Building fences together: the EU's lessons for the U.S.-Canada perimeter security plan.

AuthorGrashoff, Matthew K.
Position35th Annual Henry T. King Conference: The US-Canadian Border Action Plan


After the events of September 11, 2001, the United States and Canada enacted policies aimed at increasing the effectiveness of joint security measures between the two countries. The latest joint security policy, calling for unprecedented integration of U.S. and Canadian security apparatuses, is known as the "perimeter security" plan. On December 7, 2011, the U.S. and Canadian governments released a Joint Action Plan plotting a path toward this further integration of the two countries' national security policies. However, there are a number of concerns regarding the various facets of the plan. Is it advisable to integrate national security functions? What do the countries stand to gain by integrating? Most importantly, can integration work?

The example of the European Union's common foreign and security policy indicates that regional security partnerships can indeed work. Analysis of the development of the European Union's policy identifies the crucial areas where security partners must collaborate. Application of the lessons learned from the European Union's experience will enable the United States and Canada to adroitly navigate the complications of integrating their security policies. The analysis and application of these lessons should lead to a strong and stable security perimeter that will serve the interests of both countries.

"Love your neighbor as yourself; but don't take down the fence." --Carl Sandburg (1)


    Fences are coming down around the world. Since the end of World War II, a tide of globalization has led to the creation of a multitude of supranational bodies, such as the United Nations. In the progressively more interconnected world of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, countries increasingly realize that international problems halfway around the world can quickly become domestic problems. In recent years, a new movement toward "glocalization" (2) resulted in an increase in more regional integration of legal and economic procedures and organizations around the world. (3) In addition, countries have begun recognizing the utility of regional integration as more than just a means for economic cooperation. (4)

    The North American continent is no different from the rest of the world in this regard. Most North American efforts at regional integration to this point were focused on purely economic cooperation, but the recently proposed United States Canada "perimeter security" initiative is one of the first concrete steps taken toward a regional security partnership. (5) Critics in both countries warn against the consequences of ceding some measure of national autonomy in order to enhance collective security. (6) In order to analyze these concerns, it may be helpful to examine a similar regional security partnership that has been in place for some years in the European Union ("EU").

    Analysis of this analogous arrangement indicates that while the road to beneficial regional integration is difficult, it is by no means impassable.

    Part II of this Note provides an overview of the theories and motivations behind the modern trend toward regional integration. Part III provides a summary of the relationship between the United States and Canada, describing why the two countries currently find themselves moving closer toward a regional security partnership. Part IV is a case study of one example of such a regional security integration: the EU's common foreign and security policy. Part V analyzes how the lessons learned from the EU's example could be beneficially applied to the United States-Canada security partnership. Part VI concludes that while the work required to form a workable security partnership will be difficult, the benefits make the effort worthwhile.


    In international law a "region" is roughly defined as a small number of states linked by geography and mutual dependence. (7) This linkage leads to common goals and interests, most often economic in nature, which further leads to cooperation and interconnectedness. (8) This process is known as "regionalization" or regional integration. (9)

    Regional integration has been a major force in international law since the Cold War, and especially since the late 1980s. (10) Regional integration agreements are in effect in almost every major region of the world, from the Organisation of African Unity to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. (11) Russia is attempting to form a "Eurasian Union" (12) and the United States has expressed interest in the creation of a Pacific Rim partnership. (13)

    Why do states seek to create these regional partnerships? The benefits are often a matter of scale: global alliances and agreements can prove unwieldy or unpopular, while smaller regional partnerships are more manageable and are capable of quickly responding and adjusting to members' concerns. (14) Additionally, as a practical matter it is easier to conclude the complicated diplomatic agreements necessary for regional integration among a small number of regional partners rather than a geographically disparate group of allies around the world. (15) The mutual interests of the regional partners also make negotiations simpler. (16) However, there is no universal reason behind every regional integration. (17) Each region, and each country, has its own interests and own reasons for participating (or not) in integration.

    Many theories and examples of regional integration reflect the fight between two of the foremost theories of political philosophy: realism and neofunctionalism. (18) Realism, one of the most influential theories of international relations, posits that sovereign states are the supreme actors on the geopolitical stage. (19) Accordingly, they should not cede power to supranational organizations and should act only in their own state interest. (20) Intergovernmentalism is a theory of integration tied to the realist school. (21) Intergovernmentalism highlights the importance of actors, often heads of government, who undertake joint projects only when circumstances are such that the projects are in their own national interest. (22) The EU's common foreign and security policy, discussed in Part IV below, is an example of intergovernmentalism: groups of actors, the European Council and the Council of Foreign Ministers, enact policies as necessary when the interests of the Union and Member States are aligned. (23) Intergovernmentalism's main weakness is that it discounts the importance and ability of non-state actors and outside interests to influence decisions (24) and the possibility of enhanced efficiency created by ceding authority to centralized bodies. (25) Neofunctionalism addresses this weakness. Neofunctionalism posits that states will undertake limited integrations in areas of common concern, and these small projects will produce a "spill-over" effect that leads to further integration in other areas. (26) Neofunctionalism further argues that economic integration is the best guarantee of global peace and prosperity, and is a necessary precursor to further political integration. (27) In this manner, neofunctionalism does not rely on realism or intergovernmentalism's focus on individual actors driving integration forward: areas of acknowledged common import, such as trade or security, cry out for cooperation and the process then gathers momentum from there. (28) Neofunctionalism makes some key assumptions, however. The theory assumes that supranational decision-making will be more efficient, (29) but as will be discussed in Part IV-B, supranational decision-making can be more complicated than decision-making by sole actors.

    Regional integrations take a number of different forms, depending on which theory of international relations its members subscribe to. (30) By far the most common are integrations based on the "intergovernmental" form, where the regional partners each designate representatives to argue for their interests in the meetings of the partnership. (31) These partnerships operate on the basis of consensus and sovereign equality, preventing any single partner from dominating the partnership's policies. (32) The other form of regional integration is the "supranational" form, of which the EU is the major example. (33) In supranational integrations, the partners actually cede some measure of decision-making authority to an autonomous body outside their direct control that can bind the parties. (34) Intergovernmental forms are often sufficient for less complex regional integration agreements; however, as integrations become more complex, supranational forms become more useful due to the ability to exercise greater autonomy from member states. (35) Supranational forms may also suffer from "democratic deficit," a feeling of detachment or disconnect that results when supranational bodies lose touch with (or ignore altogether) the constituents whose interests they supposedly represent. (36) During the EU's ongoing financial crisis, this deficit has been on display, and it is difficult to foresee what the consequences will be in the future. (37)

    Economic regional integration often leads to security integration as well. Particularly since September 11, 2001, countries recognize that the new global infrastructure enables problems around the world to quickly be transported to their own doorstep. (38) Regional partners band together for enhanced domestic security and to protect shared interests, such as trade. (39) Contemporary regional security groups are linked by economics and geography rather than cultural ties; this prevents groups from becoming "exclusive and culturally monistic," which could lead to rivalry and conflict. (40)

    It is also important to note that not all regional integrations are completely successful. Enmeshing the policies or practices of a number of countries can expose some member states to the ill effects of other member states' decisions...

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