International Border Security: The Paradox Of Open Borders

European Open Border

European Open Border

International Border Security can be a true paradox, especially when it comes to The European Union. The EU is an interconnected web of countries where goods and services flow freely across borders. There’s no stamping of passports at airports, no long queues at border checkpoints. Most times you won’t even notice you’re crossing from one country to another.

However, increased mobility has itself generated a problem that now threatens to change the European Union.

The immigration from inside the EU and the Middle East’s war-torn countries causes tensions. Politicians call for increased international border security. And little by little, it erases the mostly pro-EU sentiment of the early 2000s and turns politics to the Euro-critical right.

While even Northern Europe has received its share of migrants and refugees, a bigger part of the demographic pressure is concentrated in the central countries. Germany, France, and Spain, as well as the United Kingdom, are all affected. Of course, the UK is already set on leaving the EU.

Will this trend break the unity in the continent? What is happening in the Americas, and is Brexit an indicator of the end of the integration utopia?


Peace Through Trade: The Origins Of European Unity

[Image via Sara Kurfeß-Unsplash]
The European Union has its origin in the post-World War II Western Europe. There was an urgent need to bring peace to a continent that had suffered periodic large-scale wars for centuries. This prompted the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), a predecessor of the EU.

The first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Konrad Adenauer, and French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, saw economic cooperation and institutional integration as the key to eradicating war. Their ideas were the foundation of the alliance between two historic foes, as well as NATO and the European Union.

Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane later theorized this economic way of seeking peace and called it complex interdependence. “Nations are less likely to enter wars with each other when they depend on each other to prosper,” Keohane and Nye claimed.

While they may have been right, their predictions didn’t help foresee the current tensions in the region.


The Golden Age Of The EU And Immigration

[Image via Martin Krchnacek-Unsplash]
In 2006, I was a Finnish immigrant in Barcelona. The transition from Finland to Spain was as easy as it could be. I had a residence permit automatically, no explanations needed. You only needed to apply for a local social security number and ID number. I even had the same right to free health care, work, and unemployment insurance as a local.

For young, especially college-educated people, the EU has had immeasurable importance. I’m from the generation that got to experience the best parts of European integration. I was nine when my country joined the EU. When I was old enough to travel by myself I got to know a borderless continent.

Free movement was not only possible but increasingly common. Erasmus grants for college students to spend 6-12 months in another EU country are customary. It is almost strange to not participate in the tradition and spend a semester abroad on the Union’s dime.

While my demographic might be the one that has most benefited from the EU, it is not the most politically active. For example, in the Brexit poll organized in the UK in 2016, the vote was polarized.  Young people mostly voted to remain in the EU, but people over 65 were more than twice as likely to vote to leave.

Meanwhile, the 18-24-year-old participation was at 65%, adults over 65 beat them, at around 90% of participation.

This EU-resentment has several origins. However, the open borders, the financial crises of the past decade, and the arrival of refugees fleeing from conflict in the Middle East have contributed to it.


The Erosion Of Pro-European Sentiment 

European Union Stars
[Image via Vector Stock]
The EU grew in the ’90s and early 2000s, adding new members. But many people were not happy with the influx of workers from countries of the old Eastern Bloc. In the end, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania got the same status as their more institutionalized and established peers in 2004 and 2007.

As a result, immigration from these countries, sometimes perceived as less developed than the original members, started accelerating.

A severe financial-crisis hit countries like Greece and Spain and required assistance from the European Central Bank. Later, the refugee crisis kicked off by the war in Syria steepened the divisions between different sectors of most European societies.

Outrage against rising levels of immigration also helped the rise of the extreme right across the continent, from Sweden to Spain. In the UK, the 2016 campaign to leave the EU was heavily influenced by the growing nationalist sentiment and xenophobia.


From Brexit To Backstop

[Image via Habib Ayoade-Unsplash]
Brexit will finally happen in a matter of days. The UK will officially start the process of withdrawing from the EU on January 31. This will kick off a process scheduled to finalize by the end of December. But as far as border security goes, Brexit still presents political and economic problems. 

The UK’s only problematic land border will be on the historically disputed island to its west. There, the Republic of Ireland shares a frontier with the UK territory of Northern Ireland.

Yet going back to a hard, militarized border between the two countries could bring back old clashes between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the UK.

Negotiations are still underway as to what the solution might look like, but the Irish border is a very sensitive issue. The paramilitary group New IRA has already declared it does not accept any border in Ireland. The group defines checkpoints as “infrastructure of British occupation.”

A “backstop,” or the guarantee of a soft border in Northern Ireland and keeping the territory as part of the EU’s customs laws, proved to be internally problematic. Pro-Brexit voters and Unionists, who support the union between Northern Ireland and the UK, were vehemently against it.

Johnson had to promise to not implement checkpoints at the border and to keep Northern Ireland firmly in the UK. However, it is still unclear how a new regime of international border security will be implemented in practice.


International Border Security In South America

Tri-Border in South America
[Image taken via Taru Anniina Liikanen of Tri-Border]
On the other side of the Atlantic, South America has its own version of a trade union.. Mercosur was founded in 1991 between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. It had the goal of making movement and trade cheaper and easier between member nations, much like the EU. But it is far from the European example of nonexistent borders.

Demographic and security-related pressures could make it less likely for South American nations to move on in that direction. 

Immigration currently causes tension in the region, especially since the entry of Venezuela to Mercosur in 2012. The eased requirements gave options for people to escape the poverty and violence that had taken over their nation. According to the World Bank, around 4.6 million people have fled Venezuela during the region’s biggest humanitarian crisis.

This puts a strain on other countries’ institutions and resources, especially those of neighboring Colombia and Peru, but also Mercosur members Brazil and Argentina.

International border security is especially relevant in South America due to organized crime. The Tri-Border area between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay is a hotbed of illegal activity that ranges from drug and human trafficking to money laundering and international terrorist organizations.

Even Hezbollah is suspected to be operating in the area. Interpol refers to the Tri-Border Area as “strategic” due to the estimated tens of billions of dollars generated there through illegal activities every year.

It doesn’t help that the borders in the region are often quite permeable. Controlling borders is a challenging task for South American nations, especially thanks to the large extensions of land, difficult terrain, jungles, and rivers. Transnational criminal organizations have grown more prominent in size in recent decades, from Argentina to Colombia and all the way up through Central America.


Build That Wall — Or Boost Cooperation

[Image via Bruno Figueiredo-Unsplash]
In the United States, international border security dominated the presidential election of 2016 and the 2018 midterms. A “caravan” of people fleeing from insecurity and rampant gang violence and heading north to seek asylum kept making headlines.

Yet most illegal immigrants enter the U.S. through legal points of entry, and neither a wall nor legislation will completely keep them away.

What would generate the biggest impact in curbing illegal immigration would be improved living conditions in their countries of origin. Central America’s impoverished countries have over the past decades witnessed everything from dictatorships to drug cartels and increasing gang violence.

However, these nations also lack the necessary infrastructure and resources to fight them. To keep the crisis from growing would take coordinated, region-wide effort and resources. But nations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean are heading in a more nationalist direction.

When industrialized powers seek to keep their borders as tight as possible, they could even end up causing more damage.

Climate change and post-Arab Spring instability will most likely increase the demographic pressure in Europe. The EU’s own open immigration laws will contribute to the problem. Rising inequality, criminal organizations, and violence will likely also keep tensions high in the Americas in the coming years. 

In Europe and across the world, it seems we’ve reached the end of the era of open borders and a return to higher militarization. This would mean the demise of Adenauer and Schuman’s dreams of peace and unity that originated the European integration.


[Featured Image via Daily Mail]


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