- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009


It is the largest undefended border dividing the world’s greatest trading partners - and usually it draws no interest or attention at all. No longer. New Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is calling for an immediate review of the U.S.-Canada border situation in order to make the border both safe for America and efficient for trade. It’s about time.

Mrs. Napolitano has asked for a final report by government agencies involved in the review by Feb.17. She was responding to an ongoing call by a few members of Congress and homeland security experts to provide greater security in the north. There are mounting fears that the friendly rapport between the U.S. and Canada can be exploited by terrorists and others who are searching for America’s weakest link: an easy entry point from which to launch an attack on U.S. soil.

It is only common sense that greater security is needed along the 4,000-mile border: It is simply too unattended and vulnerable. Currently, Canadians can enter into the U.S. at regular crossings with a driver’s license - and a friendly nod and smile, eh? This is far too lax for the gateway to the world’s superpower. And it is a marvel - a sheer stroke of luck rather than design - that since 9/11 the northern border has not been the source of another calamity on American citizens. Much of the border, especially when off roads, is no more distinguishable than state lines are in the U.S.

Congress has taken some steps in the right direction; $20 million has been allocated for a northern border security project. The Customs and Border Protection agency has been working on a strategy to integrate air, land and marine resources to ensure that the border is secure. Since 2004, five northern border air facilities have been established. This month the Predator B, an unmanned aircraft, will begin to police the border from the skies along the 49th parallel - the first of four $10.5 million planes that will use sensors to monitor activity across the border. As part of new measures to be implemented in June, all entrants to the U.S. from Canada by land or boat must have a valid passport. Ads will be aired in Canada to notify its citizens of these changes. Hence, some progress is being made.

Despite these worthy measures, large problems remain unresolved. The border is still porous. One reason there has been hesitation to impose greater security is that even small reforms lead to massive human and cargo movement delays - which are costly to both American and Canadian firms. On average 400,000 people cross the border every day and $460 billion in trade is exchanged per annum, according to the Canadian government. Yet the infrastructure to accommodate this traffic is light years behind. Many of the key bridges uniting the two nations were built eighty years ago. It will take many more years and billions of dollars to span key pathways with modern crossings, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Thus, Mrs. Napolitano will have to walk a tightrope between increasing security without further disrupting and delaying the substantial trade across the border.

Nonetheless, she scores high marks for putting this much-neglected and vital aspect of American security at the top of her agenda.

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