Meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday, President Barack Obama emphasized their commitment to mutual security. Prime Minister Harper went so far as to recognize that “threats to the United States are threats to Canada.”
While both men are right to recognize the need for a strong security alliance between the U.S. and Canada and the need for a stronger counterterrorism strategy—the devil is in the details. Congress seems committed to tackling U.S./Canadian security concerns at the northern border. And Secretary Napolitano indicated her support for a more aggressive northern border strategy. But this is not the right approach—the economic benefits of this border are too immense to institute border-based security measures that would slow travel and trade. In fact, the U.S.-Canadian border is an economic engine that generates more than $1 billion per day in revenue. And both the U.S. and Canada rely on easy cross border travel—travel that helps to sustain U.S./Canadian travel and retail sectors.
The right way to address U.S.-Canadian counterterrorism, emphasizes the importance of our economic and diplomatic relationship with Canada—and the need for both countries to cooperate on security matters. Currently too much attention is focused on the border between the two countries—and not enough on efforts to keep foreign terrorists out of both nations and tackling domestic extremist groups. Instead of border-centric security measures, four key initiatives would be a better approach : 1) promoting of private infrastructure development at the border; 2) coordinating visa policy initiatives; 3) increased cooperation in maritime security; and 4) enhanced cross border law enforcement programs .
When President Obama returns to the U.S., he should steer Congress away from its current vision for U.S.-Canadian security and towards a strategy that doesn’t just keep us free and safe—but also keeps us prosperous.