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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

18. Pro memoria note recording consultations between the United States and Canada on same (April 22, 2003)



The Government of the United States refers to consultations between representatives of the Government of the United States of America and representatives of the Government of Canada held at Ottawa on March 17, 2003, regarding the Rush-Bagot Agreement of l~l7 and the intention of the United States Government to install light weapons on United States Coast Guard vessels operating in U.S. waters of the Great Lakes.

In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, the United States Coast Guard, which is the principal. Federal law enforcement agency responsible for maritime safety and security, has increased its vigilance, readiness, and patrols to enforce U.S. laws along the United States' 95,000 miles of coastline, including the Great Lakes and inland waterways. In view of the potential for a tragic outcome in the event the security and integrity of the U.S.-Canadian border is compromised, the Government of the United States deems it prudent that the U.S. Coast Guard be prepared and equipped to take whatever law enforcement measures may be necessary and authorized to prevent terrorists or others engaged in criminal activities from crossing the U.S.-Canadian boundary by water. This increased effort includes the arming of Coast Guard patrols with M-60, .50 caliber machine guns or like automatic weapons, in waters of the Great Lakes that are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States in order to protect ports, the flow of commerce, and the marine transportation system from terrorism. As such, the United States Government assures the Government of Canada that these vessels so armed will not engage in law enforcement activities in Canadian waters. Furthermore, those U.S. Coast Guard vessels engaged in fisheries enforcement will not have arms installed (or stowed) on them when they operate in Canadian waters in accordance with our existing understanding. Finally, all U.S. Coast Guard vessels located in the Great Lakes will have any such armament dismantled and safely stowed when they are in Canadian waters or ports.

The purpose of the Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817 was to limit the naval forces and armaments on the Great Lakes in order to reduce tensions inflamed by the War of 1812 and gave birth to a spirit of cross-border cooperation that has continued to be the hallmark of U.S./Canadian defense, security and law enforcement relations. Both Governments have at appropriate junctures acknowledged that the technical scheme and definitions of the Agreement are not altogether applicable to present-day conditions; nevertheless, both Governments value the purpose of the Agreement, appreciate the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect embodied in it, and affirm that these will continue to guide them in matters relating to naval forces on the Great Lakes for some time to come.

The Coast Guard vessels to be armed are law enforcement vessels operating domestically under the Department of Homeland Security, and are not naval forces under the Department of Defense. Both Governments are of the view that the Rush-Bagot Agreement was not intended to cover law enforcement vessels with the light armaments herein described, nor are the actions described herein contrary to the object and purpose of the Agreement.

However, both Governments value the history of transparency and consultation that has always characterized our collaborative efforts to ensure and enhance mutual security. To this end, and in light of the extensive record of prior notifications and consultations under the Rush-Bagot Agreement, the United States Government has consulted with the Government of Canada concerning the details of the arming of the U.S. Coast Guard vessels operating in U.S. waters on the Great Lakes.

Accordingly, this Note formally places on record the results of consultations between representatives of the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Canada held at Ottawa on March 17, 2003, on the issue of the arming of United States Coast Guard vessels operating in U.S. waters on the great Lakes as well as our mutual understanding of the interpretation of the Rush-Bagot Agreement in this context.

Department of State,
Washington, April 22, 2003.

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