Border wall construction increases in the Middle East

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Border wall construction increases in the Middle East

Several countries in the region have begun constructing border walls using different means, representing a direct reflection of the rise in unconventional security threats which have swept both the region and the wider world. This includes the spread of transnational terrorist organizations, an upswing in the scope of city wars, and an increase in waves of illegal migration from the Middle East and Africa to the countries of Western Europe. What is noteworthy in this context is that some international forces have begun launching similar initiatives in order to neutralize the risks created by regional crises in the area, especially the Syrian crisis. This new phenomenon is in line with the prominent shift in the traditional concept of political boundaries, which has now tilted in favor of the security approach. Walls, traditionally a crossing point for political borders, have become one of the most prominent preventive border measures adopted by the state to reduce the risks and threats to which they may be exposed. At later stage, these walls become an indicator of what may be referred to as “state immunity.”

A variety of perspectives

The process of building border walls is most often associated with the idea of the state’s border as an illusory line. At first, it is drawn in order for the state to exercise its sovereignty inside over its territory, and this perception expands or declines according to the political circumstances the state experiences. Most often there is a focus on borders during times of war, while during times of stability and coexistence, the border becomes more flexible.

Globalization has imposed its context on political borders as building border walls expresses a desire for isolation. This controversial idea has come to the forefront as the Republicans and Democrats battle within the US presidential election, both regarding the border with Canada to the north and the border with Mexico to the south.

In this context, several trends have adopted different visions surrounding the idea of border walls. One of these was the traditional idea that border fences are incapable of eliminating the unconventional security threats imposed by new generations of warfare. Another perspective feels that fighting new generations of warfare should take place through modern defense mechanisms, but this simultaneously fails to quell fears of conventional phenomena which are eliminated by walls such as smuggling, border infiltration, and so on. More precisely, those fences can actually form bastions against for potential threats if other factors are present which facilitate their goals.

A third perspective notes that the fences are not only a tool to draw natural borders to eliminate conventional threats faced by nations, but have also become indicative of the state’s “immunity.” States that are able to defend their borders through a system of tightening borders have security capabilities, while states plagued by security flaws are less capable of protecting the border, making them vulnerable to continuous penetration.

The political motivation behind construction of most recently-built border fence projects can often be attributed to security reasons. Most fence building is part of defense budgets in most countries, and several estimations have revealed that there have been 50 instances of border fence construction from 2000-2014, some within the region and others outside it. Some neighboring countries and regions have adopted this mechanism to address threats imposed by area crises.

Procedural steps

Some relevant international and regional forces have moved to launch initiatives or take real steps to build border fences with various means. In August 2016 Algeria completed the first phase of building a dirt barrier on the border with Tunisia for the goal of preventing terrorists from infiltrating the country from Libya and Tunisia and ending smuggling, while simultaneously building a similar wall on the border with Morocco for security purposes. Tunisia undertook a similar initiative when it constructed a trench and dirt barrier along its border with Libya to prevent terrorists form penetrating the border.

In October 2015, former Austrian Prime Minister Chancellor Werner Vayman launched an initiative to secure the external borders of the European Union instead of building border fences within EU countries to combat the flow of refugees and migrants due to the varying views among countries dealing with the issue.

In April 2015, Bulgaria built a border fence with Turkey in order to restrict the waves of refugees moving from Turkey to Europe, which has come to form a threat to both the security and interests of those countries to the extent that these countries agreed to fund this project.

In June 2015, Kenya also build a fence on its border with Somalia in order to prevent Al-Shabab militants from moving into Kenya to undertake terror attacks. In May 2016, Turkey completed construction of a border fence with Syria to prevent smuggling and terrorists from infiltrating their territory.

A range of problems

Depending on the degree of efficiency and the extent of the state’s ability to secure the fences themselves, these fences may reduce the risks and threats feared by the countries that build them, but experiences have yet to prove that they are an effective tool, instead revealing that it is possible to circumvent them.

The cost of building and securing these fences is exorbitant compared to other methods of confronting such threats, especially if it is possible to resolve the conflict, adopt development programs in the countries where the threats are originating, or support security programs, particularly if the border area is large. If the threat level is high, refortifying crossing points through security towers or implementing what is known as a “smart border” appears to be a better option than building a border fence.

This mechanism, which has been adopted by countries such as Algeria, Tunisia, and Kenya, can become a crisis in and of itself, especially if the parties targeted use alternative means to address the crisis, such as digging tunnels across borders. This could increase the costs associated with the security measures these countries impose on their borders.

In light of this, perhaps it can be said that border fences represent an important mechanism for eliminating conventional and unconventional threats and risks in some cases, but it is important to state that they are not the only effective tool available for controlling borders: a fence’s effectiveness is linked to the presence of additional factors such as the evolution of mechanisms to circumvent them. Despite this, it appears that use of this approach will expand in the near future in light of the increasing scope of threats and risks which countries of the region now face.

Keywords: middle eastSecurityBorders