Boundaries and corridors: rethinking the Canada-United States border-lands in the post-9/11.

Author:Konrad, Victor

    After September 11, 2001, the boundary between Canada and the United States became more apparent. The boundary line itself did not change, but crossing the border became more protracted, less civil and generally more complex. This development reflected the fact that September 11 both accelerated developing technobased management strategies, and redirected existing border security programs. Cross-border movements, including trade, human migration and information flow, continued and grew, yet the focus shifted. On the border with Mexico, the shift was from stopping drugs, contraband and illegal immigrants to insuring national security. The U.S. was now at war with terrorism. On the United States border with Canada, the shift to national security implied a greater change for Canada than Mexico because the United States and Canada had evolved a relaxed border crossing relationship on the "world's longest undefended border." Cross-border regionalism contributed to the evolution of the effective and benign exchange between boundary cooperation and identity helped to sustain cross-border movement after 9/11. The nature of the Canada-U.S. boundary, and the functions of the cross-border regions, appear to have been transformed during this crisis. This apparent transformation is explored in this paper.

    Cross-border regionalism is shared perception and use of an area, often with similar landscape characteristics, which result in mutual benefit and cooperation across the geographical regions that emerge from a sustained process of cross-border regional interaction. In our view, economic, social and cultural components of cross-border regions prevail when cross-border regionalism is strong. However, we do acknowledge the indelible political borderline, its constant presence, and its propensity to re-emerge with tremendous speed and vigor, periodically, and in response to external threat and internal political pressure.

    Cross-border regionalism is by its very nature both an ameliorative and a divisive process, for it brings together distinct nations and divides common interests. Add to these forces the impact of external events, and the erosive and depositional effects of time, and the cross-border region evident today may show only a resemblance to the borderlands apparent in previous decades. In this paper we explore how cross-border regions operate between Canada and the United States, and how their functions have changed in recent years. (1)

    In the post 9/11 period two apparently opposing yet fundamentally integrated forces are emphasized. One is the entrenchment of the boundary. In a sense, the wall between the United States and Canada became higher and less permeable when homeland security became a major issue in the United States. Yet, as the border was reinforced, corridors of commodity flow and interaction were expedited. Technological improvements, gateway acceleration, crossing-point staff enhancement and other enabling measures developed rapidly within cross-border regional contexts. Specific cross-border regional approaches to interaction across the boundary were fundamental to re-articulating and expediting Canada-U.S. trade and migration.

    Our road map to understanding cross-border regionalism in the post-9/11 era begins by situating the borderlands in the NAFTA-September 11 transition. NAFTA focused the vaguely defined borderland communities and regions between the United States and Canada. Under NAFTA, cross-border regions became distinct corridors and places of articulation between the national economies. Section II of the paper explores this notion along the extensive boundary, and evaluates the NAFTA effects of transportation, trade and regulation on border crossing and borderlands function. After 9/11, the United States' focus on homeland security has recast these cross-border regions as sub-national theatres of security implementation. Section III offers a snapshot of the state of the borderlands in the post-9/11 era. In section IV, we evaluate how boundaries and corridors have been re-visioned by Canadians and Americans, ostensibly under NAFTA, and then emphatically after the 9/11 events. The apparent juxtaposition of security and trade, heightened by 9/11, moved rapidly from a dialectic to a merged, broader understanding about secure trade. The juggernaut of NAFTA could not be halted long at the border. The 9/11 events sharpened, emphasized and accelerated a process previously caught up in the massive re-articulation of the Canada-U.S. borderland relationship. After 9/11 the discourses that situated borders within a popular and political framework emerged on both sides of the boundary. This underscored 9/11's significance as a critical signpost on the road map to a new borderlands relationship.

    Also, as we discuss in Section V, the new discourse on nationalism and transnationalism externalized the threat, and the new Smart Border was designed to function as a trade conduit, and most visibly to enhance the "security perimeter" around "fortress America." This discourse found proponents among Canadians as well as Americans, and it triggered flights of neo-nationalism on both sides of the border. There are, however, geographical specificities attached to the debate about borders depending upon where it takes place. Section VI differentiates categories of borderlands. Some cross-border regions serve as "goods first" borderlands, where trade and security concerns impact aspects of function and landscape, and influence the role of the borderland community. From these primary corridors, cross-border regions grade to those borderlands aligned with moderate cross-border activity, and, finally, to marginalized and hinterland areas astride the border. Essentially, we see a continuum from taking care of business in the corridors of the Great Lakes and in the Pacific Northwest, to the sustained expression of tradition, culture and community in the less populated border regions.

    In the final substantive section of the paper, we address the three levels of international engagement that define the border relationship and lead to sustainable cross-border regionalism. First is the level of the immediate physical relationship at the border. Building capacity in the community and infrastructure follows these initial binational policies and practices. The third level concerns the relationship with the broader international community, first as the new Canada-U.S. borderland interaction is now embedded within the wider transcontinental economy, and then as it is situated within the global economy. Are these alignments a necessary condition for sustainable cross-border regionalism? Further, will a reinvented border with its inherent sustainable cross-border regionalism enhance participation and success for Canada and the United States in the continental and global economies? These wider questions, and more specific issues related to the characterization of Canada-U.S. cross-border regions emerge from this research. We believe the work discussed in the following sections clarifies the evolution, indeed the reinvention, of our borderlands, evaluates how they operate, establishes that they are subtle yet effective transnational constructs, and defines their place in emerging globalism.

    Understanding the cross-border region requires knowledge of its components, and how these components work together to define the region and sustain it over time. Corridors, boundary structures, linkage points to national networks, intra-regional complementarities, and shared visions of place are among the most important elements in realizing cross-border regional integrity and viability between Canada and the United States. This paper evaluates these and other components of several cross-border regions of international and intra-national forces.


    The impact of September 11, 2001 upon the Canada-U.S. border cannot be understood without reference to the dynamic cross-border relationship which had evolved under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), well before the tragedy. If much earlier in the century it was possible to cross the Canada-U.S. land border with little appreciable effort in some regions, by the end of the 20th century, the Canada-U.S. border had become more than a vaguely defined series of borderland communities. It was increasingly functioning as a set of corridors and places of articulation for peoples and goods between the national economies (Figure 1). Trade between Canada and the U.S. had increased by approximately 152% since NAFTA was signed (Figure2), accelerating as the continental economy deepened. The need for efficient cross-border interaction grew proportionately, with a 122.5% increase in traffic over a period of approximately a decade and a half. The 1990s saw borderlands function increasingly as places where Canada and U.S. joined-rather than divided-at very specific points, while the nature of the Canada-U.S. relationship was increasingly intermediated by more and more "focused" or perhaps even "economically specialized" borders.


    The importance of land borders to the development of a continental economy was reflected not only in the overall size of the cross-border trade relationship, but also by the degree to which trade was carried in trucks through specific borderlands. There were, in the 1990s, approximately 130 border crossings between Canada and the United States, over which goods, vehicles and people traveled, although their overall importance in facilitating cross-border trade, as indicated by the volume of truck traffic, varied. Most cross-border commercial traffic was recorded in Ontario throughout the 1990s, a situation that prevails today. (2)


    Indeed, 52% of trade with the U.S. is trucked through four Ontario border points: Queenston, Fort Erie, Sarnia...

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