring up concerns about visa regulation as well as immigration. Considering that border management is one of the pillars of modern nation state sovereignty, it is not a surprise that . However, with so much of Canadian economy dependent on trade with U.S. – (CALCULAING PERCENT OF GDP DEPENDENT ON EXPORTS TO US) -- Canadians also know that there is very little room for manuever.
The issue is further complicated by the current government in Ottawa. Stephen Harper is considered as one of the most pro-U.S. prime ministers in quite some time. However, he has also campaigned on the principle of extending Canada's sovereignty into the Arctic. On the issue of a joint U.S.-Canada security perimeter, his emphasis on Canadian sovereignty could become an issue with both supporters and detractors.
Ultimately, Canada's choices are constrained by security concerns from the U.S. The U.S. will continue to be wary of goods and people coming over its borders. As Canada and the U.S. negotiate the expansion of perimeter security, both countries will be carefully balancing issues of security, economiy and sovereignty.