Border securityTrump’s border plan for Canada? So far, not a wall

By Jessica Trisko Darden and Stéfanie von Hlatky

Published 15 February 2017

President Donald Trump has said little about the world’s longest undefended border – the one between the U.S. and Canada. The cooperative relationship between the U.S. and Canada is deeply institutionalized on both the economic and security fronts. But, while Canadians largely reject Trump’s rhetoric, the Canadian economy is heavily reliant on free trade with the U.S. This is a bargaining advantage that Trump is unlikely to ignore when he looks to renegotiate with his northern neighbor.

President Donald Trump has said little about the world’s longest undefended border – the one between the U.S. and Canada.

Trump barely addressed the issue at his first meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Feb. 13 in Washington. Although Trudeau’s vision of openness and diversity may conflict with Trump’s vision of “America First,” the leaders parted ways with an amicable handshake.

The two leaders have different views on their borders. While Trudeau announced that Canada is open to the world’s refugees, Trump has focused the world’s attention on the U.S.-Mexico border by drawing up plans for a US$21.6 billion border wall.

During their joint press conference, Trump offered an optimistic assessment of the overall state of the Canada-U.S. relationship. He said, “America is deeply fortunate to have a neighbor like Canada. We have before us the opportunity to build even more bridges — bridges of co-operation and bridges of commerce.” This kind of statement signals hope for a continuation of the status quo, rather than a more secured border.

At 5,525 miles, the Canada-U.S. border is more than twice the length of the border with Mexico. And yet only 2,059 U.S. border agents patrol it, compared to the 17,026 along the U.S.-Mexico border. From Ottawa’s point of view, the goal of bilateral talks with the U.S. is to separate any discussion of the northern border from the southern border. A related objective is to ensure that, for any future border policy updates, security concerns do not trump trade.

Our research on the Canada-U.S. border and the two countries’ long-standing alliance demonstrates the inherent tension between Canada’s reliance on open borders for trade and on the U.S. as a security partner. These factors force Canada to be responsive to changes in U.S. security policy.

Post-9/11: Balancing trade and security
Canada’s willingness to respond to evolving U.S. security priorities is best reflected in the changes along the border post-9/11. New security measures were implemented such as arming the Canadian border guards and the creation of integrated border enforcement teams.