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Sharing the Burden of the Border: Layered Security Co-operation and the Canada–US Frontier

  • Stéfanie von Hlatky (a1) and Jessica N. Trisko (a2)


Abstract. Effectively managing the Canada–US border has emerged as a major security challenge post-9/11. Burden-sharing theories suggest that the United States would take the lead on border security due to its hegemonic role in ensuring North American security, while smaller nations such as Canada enjoy a free ride. We refute the free-rider hypothesis and propose an approach which accounts for the differentiated concerns held by contiguous states. By dedicating sizeable resources to the issue of border security and by appealing to advantageous negotiation strategies, Ottawa has leveraged its position as a secondary state vis-à-vis the United States. Efforts employed by the province of Quebec have bolstered Canada's relative influence in this issue area. We argue that Quebec and Ottawa perceived and acted on complementary interests which empowered the Canadian government to respond more forcefully to US-driven border security measures after 9/11. We conclude with alternative models to border security management, as well the practical implications of our argument.

Résumé. Un des défis majeurs depuis le 11 septembre 2001 concerne la gestion de la frontière entre le Canada et les États-Unis. Les théories sur le partage du fardeau supposent que les États-Unis sont l'acteur dominant dans l'élaboration des politiques frontalières, assurant la sécurité du continent nord-américain. En contrepartie, les états secondaires, comme le Canada, se voient souvent attribuer le rôle du passager clandestin dans ces interactions. Cet article porte sur le partage du fardeau entre le Canada et les États-Unis en ce qui a trait à la sécurité frontalière. Nous réfutons l'hypothèse du passager clandestin en proposant une approche qui prend compte des préoccupations distinctes des deux états voisins. En investissant d'importantes ressources pour la gestion de la frontière et en appliquant des stratégies de négociations avantageuses, Ottawa a su surmonter son statut de puissance moyenne face aux États-Unis. Le Québec a contribué au renforcement de la position canadienne en agissant de concert avec Ottawa, puisque les deux paliers poursuivaient des intérêts complémentaires. Le résultat de cette coopération est une riposte cohérente et soutenue démontrée par le gouvernement canadien face aux mesures de sécurité initiées par les États-Unis après le 11 septembre. Enfin, nous discutons également des implications pratiques de notre argument en comparant les différents modèles dans la litérature portant sur la gestion de la sécurité frontalière.

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Corresponding author

Stéfanie von Hlatky, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, Room C321, Mackintosh-Corry Hall, 99 University Avenue, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6,
Jessica N. Trisko, Department of Political Science, University of Western Ontario, Social Science Centre, Room 4154, London, Ontario N6A 5C2,


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Sharing the Burden of the Border: Layered Security Co-operation and the Canada–US Frontier

  • Stéfanie von Hlatky (a1) and Jessica N. Trisko (a2)


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