On May 27, the U.S and Canada made the Integrated Maritime
Security Operation pilot program--better known as
"Shiprider"--permanent. This program is an example of the extensive
and well-integrated marine defense relationship between the two
Extending the program will provide for a more efficient system
of managing the shared U.S.-Canadian marine border, securing waters
from terrorists and criminals, and protecting America's vital
economic trade route with Canada. Going forward, the U.S. and
Canada should seek additional opportunities for further
The following scenario has played out countless times in various
locations across the 3000 mile U.S.-Canadian maritime border: A
watercraft suspected of carrying illegal drugs and heading toward
the U.S.-Canadian border--a line not hard to verify given the
advent of modern technology like the global positioning device--is
being pursued by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). Yet when the smuggler
crosses the border, the USGC pulls back and stops pursuit in order
to respect Canadian national sovereignty.
At that point, the USCG officers manning the boat radio their
Canadian colleagues to notify them that a suspected smuggler is
heading in their direction. However, by the time the Canadian
patrol boat makes its way to the area, the smuggler will be able to
This is just one example of the kinds of scenarios that U.S. and
Canadian authorities deal with on a daily basis. While the
above-scenario imagined drug runners exploiting the border,
consider a similar scenario except this time the criminal is a
terrorist moving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or
high-yield explosives across either side of the border.
In the post-9/11 era, terrorism is no longer always committed by
an identifiable nation-state. Consequently, such crimes are more
difficult to control. Furthermore, the Great Lakes region alone is
home to 32 million people, spread out over eight states and two
Canadian provinces--such an international border of this geographic
immensity and consisting of such a dense population means that
seams in security are more likely to be created. Terrorists and
criminals are aware of this geopolitical ambiguity and look for
ways to exploit it.
Shiprider Changes the Game
The Shiprider program was created in 2005 by the U.S. and
Canadian governments to mitigate and eliminate the exploitation of
these security seams. Instead of ceasing pursuit at the marine
border, USCG officers now jointly patrol shared waterways with the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). As a result, the USCG now has
the ability to continue to the other side of the border to pursue
terrorists and criminals.
Under the Shiprider program, officers from the USCG and the RCMP
are assigned to each other's watercrafts. In the course of their
duties, if the patrolling officers deem it necessary to engage a
suspected terrorist or criminal on the water and the watercraft is
on the U.S. side of the border the lead USCG officer will be the
principle acting officer--subject to the search, seizure, and
arresting laws and regulations of the U.S. If the watercraft is on
the Canadian side of the border, the opposite principles apply.
To ensure efficacy of the program, participating USCG and RCMP
officers attended a two-week joint training session at the USCG
Maritime Law Enforcement Academy. This special curriculum, which
consists of lectures and exercises, was created by the U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, USCG, and RCMP to address the
unique intricacies of using one watercraft to patrol the waters of
two sovereign nations. After graduating from the program, the RCMP
members are cross-designated as U.S. officers of the customs and
USCG officers are cross-designated as supernumerary constables of
A Shared Responsibility. The U.S. and Canada should share
responsibility for the securing the northern border.
Eliminating Bureaucratic "Red Tape." Working together
decreases bureaucratic "red tape" and encourages greater openness
in communication between U.S. and Canadian law enforcement
agencies--which, in turn, leads to better working relationships
between the individual intelligence agencies.
Inhibiting the Travel of Terrorists and Criminals.
Programs like Shiprider make everyone safer by inhibiting the
travel of terrorists and criminals. During a two-month span in the
summer of 2007, Shiprider watercrafts boarded 187 suspect vessels.
The Shipriders seized over 200 pounds of marijuana, more than 1
million contraband cigarettes, $38,000 (CAD) in illicit cash, and
six vessels used in illegal smuggling operations. These operations
also resulted in the arrests of 12 people.
In addition, the patrols also led to land-based seizures of
large quantities of contraband cigarettes, other drugs, and
Protecting Vital Trade. It is well-documented that the
U.S. and Canada share the world's largest and most comprehensive
trading relationship: Both countries are each other's largest
trading partner, with cross-border trade generating more than $1.5
billion worth of goods and services daily.
The trade relationship is also vital to individual state
economies of the 48 lower U.S. states. To put the trade
relationship into perspective, as of 2008, 35 states have Canada as
their leading export market, and the remaining 13 have Canada as
either their second or third leading export market.
A great deal of the goods involved in this trade are transported
over border waters: Upwards of 200 million tons of maritime cargo
are transported annually across the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region
alone. As Captain Patrick W. Brennan of the U.S. Coast Guard aptly
noted in his testimony on northern border security before the House
Armed Services Committee in 2006: "That's more than the trade of
Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Norfolk--combined--by nearly
100 million tons."
Going Forward with Cooperation
A well-integrated and coordinated marine border policy such as
the Shiprider program is just one component in America's strategy
to secure the northern border, thereby ensuring long-term
prosperity and security. Going forward, the U.S. and Canada
- Conduct a joint threat assessment. The U.S. and Canada
should assess the threats facing both countries. This assessment,
conducted and published by both countries, could be a powerful
protective tool on both sides of the 49th parallel. It need
not--and should not--diminish sovereign capabilities and capacities
on either side; to the contrary, it could enhance both. The results
of this assessment can help to shape future joint efforts.
- Better coordinate visa policies. To stop terrorists
from entering North America, it would be best if both nations
worked toward better coordinating their visa policies. For example,
U.S. and Canada should offer visa waiver status for the same list
- Maintain and expand upon Shiprider. Shiprider is a
valuable program because it keeps Americans and Canadians safer
while protecting trade. It should have continued support from both
sides of the border.
When the U.S. works with its Canadian neighbor on border
security in an integrated, sustained, and consistent manner, the
results are far superior than if the two nations worked
McNeill is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the Douglas
and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. Dean Lenuik is a Research
Associate in the National Security business group at BCS
Incorporated headquartered in Laurel, MD. Views expressed in this
paper by Mr. Lenuik are his own and do not necessarily represent
views held by BCS Incorporated.