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Author: Heidi   Berner
Title: International Security Risks (II)

Country: United States
Avialable for Download: Yes

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Traditionally an issue of economic and social policy, migration has been transformed into an issue of high politics, engaging the attention of all parties involved in defense, international security, and external relations. This redefinition of the issue of international migration must be understood against the broader challenges that globalization poses to the system of territorially bounded nations. In contrast to the increasing liberalization of the international flows of goods, capital, or services, the flows of people may be seen as one of the last bastions where states seek to maintain control, and it is increasingly perceived as a challenge to the national sovereignty. Coupled with the diversification of the concept of security at the end of the 20th century, international migration is linked to various dimensions of security, both within states and the international level. It is important to understand, that migration can be both, the cause of security problems and a consequence of security problems.

At the start of the 21st century, one of every 35 persons worldwide is an international migrant. If all the world’s migrants were in one place, they would create the sixth most populous country in the world – after China, India, the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil. Migrants, often welcomed for economic, political, and humanitarian reasons, international migration has also brought into play many sensitive issues of national and international security, identity, cultural adaptation, and economic development.

The sectors of security

Security can be divided into the following sectors:

Military security

Military security deals with the military capabilities of state and non state actors.

Political security

Political security refers to the stability of political systems and their ideational foundations.

Economic security

Maintaining economic security means, maintaining an adequate level of welfare for a given population and ensuring that the economic system can provide welfare.

Societal security

Societal security relates to the need to retain linguistic, cultural, and religious customs.

Environmental security

Environmental security means the maintenance of conditions on which human well-being and survival depends.

Migration is a challenge to certain sectors of security: Various issues associated with intra-state and inter-state security and insecurity are very often the cause of international migration flows.

Migration, economic, societal, and environmental security

Economic security

Economic differences and the growing gap between the industrially developed and the developing world are key factors in international migration flows and account for both the “pull” of changing demographics and labor market opportunities in many industrialized countries and the “push” of overpopulation, unemployment, and crisis in less developed countries. Whereas many developing countries have established specific government programs to actively promote foreign employment for part of their work force, the emigration in particular of workers with specific skills and experiences can also lead to “brain drain”, causing the labor-exporting country to lose human resources necessary for the development of its own economy. I think that the economic rationale behind the active promotion of emigration stems from the perceived benefits of funds sent by emigrants to their home countries. In many developing countries, the total volume of such remittances exceeds funds received from official development assistance and foreign direct investment sources. Although immigrants are often welcomed as an additional – and often cheap – labor force, they are sometimes also seen as a problem for the economic security of the receiving country. This is particularly evident in periods

of high unemployment in the receiving country and when immigrants are portrayed as an economic burden on schools, housing, or social security systems.

Societal security

While state security deals primarily with threats to a state’s sovereignty and the survival of its institutions, societal security relates to threats to a society’s identity – defined as the set of ideas and practices that identify individuals as members of a social group. Although national identities and cultures have been in flux, in recent years migration has increasingly been viewed from a societal security perspective. On the one hand, this is the case when migration and refugee flows are generated by ethnic conflicts and politics of ethnic cleansing that aim at achieving cultural homogeneity or at asserting the dominance of one ethnic community over another in given territory. On the other hand, the perception of an unregulated influx of migrants is sometimes perceived as a potential threat to the culture of the receiving society and a challenge to its basics values and linguistic and religious customs. An alarming development, which also impacts on the human security of migrants, is the emergence of a clandestine industry of traffickers and human smugglers who profit from migrant’s hope for a better life.

Environmental security

Droughts, earthquakes, and progressive desertification are among the main causes of ecologically induced refugee flows. At the same time, massive refugee flows can be a strain on an environment when refugee camps lack the basic infrastructure for sheltering and nourishing large numbers of people. 

11 September and immigration

Could the attacks of September 11 2001 on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon have been avoided, if US immigration control policies had functioned better? According to some sources, at least 16 of the 19 men who hijacked US planes before turning these into weapons had entered the country legally on student or tourist visas.

This incident highlighted four reasons why current US immigration policies do little to thwart potential terrorists:

- The procedure for obtaining visas and identification documents do not stop potential criminals from entering the US

- Illegal entry into the country is relatively easy, even without a visa, because of the long lightly guarded US border

- Once they are inside the country, it is difficult to track the presence of illegal immigrants, even once their visa have expired

- There has (until recently) been little cooperation or information sharing among countries with regard to terrorist suspects

As a result, the US and many other countries have started to re-examine their immigration policies and to look for means to thwart potential terrorists. The main areas in which changes to immigration policies are believed to counter future terrorist threats include:

- More restrictive visa issuance and more rigorous entry inspections, including the use of high-tech instruments, such as biometrics

- Tighter boarder controls, with additional agents, fences, lights, and other technological material

- Increased surveillance of foreigners already in the country

In addition, countries have intensified international cooperation, harmonizing

their control policies and exchanging data and information on migration flows, terrorist activities, smuggling, and trafficking operations. In my opinion, many countries could do better in disclose information’s.

These developments have strengthened the links between security policy and migration and have weakened the role of the traditional institutions that deal with immigration, especially the ministries of social affairs and employment. The increasing involvement of the police, intelligence services, and the army in immigration control is not unproblematic with regard to human rights, fundamental freedoms, and data protection and has been criticized for challenging the legal and moral principles of liberal democratic states.

Perception and the social construction of risks

Migration is a basic feature of human life and not an objective threat to either national or international security. In fact, the changing character of government’s

responses to emigration and immigration since the inception of the modern nation-state is a clear indication of changing perceptions of the chances and challenges associated with international mobility. 

The complex causes and patterns of international migration make it difficult to pinpoint who is responsible for undesired migration flows, let alone to judge whether the outcome of a migration process benefits or harms the receiving and societies where migrants come from. Is international migration a result of the demand of immigrants, who see various opportunities in receiving countries, including labor recruitment, better wages, and access to education and training, or is it generated by the growing gap between “North” and “South” and the difficulty in making a living in the migrant’s countries of origin? What is the impact of the processes generally associated with globalization of information and travel technology?

Likewise, “undocumented” migration poses several questions: Does “illegal” labor by undocumented migrants exploit the labor market of the receiving country, or are people who are illegally employed exploited by their employers? In addition, the channels through which undocumented migrants gain entry into receiving countries are unknown. Are those who participate in the trafficking of undocumented migrants ruthless profiteers and criminals, or is the emergence of trafficking networks and the rising numbers of undocumented migrants also a consequence of increasingly sophisticated immigration systems in the North? Finally, public opinion and the rise of

right-wing xenophobic political parties are controversial factors: How far does public opinion reflect the “true” attitudes of a receiving society towards immigration, and to what extend is it manipulated by extremist political parties who encourage antipathy toward immigrants in order to win votes?

Talking about migration and refugee flows as an internal and international security issue is not a neutral act but rather involves questions of public perception, emotional responses, and social constructions that may be incidental to the migration problem itself.

The need to find a political answer

The difficulty involved in trying to give an objective account of the causes, the shape, and the consequences of risks associated with migration does not relive governments and policy-makers of the responsibility of addressing these problems and of defining policies for managing migration in such a way that the benefits of migration are maximized, while associated social, economic, and political disruptions are reduced. On the one hand, it is illusory to think that migration can be completely stopped and that stringent controls at territorial borders can prevent people from entering a country. This would also not be desirable, as migration, if properly managed, has positive effects on individuals, business, and societies. On the other hand, governments need to address the problems associated with population flows, to solve the problems that force people to leave their homes against their will, and to manage the intake, integration

and, if appropriate, the return of the immigrants. It seems to me that the complexity of interests and fears associated with international migration calls for a comprehensive approach that takes into consideration the views of all participating parties while trying to avoid the perception of migrants as threats.

Immigration is a complex phenomenon that has many international, national, and local causes and that impacts on the relations between states, as well as on domestic politics within a given state. Both the causes and consequences of migration are linked to the various sectors of military, political, economic, societal, and environmental security. However, when migration is perceived as a security problem, this is the result of a social construction and of the ways in which political and societal actors present the issues with migration in the public arena. The challenge is to find political answers that maximize the benefits of international migration and reduce the perceived risks associated with it.

Although migration may play a role in a variety of other security risks, these risks rarely emerge simultaneously, and more often than not, migration is unproblematic and even beneficial to the parties involved. Further, both the scope of international mobility and the openness of liberal societies make it impossible to separate potentially “dangerous” migrants from “non-dangerous” ones, as much as it is practically impossible to separate “wanted” from “unwanted” immigration. Although all risks should be considered in any migration policy, a political approach to immigration cannot be

dominated by potential threats. Rather, migration policies need to consider all facts of migration, including social, political, economic, security, and human rights issues – with regard to the receiving country, the country of origin, and for the individuals in question.

International migration is linked to national and international security risks in many ways. In most cases, migration is either an outcome of another security problem, such as armed or political conflict, or it is a means by which another security risk – such as illicit drugs or terrorism – is carried across national borders. In exceptional cases, migration can be a security risk, if it has destabilizing effects on the public order.


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