The Folly of Outsourcing Border Security
In late July, a military coup in the West African country of Niger against its elected president has created a deepening crisis in the region. Nearby military-ruled countries are now squaring off against Western allies and the prospect of a devastating war looms large. The Sahel region of Africa is already dangerously overpopulated and is one of the poorest and most unstable places on earth. Thousands of miles north in Europe, leaders are also fretting because Niger was one of the linchpins of their outsourced migration strategy. This threatens new waves of migrants and a change in the willingness of countries in the region to stop them from heading to Europe. Niger’s turmoil, and that of several other nations involved, are a warning to America: border security can’t be outsourced.
Most European nations have policies that, like the U.S., are generous to migrants. To hold back a tidal wave of migration, the European Union had begun relying on compacts and informal agreements with Turkey and several African nations (including Niger) to control migration before it reaches Europe’s borders. Europe is now finding out that there is simply no substitute for deterrence and controlling your own borders. This is far more effective that giving money to corrupt and authoritarian states like Niger, Tunisia or Turkey and then being surprised when they take the money but do not uphold their promise to stop migrants coming your way. Turkey hosts millions of migrants whose destination of choice would be the much wealthier E.U., and has found that threatening to let these migrants cross into Greece and beyond is a valuable negotiation tactic. This has included demanding more money from the E.U., gaining visa-free access to Europe for Turkish nationals and forcing the E.U. to take in more migrants.
The U.S. similarly relies on other countries to slow down, if not stop, the flow of migration towards the southern border by processing or holding them away from America itself. This involves heavy cooperation with Mexico as well as formal asylum cooperative agreements (unfortunately scrapped by the Biden administration) and other initiatives in Central America. The problem is that these countries are blighted by official corruption, are run by politicians with hostile attitudes to America and have no desire to host large numbers of migrants (with all the costs involved) when these migrants can simply be let free to head elsewhere and become someone else’s problem. Despite promises from these countries, massive waves of migrants that have traveled from or through them still show up at the U.S. border.
It is not just our land borders that are under threat. We face our own armada of migrant boats and our only real partner is controlling them is the venerable but tiny Bahamian Coast Guard. However, the Bahamas is a rich country and has less of a problem with corruption than many other countries, so they are a more reliable partner. The same cannot be said for the impoverished, corrupt and sometimes hostile states that frequently feed migrants into the U.S. and/or lay along transit routes. Countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela create waves of migrants but do not accept their own citizens deported from the U.S. for political reasons. This forces the U.S. to rely on third countries to accept deportees from these nations, and the Biden Administration thoughtlessly canceled several agreements with third countries that would allow exactly this.
If the government of Mexico stopped accepting people turned back from the U.S. border by expedited removal, this would lead to the complete collapse of the border almost overnight with devastating consequences for national security and American communities. The U.S. and E.U. cannot continue relying on others to do the necessary work of border security when that work can reverse itself in an instant due to sudden world events like the coup in Niger.
Several countries are already waking up to the fact that relying on third countries to protect your borders for you is a fool’s errand. Tired of threats and deception from Turkey, Greece is now embarking on building an ambitious border wall of its own. In June 2021, Greece began to limit migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria. In 2021, there were 6,424 rejections of applications as “inadmissible”, a sharp 126% increase on 2020 figures. Greece has shown that by securing your own borders and making your own political and legal decisions, the narrative of inevitable illegal migration can be challenged.
Border security is national security and the U.S. and E.U. must be honest and recognize that the buck stops with them. Border walls work, and America would not have political issues deporting illegal aliens if they were prevented from entering in the first place. Australia pioneered the world’s most successful program to stop migrant boats from reaching its shores, and a rational enforcement-minded administration would copy that successful playbook. Similarly, Greece has shown that by taking political leadership, land migration can be successfully confronted. Cooperation with safe third countries is essential, but so is self-reliance in a devastatingly fickle world. While cooperation with good actors in third countries must always be part of our border security strategy, the ultimate ingredient is being in charge of our own borders.