Border Security in North America
Borders are the place where some of the most challenging security issues in North America present themselves. This policy brief addresses four aspects of border security arrangements among the three signatories to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). First, close cooperation in securing flows of goods and people through North America is essential for public safety and, indirectly, for prosperity in all three countries. The more that Canada, Mexico, and the United States can collaborate to keep “bad things” and “bad people” out of the region, and to ensure that immigration occurs through lawful channels, the more easily legitimate travelers and shipments can move within the region. As a result—and this raises the second point— the three NAFTA countries have an interest in preserving the progress that they have made on security over the past 18 years. National political debates should be prevented from disrupting mutually beneficial relationships at the border itself. Despite the progress to date, there remains room for improvement in collaboration on border issues. The third and fourth points of this chapter, therefore, focus on the ideal security arrangements within North America. These fall under two rubrics: (1) solving problems away from the border in order to prevent security problems at the border and (2) improving operations at the borders themselves. When it comes to “security” in a geostrategic sense, the Canada-U.S. relationship is very different from the Mexico-U.S. relationship. There is no reason to believe that what works for one dyad would apply to either of the other two.2 But when it comes securing legitimate commerce and travel through North America, the goals of the three countries are congruent. The arrangements that embody sound border management apply at either land border, as well as to the much smaller amount of direct trade and travel between Canada and Mexico. The focus here is on security in this latter sense.
This policy brief is part of our series "North America 2.0: Forging a Continental Future". The policy briefs will be released individually and published as a volume in 2021.
About the Authors
Associate Professor of Political Science at MIT, Director of the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives
The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute. Read more
Bound by common geopolitical interests and strong economic and cultural ties, Canada and the United States enjoy the world's most successful bilateral relationship. The Wilson Center's Canada Institute is the only public policy forum in the world dedicated to the full spectrum of Canada-U.S. issues. The Canada Institute is a global leader for policymakers, academics and business leaders to engage in non-partisan, informed dialogue about the current and future state of the relationship. Read more