Much has been made about the secretive nature and lack of transparency surrounding efforts by the U.S. and Canada to create a North American security perimeter. With several high-level meetings in the last month, not to mention all the behind the scenes negotiations, it is expected that an action plan will be unveiled at some point in September. From a U.S. perspective, it is security which is driving the agenda, while on the Canadian side, facilitating trade and easing the flow of goods across the border is the focal point. Any deal reached will build off of past initiatives and be used to advance economic, energy and security integration between the two countries.
During a bilateral meeting in early August, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird discussed issues pertaining to the Middle East and the Western Hemisphere. Also high on the agenda was U.S.- Canada relations. This included the declaration, Beyond the Border: Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness issued by U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper back in February of this year. At a news conference following her meeting with Minister Baird, Secretary Clinton stressed that, “it’s critical that we ensure our border remains a safe, vibrant connector of people, trade, and energy. And today, the minister and I discussed other ways to expand trade and investment; for example, by reducing unnecessary regulations.” It is interesting that Clinton brought up energy as this is also an integral part of North American integration which is being further advanced through the U.S.-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue, as well as other initiatives.
Another issue that came up during Clinton and Baird’s meeting was the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. If approved, it would carry oil sands crude from the province of Alberta and pass through the U.S. states of Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas to delivery points in Oklahoma and Texas, at the Gulf of Mexico. While addressing a question at a joint news conference about delays on coming to a decision on the pipeline, Secretary Clinton said, “We are leaving no stone unturned in this process and we expect to make a decision on the permit before the end of this year.” Several months back, the Environmental Protection Agency expressed concerns about environmental impacts associated with the project, as well as the level of analysis and information being provided. With the State Department’s recent release of its Final Environmental Impact Statement, the Keystone XL pipeline has moved one step closer to a final decision. The review period will now go, “beyond environmental impact, taking into account economic, energy security, (and) foreign policy.” While there continues to be vocal opposition to the project, it is being touted as important for future U.S. energy security.
In May of this year, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a series of hearings which, among other things, examined legislation concerning the North American-Made Energy Security Act. The bill called on, “the President to expedite the consideration and approval of the construction and operation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.” With regards to oil consumption, it acknowledged that, “While a significant portion of imports are derived from allies such as Canada and Mexico, the United States remains vulnerable to substantial supply disruptions created by geopolitical tumult in major producing nations.” It goes on to say. “The development and delivery of oil and gas from Canada to the United States is in the national interest of the United States.” The bill also stated, “Continued development of North American energy resources, including Canadian oil, increases domestic refiners’ access to stable and reliable sources of crude and improves certainty of fuel supply for the Department of Defense.” In other words, more Canadian oil is needed to fuel the U.S. war machine. This all ties in with the perimeter security deal and further removing trade barriers. It is part of U.S. efforts to secure more access and control of Canadian resources.
The Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) was created at the same time as President Obama and Prime Minister Harper signed the Beyond the Border declaration. The RCC aims to further advance regulatory harmonization in a wide range of areas. While the border security and regulatory cooperation discussions are separate, they do go hand in hand. In June, the RCC held its first meeting which centered around the development of a joint action plan and the creation of working groups in key sectors. The Terms of Reference for the RCC establishes the mandate and principles by which it will carry forth. When an action plan is completed it, “will outline activities for a period of up to two years. At the end of the two-year period, Canada and the United States will review the work of the RCC and consider the adoption of a new Action Plan.” While this is a bilateral initiative, “The United States and Canada will seek, to the extent possible, to coordinate the RCC’s activities with the work of the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Regulatory Cooperation Council when the three governments identify regulatory issues of common interest in North America.” At some point, these dual-bilateral councils could come together to form a single continental regulatory body.
On August 15, 2011, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano met with Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, “to discuss the ongoing partnership between the United States and Canada to work collaboratively on our shared vision for perimeter security and strengthen information sharing to better combat cross-border crime, while expediting legitimate trade and travel.” The bilateral meeting was an opportunity to review progress being made on an action plan that is being developed by the Beyond the Border Working Group. The Toronto Star reported that Napolitano and Toews also discussed increasing joint border operations such as the Shiprider program which allows law enforcement officials from both countries to operate together. Secretary Napolitano explained. “We’re looking at expanding that kind of basic concept to other areas where we can do more by way of joint law enforcement operation, intelligence gathering and … joint policing.” This would also further build off of the Integrated Border Enforcement Team Program, a bi-national initiative which is comprised of both Canadian and American law enforcement agencies. Eventually, you could see the creation of a joint U.S.-Canada organization managing the border.
Following his meeting with Secretary Napolitano, Minister Towes also announced that Prime Minister Harper and U.S. President Obama will meet in early fall where they will be updated and provide further directions on plans for a North American security perimeter. There are fears that any deal reached could be lopsided with Canada giving up more than it gains. Over the last number of years, Canada has already enacted many U.S. security measures. As part of a continental security perimeter arrangement, Canada could be forced to comply with any new U.S. requirements, regardless of the risks they may pose to privacy and civil liberties.