a better border?

Friday 8 May, 2009

I caught this presentation hosted by the Fed: Toward a new frontier:  Improving the U.S.-Canadian border by Christopher Sands, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute Metropolitan Policy Program @ the Brookings Institution. I believe this is the paper on which his talk was based.   Chris sought to answer a few questions:  Is the default condition of the border 1 of neglect?  Should post 9/11 changes be sea changes?  Is it actually a single border or multiple borders?  Here’s how he broke it down:  4 borders (geographically & functionally)

  1. pacific northwest-lots of crossings & cooperation
  2. great lakes -mostly H2O, integrated manufacturing & rivalry drives competitive economy
  3. rural-140 crossings, few 24/7, many microcrossings with 2-4 employees, aim to be complemented by SBI (Secure Border Initiative) cameras, etc., but residents don’t trust cameras because they feel they’ll be watching them & not illegal aliens
  4. perimeter-oceans, but must be secured, like airports, pushes the US border out

Border user types

  • commercial-truckers, energy transport (oil pipelines, electricity, uranium, the biggest part of bilateral trade, all with no inspection)
  • commuters-service providers who cross often & will invest in productivity progams, & amatuers, for example those who visited Canada during the recent NCAA Final Four basketball tournament inDetroit.
  • illicit users-smugglers, targets of governments

Border crossings are way down since the requirement for passports to cross the border.  The northern border doesn’t speak with 1 voice-each constituency has it’s own problems.  The US government responds to individual needs like the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit to Windsor, which was privately funded.  The Canadian-US Free Trade Agreement (predecessor to NAFTA) & FAST (Free & Secure Trade) attempted to facilitate crossings, but it required access to reciprocal data bases in each country to which neither government was willing to grant access.  Years ago, the US proposed a common perimeter strategy, which Canada rejected.  Thus the US went with a concentric rings strategy.  Now the Canadians want to come back to the perimeter strategy, but it seems to be too late.

We need to:

  • harmonize & share information.
  • clear up old problems
  • get more precise
  • identify transitional vs. long-term problems
  • decentralize management of the borders
  • build consensus in border communities by building social capital there

My take-we really need a think tank here to address these kinds of issues in this way.  It was very refreshing to see a pretty objective & comprehensive assessment of the issue, which I rarely see.  The Chicago Council on Global Affairs provides the best international content in the city, but most of their events are book summaries followed by book signings.  There is very little rigorous analysis of global issues without someone trying to push their book.  The CCGA has proposed founding a think tank here, & put on event last fall to that end, but 1 event does not a think tank make.  The issue is who pays for it & how, & my sneaking suspicion is many insular & parochial midwesterners see little value in trying to figure out where we fit in the world.  We may rue the day when that attitude leads to our demise.


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