Academic journal article International Journal

Smarter Cooperation in Canada-US Relations?

Academic journal article International Journal

Smarter Cooperation in Canada-US Relations?

Article excerpt

Veronica Kitchen is a PhD candidate at Brown University. Earlier versions of this paper were presented to the Association of Canadian Studies conference "9.11: Impact and Consequences for Canada and Canadians"; the International Studies Association Annual Conference; and the Institut d'etudes internationales/Woodrow Wilson Center conference "Quels choix pour le Canada?/What choices for Canada?" The author would like to thank Peter Andreas and Jens Hainmueller for their helpful comments on early drafts.

IN RESPONSE TO THE TERRORIST ATTACKS of September 2001 and the heightened attention paid to issues of border security, Canada and the United States drafted the smart border declaration in December 2001. The declaration and its accompanying 30-point action plan called for initiatives to ensure the secure flow of people and goods, secure infrastructure, and co-ordinate enforcement and information-sharing about these objectives.(1) The smart border declaration was centred on several strategies its drafters hoped would make it a success. It included policy, technical, and bureaucratic cooperation coupled with high-level political attention, and it was implemented across a defined issue area. By its second anniversary, most of the provisions of the smart border action plan had been implemented and the process was generally declared a success.(2)

There were good reasons for Canadians and their government to push for the smart border declaration as a solution to ongoing border security concerns. The imperatives of the asymmetrical relationship, the traditional concern for maintaining Canada's sovereignty and policy independence, and the need to preserve a Canadian identity that is usually defined in opposition to the United States make smart cooperation on the model of the smart border declaration viable for Canada. In this article I explain why this smarter cooperation works for Canada, then argue that it may be fruitfully extended to other cooperative initiatives in North America.


Canada and the United States share nearly 9000 km of border and almost 2 billion Canadian dollars in trade every day. About 86 percent of Canada's exports go to the United States, and about 25 percent of American exports travel to Canada, most of them by truck. Thus cross-border trade is a lifeline for both countries, though 40 percent of Canada's GDP depends on exports to the United States, while only 2.5 percent of American GDP depends on exports to Canada. Nevertheless, it is, as American Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci called it, "Main Street North America."(3) Making the border work again after its brief disruption in the panic following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks was a high priority for both countries.

Immediately after the attacks, American customs officials entered Canada to make use of Canadian facilities when their own were overwhelmed by the search for terrorists. This sort of agency-to-agency cooperation during a crisis quickly escalated to political cooperation, with homeland security director Tom Ridge and chair of the public security and anti-terrorism cabinet committee John Manley taking the lead on addressing the need to come up with a border strategy. The smart border declaration was largely a Canadian document, drafted by the borders task force fo the Privy Council Office and finalized in consultation with American officials. The drafters structured the smart border declaration around three pillars: technical and policy cooperation; bureaucratic cooperation and high-level political attention; and implementation across a defined issue area.(4)

Technical and policy cooperation aims to create mutual confidence in policies that are not necessarily identical. Where policies have common goals or are only different because they were written by different bureaucracies, they can be rewritten to be the same. However, smart cooperation recognizes that while there are many common interests between Canada and the United States, especially in the realm of security, there are legitimate reasons why policies might diverge. …

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