2003 High School Essay Contest Winning Essay

Diplomacy and Cross Border Security


Living as I do on the border with Canada, I've had the opportunity to visit the country often. Each time, crossing the border was much the same. My family and I would be asked a few standard questions and soon be on our way. If the customs agent were to catch a glimpse of my hockey equipment poking out the back seat, we would be waved through with little more than a knowing smile. Border crossings had become much like passing into another state; a formality, though with the opportunity to ask for directions. After the attacks on September 11, this all changed. Crossing the border now involved long lines, numerous questions (and ID's), and an often icy welcome.

While this may be nothing more than a temporary inconvenience for the majority of travelers, for many it poses a serious threat. Cross border tourism, a major economic force, has suffered, and the number of people crossing the border has only recently returned to pre­ September 11 levels (Stat. Canada). But the expanded security measures have not only deterred travelers. Large and small businesses alike are impacted by the new guidelines, as both workers and shipments are slowed, if not stopped.

This problem is illustrated at the border crossing in the small town of St. Pamphille, Quebec. The lumber industry is the heart of the local economy, with mills located in St. Pamphille and numerous lumber contractors in nearby Maine. In order to get around the border station's operating hours (it closes a 2 p.m. weekdays and is not open on weekends), the US government traditionally distributed special passes to allow people and goods to cross when the station was closed. The passes are being canceled in May, with no options in sight for those who depend on an open border to operate their businesses and to travel from home to work (CBC).

The American government understands the impact of these problems on the traditionally friendly relationship between the US and Canada, and has already implemented numerous programs to help make border crossings both safer and easier. Officers of the foreign service have played a major role in the negotiation and administration of these pieces of legislation, and continue to be involved today. Their hard work has been crucial in the development of these new security measures, for if any changes in border security are to be effective, Canada needs to be our full partner in the endeavor. This is where foreign service officers come into play. Negotiating with transportation and security officials, they have brought about cooperation and understanding on a number of issues, spurring the creation of multiple initiatives.

One of these joint programs is NEXUS. Developed in conjunction with numerous agencies in both the US and Canada, prescreened travelers will be able to pass through border crossings more easily, needing only to present a membership card and a declaration (United States, Low Risk). With NEXUS, not only will frequent travelers have an easier time crossing the border, but US and Canadian customs officials can spend more time focusing on potential threats. The NEXUS program is currently in effect at only six border crossings, although it will be extended to all high traffic crossings by the end of 2003 (United States, Low Risk).

The Smart Border Declaration and Associated 30 Point Action Plan are another example of effective security measures brought about through the cooperation of the two nations. The Declaration has four pillars: The Secure Flow of People, The Secure Flow of Goods, Secure Infrastructure, and Information Sharing (United States, 30 Point Plan). These plans unite US and Canadian law enforcement and security agencies like never before, allowing for both the quick flow of information and heightened security in both countries. Members of the foreign service have been charged with keeping government officials up to date on all developments relating to the Declaration. This means that foreign service officers will be helping to supply the essential information and analysis needed to keep both nations secure, while maintaining their historically friendly relations.

On December 5, 2002 Secretary of State Colin Powell signed an agreement to establish a new bi-national planning group at NORAD headquarters in Colorado Springs (United States, Military). Drawing on the information gleaned from intelligence centers as described in the Smart Border Declaration and 30 Point Plan, among others, it will prepare responses to attacks and threats on both Canadian and American soil.

State Department documents call Canada's cooperation "excellent", and state that Canada "stands as a model of how the U.S. and another nation can work together on terrorism issues" (United States, Fighting Terrorism). At a meeting of the Canadian Defense Industries Association, US Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci remarked that, "There is a lot of work left to do, but we're off to a good start, thanks to recognition on both sides of the border that we share common goals and a common threat" (CDIA).

Border wait times are longer, businesses are suffering, and the days of being allowed to pass through border stations brandishing only a hockey bag and a smile are long gone. However, all of these problems can and will be overcome. The governments of the US and Canada worked quickly to seal the gaps in border security after September 11. Now the continued security of both nations rides on information, analysis and diplomacy. Both nations are committed to this endeavor, and the foreign service will play no small role in seeing it through.

Works Consulted:

Canadian Defense Industries Association. Ambassador Cellucci's Remarks. 24 Feb. 2001.

CBC News. Border Towns Worried By Tightening Policies. 2 Feb. 2003.

Government of Newfoundland. Minister Meets With Ambassador Paul Cellucci. 2 Feb. 2003.

Statistics Canada. Travel Between Canada and Other Countries. 26 Feb. 2003.

United States. Dept. of State. Did You Know? Basic Facts About Canada-U.S. Trade. 20 Feb. 2003.

United States. Dept. of State. Fact Sheet: White House Outlines Program for Low-Risk Travelers at U.S. - Canada Border. 24 Feb. 2003.

United States. Dept. of State. Fighting Terrorism. 25 Feb. 2003.

United States. Dept. of State. U.S., Canada Establish Bi-National Military Planning Group. 20 Feb. 2003.

United States. Dept. of State. U.S. - Canada Smart Border/30 Point Action Plan Update. 20 Feb. 2003.

United States. INS. Public Information Sheet On National Security Entry Exit Registration System. 20 Feb. 2001.