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U.S. Border Security: 9/11 Aftermath Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 26th, 2022

Background

The major concern is whether to have a secure border or to allow free movement of people, goods or services across the border of the United States. This border is the longest undefended border in the world, but after the events of September 11, 2001, security measures along this border changed.

The U.S government had to review its border laws and restrictions, which led to strict rules on its border. Time for security checks across the border increased drastically, thus increasing costs for Canadian exporters. In addition, the US deadline for secure identity cards affected trade and tourism between the two countries.

Objective

The general objective is to determine whether or not the US should allow a secure or free border to exist with the outside world for movement of goods, people and services, based on the events that took place in September 11, 2001 that killed many people.

Hypothesis

Free border may lead to increased economic and social relationship between the United States, Canada and the rest of the hemisphere through unrestricted movement of goods, people and services across its boundaries. This will ultimately improve trade between United States and the rest of the world.

Introduction

The US-Canada northern border controls during the whole of the 20th century experienced low-intensity, low-profile, and a low priority. Border control issues were never matters of importance in bilateral relations and trade. This minimal concern and low-profile approach to border manning was mutually convenient and tolerated and persisted into the 1990s.

Rapid growth in legitimate trade flows across the border in after the NAFTA agreement undermined illegal trade, including the smuggling of drugs, cigarettes, migrants, and arms. The clandestine side of the expanding US-Canada trading relationship was never a topic for the national political agenda and did not turn into a necessary source of cross-border tension.

However, the 9/11 attacks led to change of relationship between the US and Canada in handling the longest border between the two countries. Initially, the two countries had given that border a low priority until it gained recognition as “the longest undefended border in the world” (GAO, 2007). These events resulted into a high anxiety when the US-Canada border was a ready-made political target for those who blamed lax border controls for America’s vulnerability to terrorism (Tancredo, 2006).

Although the focus was the US-Canada border and the issue was terrorism, the new border security discourse echoed the older and more familiar drug and immigration control discourse that has characterized US border relations with Mexico (Warner, 2010). In the immediate consequence of the 9/11 attacks, the US congress ruled to add the security agents deployed along the US-Canada border, and the US sent its National Guard troops to inspect, secure and patrol at the border points of entry.

In addition, the US instructed Coast Guard to stop all vessels crossing the border for inspections in order to provide escort services to the cargo ship, gas, and oil tankers. Alongside the new security enforcement officer, there were also new surveillance and security equipment. The US installed sophisticated cameras with night-vision lenses, satellite tracking system, there were also early signs of establishing a military base along the border. The security items were to detect any unauthorized access and entry through the northern border.

New security measures have also been put in place on Canadian side of the line. Immediately following the terrorist attacks, Canada ordered a higher state of alert at border crossings. Since then, it has increased levels of security at its airports, created new funding for detection items and personnel, introduced laws to fight financing of terrorism, and frozen assets of some known terrorist groups.

Tougher immigration control rules have included the introduction of a fraud-resistant resident card for new immigrants, increased detention capacity and deportation activity, greater security screening for refugee claimants, and a tightening of the visa regime.

In addition to this, there is a requirement that Saudi and Malaysian visitors acquire visas before entry into Canada. The most fundamental changes in Canadian law have been the 2001 antiterrorism act, and the 2002 public safety act, which have given new surveillance and enforcement powers to police and security agencies.

Not unlike their Mexican counterparts, Canadian officials have attempted to impress and appease the US with new security awareness, while at the same time repeatedly emphasizing the importance of national sovereignty and policymaking independence and trying to avoid the impression that their policy changes confirm the US pressures and expectations upon Canada.

All in all, the incentives under conditions of relations are obvious. Canada must either take stronger measures to increase border security or risk a unilateral decision by the US to harden the border access, with potentially devastating economic consequences to Canada.

Economic consequences

The significant economic costs from any security-related disruptions in border flows became immediately noticeable after the 9/11 attacks. US border inspectors became highly alert, defined as a “sustained, intensive, antiterrorism operation”.

Consequently, this almost instantly created enormous chaos at the border, given that Canada and the United States conduct US$1.3 billion in trade per day, most of which come by trucks across the border. Some 40,000 commercial shipments and 300,000 people cross the 4,000 mile-long US-Canada border daily (Andreas, 2005).

According to study findings, in the days after the attacks, delays for trucks transporting cargo across the border increased from one or two minutes to between 10 and 15 hours, stranding parts, shipments, and perishable goods. Trucks parked up to 36 kilometers at the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit. This is the single and world’s busiest border crossing point. About 27 percent of US-Canada trade crosses this bridge.

The border enforcement and activities hit the auto industry hard. Many automobile companies, which manufacture their parts in Canada, and ship them to the US assembly plants on a cost-efficient, and timely manner became vulnerable to security measures at the border. For instance, the 9/11 attacks resulted into shortage of vehicles part in the US. As a result, Ford shut its engine plant in Windsor and Detroit vehicle parts.

Meanwhile, as trade from both countries experienced massive losses from the sudden border security crackdown, Canada experienced higher losses than the US due to such economic disruptions.

The US only has about 25 percent of its export to Canada. On the other side, Canada is responsible for 87 percent of export bound to the US. Most significant is that a greater percentage of Canada’s foreign trade depends on the US economy. In this regard, Canada derives about 40 percent of GDP from its exports to the US whereas the US gets a mere 2.5 percent of its GDP from its exports to Canada.

Although many have pointed to the cross-border interdependence of the automobile industry as evidence of mutual vulnerability to border shut-downs, there is little reason to believe that the industry would not eventually respond to continued border disruptions. However, removing the Canadian-based automobile industry means removing the most significant source of to the US.

The two countries are no longer able to ignore the border as was the case before 9/11 attacks. The US and Canadian policymakers are now ambitiously trying to protect the “longest undefended border in the world”. They are aiming to create a border that performs as a better security barrier, and as a business-friendly economic bridge at the same time.

Creating a low risk border

In order to facilitate “low risk” border crossing, the US and Canada have initiated a program along the border that allows frequent travelers who have undergone background checks quickly cross through designated border ports of entry. Those enrolled in the program receive a computerized photo identification card that can be electronically scanned at border crossings on dedicated lanes.

Both countries are working on a similar program, the free and secure trade program, which will ease truck congestion at border ports of entry. Canada and the United States are also launching a joint program targeting air travelers. This program includes an evaluation of iris recognition biometric technology at Canada’s two busiest airports.

At least, we can identify three potential future US-Canada border control trajectories. At one extreme, there could be a substantial unilateral US hardening of the border, with security essentially trumping all other considerations. This is an equivalent of imposing a security tariff on all cross-border movements. These are security measures not evident in Europe (Boswell, 2007).

The idea of creating a secure and free border for traders has been difficult for both Canadian authority and business class alike. Canada must refocus and harmonize its multilateral policy in order to share security information with the US for a secure border point. This agenda largely depends on Canadian business interests with the US (Jo Cureton 2011).

Most Canadian officials, on the other hand, favor more incremental and piecemeal border security measures rather than embracing an entirely new border security paradigm (Bigo, 2002). Many in Canada consider this solution to handling border security as Americanization, with Canada simply adopting US policy approaches and preferences.

When we take current trends into account, the most likely scenario is a compromised position somewhere in the middle (Huysmans, 1998). This is a continuation of initiatives involving mixtures of the enhanced border security collaborations and a partial policy convergence. This includes further extensions of border controls beyond physical borderline and an intensive utilization of new high-technology cargo tracking systems, inspection technologies, and traffic management strategies.

Even before the 9/11 attacks, the US had plans to build technological advanced and control system. However, after the attacks, the US has increased both pace and ambition of constructing the project.

These initiatives could eventually produce a de facto continental security perimeter, but without the formal trappings and highly institutionalized and bureaucratized systems (GAO, 2000). It is not at all clear that it would withstand the fallout from multiple terrorist incidents, especially if critics can directly link such incidents to a perceived failure of the US-Canada border controls.

Conclusion

Tensions and conflicts over border control issues have long been defining features of US-Mexico relations. The same is now increasingly true of the US-Canada relations. Before the 9/11 attacks, the US-Canada border control-related issues always took a low-profile, low-visibility, and depoliticized manner out of the public and media eye. However, after the 9/11 attacks, border control matters have become much more high-profile, visible, and politicized than previously conceived.

The main worry of the US is that the expansive commercial cross-border networks and routes (both legal and illegal) can now be exploited to smuggle terrorists and weapons of mass destruction into the United States. Therefore, the US has elevated all its traditional border law enforcement issues to security issues.

One consequence is that travelers entering the United States from Canada who once viewed the experience as little more than passing through a normal border now view it differently. The US scrutiny has become more intensive, less predictable, more time-consuming and has become uncomfortable border crossing process especially among Canadian immigrants.

A part from travelers, the trade between the US and Canada had suffered substantial losses. The activities at the border mainly affected the automobile industries which relied on imports from Canada. At the same time, Canada was the main loser in this process. This is because most of its foreign exchange and exports go to the US.

The US has created pressure and expectations due to border relations that Canada will help it achieve its border control objectives and in new Canadian policy measures which simultaneously pacify Washington and signal maintenance of Canadian sovereignty, and policy autonomy.

Some critics argue that if the US relies on Canada in securing its border, then the challenges the US experienced with the Mexico may recur. The US must protect its border with Canada and at the same time, allow for free flows of legal trade, but must always be alert of security threats and illegal trades.

References

Andreas, P. (2005). The Mexicanization of the US-Canada border. International Journal, 12 (4), 449-462.

Bigo, D. (2002). Security and Immigration: Towards a Critique of the Governmentality of Unease. Alternatives, 27, 63-92.

Boswell, C. (2007). Migration Control in Europe After 9/11: Explaining the Absence of Securitization. Journal of Common Market Studies, 45(3), 589-610.

GAO. (2007). Border Security: Security Vulnerabilities at Unmanned and Unmonitored U.S. Border Locations (GAO-07-884T) Washington, D.C.

GAO. (2000). Managing for Results: Barriers to Interagency Coordination (GAO/GGD-00-106) Washington, D.C.

Huysmans, J. (1998). Security! What Do You Mean? From Concept to Thick Signifier. European Journal of International Relations, 4(2), 226-255.

Jo Cureton, E. (2011). A mission on the border ten years after 9/11. Web.

Tancredo, T. (2006). In Mortal Danger: The Battle for America’s Border and Security. Los Angeles: WND Books.

Warner, J. A. (2010). U.S. Border Security: A Reference Handbook (Contemporary World Issues). Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.

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