Borders in international politics

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What is a border?[edit | edit source]

The Great Wall of China.

The "classic" vision of the border is that of a demarcation of the nation state. Malcolm Anderson defines the border as being linked to the territory and the formation of the state, to the physical boundaries of political and legal authorities. The border can be understood as the limits of the State as a physical demarcation which is a delimitation between different authorities.

When we ask ourselves what a border is, we ask ourselves what we are studying when we are interested in borders. We are interested in the question of authority and its limits. Defining a boundary is a capacity given to an entity that has the power to do so, which is an authority. The State has a central role in the delimitation of borders that suggests authority and legitimacy.

Borders and International Relations[edit | edit source]

In the discipline of international relations, traditionally, in Europe, borders have mainly been perceived in military terms around the defence of the territory and the invasion. It is a perspective in line with the realistic approach to be understood in its broadest sense with authors such as Gilpin, Waltz or Mearscheimer.

For the realists, the border is a military place. When we talk about borders, we are talking about territory that is linked to the pursuit of national interests in an anarchic international context where states have interests that they seek to maximize. The threats are military and outside the territory. Borders become a strategic place to defend or break.
The border has a deterrent function against a military attack. Switzerland has long invested in the defence of its borders to deter attacks on its military borders and to lock itself in a national reduction. It is important that the military conception of the border has until recently dominated the perception of what a border is.

For Charles Tilly, the military focus is linked to the long process of forming the modern state as a war machine. It is the idea that the State is a war machine, over several centuries, the modern State has been built on the practice of war which had a transformative value. The idea of a border is clearly defined around an affinity with the military concept.

For some time now, it has been observed that borders are less and less a military issue. There is a decrease in inter-state conflicts, which is one of the consequences of the end of bipolarity. Transnational issues are emerging that are becoming increasingly important from the point of view of globalization, which is increasingly permeable between them since globalization is seen as a series of flows that cross the border. Since September 11, there has been a questioning of the internal - external division of labour, such as, for example, between the police and the military.

Barrière États-Unis-Mexique à Tijuana.

As much, there was a realistic conception, now there is a globalist conception that questions the relevance of borders and their erosion. There are authors around the theory of globalization such as Manuel Castells around the network society and a convergence of interests with a liberal approach with the importance of the notion of trade. What these approaches have in common is that borders are being eroded. There is a return to the globalist approach that makes the state losing its relevance and emptying it of its substance.

There are other approaches, in particular that of Casttells, for whom borders are no longer lines, but transaction points in his networks that are an overcoming of thought between lines towards network thinking. In this approach, the borders are outdated. Omahe speaks of a world without borders, which is to say that in a world of flows, borders are erased because they have as such to prevent flows from flowing.

More liberal theses question the military approach to the border with Rosencrance, which develops the idea of a commercial state, which is that as trade becomes more important in our militarized societies, borders prevent trade from developing, especially since in the concept of democratic peace, trade is a condition for achieving peace between states and between peoples and commercial logic goes beyond military logic. Roseau describes this process as "overflow". Since the 1970s, these international flows have been seen as a challenge to traditional flow logics as perceived by realists such as Keohane and Nye, who speak of complex interdependencies. There is a "globalist" questioning of the military definition of the border. The State is losing its importance and authority in the face of new transnational actors and flows. The erosion of the State is a bit like what we always come across saying that the State is not enough to manage world affairs at a supranational level.

Often, when we talk about September 11, we are talking about a return of the State, particularly in the area of security. We see here a partial questioning of this globalist perspective. But there is a growing importance of transnational economic flows and the reduction of the military threat does not necessarily mean less interventionist state practices in the field of border security. Globalist and realistic approaches are back-to-back. For realists, borders are military places, as in Mearsheimer's Back to the Future. It is an ahistorical reading of international relations with the idea that the border will remain the place where military affairs are played out. On the contrary, for globalists, borders are dominated by flows where state competences are being eroded. In reality neither of these things happens.

Ultimately, these two approaches may overlook a third dimension of the border dimension. Everyone is stuck in a certain conception with the realists stuck in a military dimension and the globalists in an economic dimension. But the border has always been a police place that the English call "policing". The notion of "policing", which is a function of the State that has always existed, is the ability to say who is desirable or undesirable on its territory. It is a question of the authority and legitimacy of the State that has not disappeared today.

The "policing" of borders[edit | edit source]

In Redrawing the Line. Borders and Security in the Twenty-first Century[9], Peter Andreas states that we tend to forget that the logic around a border has always involved forms of control affecting territoriality.

Ri2 policing frontières.png

Each type of border has different functions, forms and historical trajectories. Traditional approaches tend to refer to the first two types of military and economic borders. These types of borders have declined with the acceleration of the speed of trade and the phenomenon of globalization and a decline in the military border with the virtual disappearance of the idea of a direct military threat, which is the virtual disappearance of interstate war and the affirmation of democratic peace. As these functions lose importance, it is the third function that takes on the importance of border police, which is the ability to exclude undesirables who are transnational clandestine actors. These transformations mainly affect Europe and the United States. It is important to think that these notions have always coexisted so as not to essentialize the border as something military in the sense that the border was hermetic before. The borders have never been sealed. It is the idea that the emphasis is on a type of border management that is called "policing". The objective of border police management is to prevent access to the territory by undesirable elements such as illegal transnational actors who are criminals, illegal immigrants or terrorists. The role of the State is to say who has legitimate access to the territory of the State.

If we leave the two approaches whose challenge is to match a reality with a preconceived framework with globalists who say that borders are in a phenomenon that goes into the erosion of the state, we realize that the state in question, if the emphasis is so much on policing, finds itself at the crossroads between the two logics put forward by the realists and the globalists. The border remains a dangerous place from the point of view of the State to guard against threats, but on the other hand, the State needs to facilitate economic flows and the movement of certain people. The challenge is to manage these two issues. The role of the State today is an ability to combine the effects of globalization in terms of the importance of flows, but at the same time to manage threats. The policing modality becomes a mode of control of the territory.

Borders are therefore neither eroding nor evolving, but are being re-articulated around the territorial exclusion of undesirables while ensuring easy access for those who have the right to move freely. The question is how to manage the border in a globalized context from the moment globalization has a dark side. As long as the flows allow growth, this is a good thing, but ill-intentioned people can also benefit from these flows. The priority of border control is now focused on the exclusion of undesirables in a context of globalized insecurity. A whole part of the challenges of globalization are linked to security with the question of how to guarantee the prerogative to protect its citizens in a world where there is an imperative of mobility. The challenge is to know what mechanism to put in place to reconcile the imperatives of security and the flows of globalization.

Territoriality, authority and security[edit | edit source]

The importance of territoriality persists. The State retains the primary authority to determine who has and who does not have access to the territory. Borders remain tangible for many, especially for illegal migrants. One of the transformations of the border and remote border control as with the need to obtain a visa before traveling. Border control has been outsourced both at the border and in the rest of the world. The State retains the authority to define what the border is.

The border does not only have a deterrent function since it allows the exercise of State authority, because it is at the border that the decision is made as to who is legitimate or illegitimate, who is trusted, who represents a risk, who can enter, who is excluded. The border is a place that creates normality and encourages amalgamation. Beyond the function of deterrence, there are a number of rituals that affirm the authority of the state, such as passport checks, body searches, interrogations.

Through these border security practices, the State (re)asserts its authority. The border becomes a place where authority and its limits are redefined. The state is not eroded at all in terms of border control. In view of the new practices, the challenge for States is to reconcile the "positive and negative" aspects of globalization. The border is an increasingly "policed" place. The border does not therefore disappear, but rather it is a central place in the determination of contemporary political issues that determines the reorganization of borders. In the distinction between "community" and "extra-community", it is the definition of political categories.

The increasing importance of border policing has a number of consequences. The State does not disappear, but redeploys itself in different ways of exercising control. New and increasingly sophisticated cross-border surveillance and control systems are being set up with innovative filters that mobilize technology in the sense that some forms of technology have become widely available and applicable. Since the challenge is no longer to have a hermetic border, but an egalitarian one, the filter must be effective. This involves setting up new control and monitoring mechanisms to determine who is legitimate and who is illegitimate. More political and ethical issues arise in determining who is dangerous or not in advance.

More and more military and police practices converge and challenge the traditional division of labour with the police who deal with what happens inside the state and the army with what happens outside. This blurs the border. There is an increase in cooperation between police, migration and customs offices. We can see a thickening of the borders that is no longer a line. For example, the European Neighbourhood Policy is maintained between the European Union and neighbouring countries with countries that are not intended to become members. The border is getting thicker with the implementation of measures in increasingly larger countries with the increase in remote controls. This also raises privacy issues. In the European construction and with the implementation of information systems, there is no check and balance regime. There is a danger around privacy, around the accumulation of data. For Bigo, we find ourselves in a logic where we proceed in this way to ensure the safety of some, but this safety of some is at the expense of the safety of others.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

Articles[edit | edit source]

Cours[edit | edit source]

The border: a fetish object of political geography, fluctuating forms and effects

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]