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U.S.-Canada Perimeter Security in 2011

Author: Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow
December 13, 2010
Adfero Group

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Nearly a decade after the United States and Canada set the early template for cross-border cooperation in the post-9/11 era with the 2001 Smart Border Accords, the two governments finally appear ready to take the next step towards a genuine system of “perimeter security.” The Canadian press is reporting this week that the U.S. and Canada are hoping that President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will unveil the new border strategy next month.

While the initiative as outlined makes tremendous sense on both sides of the border, it will face significant opposition in Canada from those who fear that national sovereignty will be sacrificed on the altar of continental security, and in the United States from those who favor unilateral approaches to securing the borders. Supporters of intelligence risk management on both sides of the border will have to work hard to spell out the benefits from such an agreement and to overcome the inevitable opposition.

The idea behind perimeter security is that the two governments would cooperate intensively to keep potentially dangerous goods and travelers from entering North America. In turn, greater security from overseas threats would permit streamlining of the northern border inspection regime, which has raised costs for business and discouraged travelers from crossing the U.S.-Canada border. With both the U.S. and Canadian economies growing anemically and facing high unemployment, improving the cross-border business and travel environment has never been more urgent economically.

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