The Contours of Global Security: Border Lines, Critical Regions | Wilson Center
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Webcast Recap

As debate rages in Washington over President Trump’s characterization of the situation at the southern U.S. border as a national security emergency, the risks and stakes in several hot-spot regions around the world are far less open to question.

Leading Wilson Center experts surveyed the state of affairs at North America’s borders and in areas experiencing acute security crises, from Venezuela to North Korea to Syria.

Selected Quotes 


Panel 1:

Laura Dawson

“In Canada, there’s very little appetite among the populous for renewed big cooperation projects with the United States. It’s just bad politics. No conservative, no liberal is going to agree to a new project, and so they’re going to continue with some of the under-the-radar, incremental projects. Some of them are very good; we just finished passing our entry-exit information-sharing program, so now we know not only who’s coming into our country, but who’s leaving our country… But in this uncertain time, with so many new threats, we really need to renew our cooperation and renew our commitment to each other.”  

“Canada is the largest export market for the United States. Canada buys more products from the United States than China, Japan, and many parts of the European Union combined. Canada is also the second largest source of tourists for the United States after Mexico… So, we’re embedded and integrated and cooperating, and making sure that northern buffer works very, very well to protect the U.S. homeland.”

Rachel Schmidtke

“Migrants themselves are not a threat to our nation’s security, but the growing number of migrants arriving threatens to overwhelm the capacity of our institutions and systems. They are not evolved to meet the demographic changes. So, we’ve got to find a way to move beyond the political rhetoric and some of the short-term strategies to look toward solutions that respect sovereignty and rule of law, of course, but don’t eschew our international responsibility of providing safe haven to those who are fleeing legitimate harm.”   

"Having some sort of maybe employment-based VISA program in Mexico –  there aren’t that many legal options for Central American migrants to actually come and stay and work in Mexico and have access to job opportunities that are not infringing upon Mexican citizens’ ability to also have competitive jobs. So, I think being more targeted and thinking of legal channels for migrants to stay in Mexico would be some solutions to get pressure off of the border itself and work with Mexico."

Duncan Wood

“In 2014, Mexico began to develop something called Plan Frontera Sur, which was their southern border plan – not the U.S. southern border, but Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala and Belize. The Plan Frontera Sur was to begin to build up facilities at Mexico’s southern border to control flows of people, but it was also designed to be part of the strategy against organized crime, and also to make sure that there was a better capacity for gathering data at Mexico’s southern border… It’s incomplete, it’s far from perfect, but it’s a very, very big step in the right direction.”

“We see how fentanyl and precursor chemicals come into Mexico and they find their way north, predominantly up into California. And we see that this is a very, very real threat. This is something where the United States needs Mexico’s cooperation, and up until recently, Mexico has really not been taking on enough of the responsibility to address the fentanyl crisis in the United States – but it’s an issue which is being discussed right now.”

Panel 2:

Cynthia Arnson

“These are countries that already face difficulties with unemployment, underemployment, informality, poverty, the poor quality of the health and education system, and other public services. How they are expected to absorb these refugees [from Venezuela] – which they have done with enormous generosity and grace over these last years, because Venezuela, for many years, was a place where other people went for political refuge – it’s simply not sustainable… My concern over the medium term is that this is going to dramatically change the politics in the region and lead to greater xenophobia.” 

“I think that, as the sanctions really bite and make it much more difficult for Maduro to share the spoils of government with the top levels of the military hierarchy, there needs to be the flexibility to talk to people, to provide off ramps, to say not everybody who [doesn’t] join in support of a democratic transition will wind up behind bars or in a super-max in the United States. Those kinds of compromises are almost heresy, given the depredations of this government, but I think may become, at some point, an option that we need to pursue.”

Jean Lee

“I think we are, understandably, one month after Hanoi, in a kind of face-saving, cooling-off period. But what we are doing now is waiting to see if we are going to get back – are these two negotiating teams going to get back to diplomacy quite quickly, or are we going to head toward another resumption of provocation? The North Koreans know that the best way to get attention, if you’re not at the top of the foreign-policy radar, is a provocation.” 

“North Korea is, actually, in a very desperate situation. That will also help you understand just how valuable the nuclear program is. [Kim Jong Un] is not going to give that up easily. He is going to sell pieces of it off at a very high price. So, we have to be realistic about what that nuclear program means for him, his own stability, his country’s future… and take that into consideration as we negotiate with him and try to figure out how to make the world a safer place. I’m perhaps not quite as pessimistic as some of my fellow analysts will be because I do understand just how desperate the North Koreans are.”

Robin Wright

“What do you do with [former ISIS fighters]? Governments don’t have the evidence to try a lot of these people, and if they did take them and put them in their prisons, the great fear is they’d infect the prisons in their home country. So what happens to this enormous post-ISIS phenomenon? In many ways, the biggest challenge for the winners is dealing with the losers, and making sure they don’t regroup, revive, [and] come back in a new form of ISIS – which almost everyone predicts that they will.”

“The fact is, the United States is now withdrawing [from Syria]. In many ways, we are abandoning a force that has been incredibly successful, has stuck with us, and we were the ones who asked them to wage this war, to go beyond their own little turf, to go deep inside Syria to retake a third of the country – and they succeeded. Every time we ask for something, they did it, and now we are walking away.”




1:30-2:30 pm: Borders as a National Security Crisis        


Laura Dawson
Director, Canada Institute, Wilson Center

Rachel Schmidtke
Program Associate, Migration Policy, Mexico Institute, Wilson Center

Duncan Wood
Director, Mexico Institute, Wilson Center


The Honorable Earl Anthony Wayne
Public Policy Fellow; Advisory Board Co-chair, Mexico Institute, Wilson Center


2:45-3:45 pm: Hot-Spot Security Round-Up


Venezuela: Cynthia J. Arnson
Director, Latin American Program, Wilson Center

North Korea: Jean H. Lee
Director, Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy, Wilson Center

Iran and Syria: Robin Wright
USIP-Wilson Center Distinguished Fellow


John Milewski
Director of Digital Programming, Wilson Center



  • Earl Anthony Wayne

    Public Policy Fellow; Advisory Board Co-Chair, Mexico Institute
    former Career Ambassador to Afghanistan, Argentina, and Mexico
  • John Milewski

    Director of Digital Programming; Moderator, Wilson Center NOW


  • Laura Dawson

    Former Director, Canada Institute
    Former Senior Economic Analyst, U.S. Embassy, Ottawa, Canada
  • Rachel Schmidtke

    Former Program Associate, Migration, Mexico Institute
  • Duncan Wood

    Director, Mexico Institute
  • Cynthia J. Arnson

    Director, Latin American Program
  • Jean H. Lee

    Director, Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy
    Journalist and former Pyongyang Bureau Chief, Associated Press
  • Robin Wright

    Robin Wright

    USIP-Wilson Center Distinguished Fellow
    Journalist and author/editor of eight books, and contributing writer for The New Yorker