27 March 2019

In a more and more globalized world, security fences are higher and higher

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

Image source: Mediafax

Currently, one of three states throughout world is protected by a security fence • Candidate Trump promised his fence will be built on Mexican money • The American president did not convince the Mexican president yet • “All you have to do is ask Israel.” says Trump. “They were having a total disaster coming across and they had a wall. It’s 99.9 percent stoppage.”  • The fence at the border with Gaza Strip - the most complex security structure built by Israel • The Great Chinese Wall lasted for thousands of years, but its true usage has been gained only recently, as national symbol and landmark • The European Union has a security wall in Africa.

When Berlin’s Wall fell, there were more than a dozen of walls and security fences in the world. Almost three times more than at the end of World War II. But five times less than in 2019. If Berlin’s Wall was built aiming at blocking the exit of those who wanted to get out of the country, modern walls aim at stopping them from getting in. States which were built, in the recent past, on people and goods’ free circulation, on immigrants' waves who were ready to face the unknown, are also the ones willing to build these walls today.


On 15th of February 2019...

...at an ad-hoc press conference, president Trump announced that he is ready to call on “national emergency” arguments to get the necessary funds to build the wall at the border with Mexico. One of his electoral promises, which is still at the declaratory level, even if in the meantime there was a small war between the Congress and the Administration, which led to the longest shutdown in US’s history, had to start from somewhere. We are in 2019, there were already announced a series of candidates for next year’s presidential elections, so president Trump cannot wait any longer. Because the wall at the border with Mexico is not just about immigrants or US South’s protection against the wave of immigrants that could come from Latin America. It is, firstly, about a political protection, about president’s image, the man who wants his voters to be safe, even if he knows that no wall can actually guarantee that.

And the wall must be sold, as any other political, rather than an infrastructure product.

Firstly, threats must be exaggerated, and the need for emergency as well.

With a speech turn, the president has compared the necessity of building a wall, an expensive, yet simple infrastructure work, with natural or ecological disasters which usually stimulate this kind of decisions.

He presented then the financial disaster the immigrants are producing, the unpaid taxes by those hiring them, the social assistance they are receiving: “billions and billions of dollars a month”. Asked where these numbers are coming from, Trump has answered by pointing out the Department of Homeland Security. In a Tweet posted at the end of January, the president has stated, with clear numbers, that the financial loses of that time of the year were $18.959.495.168. The evaluation did not come from an official American institution, but from a conservatory press agency, One America News Network, which has on its first page a roulette-type of estimation regarding immigration's daily and annual costs.

Then, it was drugs’ turn: “And a big majority of the big drugs – the big drug loads don’t go through ports of entry”. The Drug Enforcement Administration has called out on Trump’s argument with the report for 2018. There were clear dates that, following the seized quantities, many of the illegal hallucinogen substances entered the US through ports’ deposits. And some of the substances can even be ordered through Internet.

In the electoral document, “Contract with the American voter”, president Trump has promised that the wall will be built on Mexicans’ money. However, president Trump did not convince the former Mexican president Pena Nieto that it is in Mexico’s interest for the state budget to lose $18 billion for US’s protection. The current Mexican president, Manuel Lopez Obrador, does not even want to be part of the wall discussion.  The US Congress was not convinced either to give more than $1,6 billion for the 2019 fiscal year for the construction of this wall. This led to president’s refuse for that budget, as approved by the legislative, and then to budgetary structures’ blockage.

Then, we already know what happened. The president got a part of what he wanted, which is not enough for the construction of the wall, so he continued by threatening the US Congress with the using of the special powers to get the necessary amount, using examples from other parts of the world to justify the necessity of building this wall, but also its effectiveness: “All you have to do is ask Israel.” say Trump. “They were having a total disaster coming across and they had a wall. It’s 99.9 percent stoppage.”

Actually, at the beginning of February 2019, Israel’s minister of defence has started the final phase of the galvanized steel fence to surround and completely isolate Gaza Strip. The fence will be 7 meters height and 65km length, on a solid concrete base. It will be deep enough to ensure also the protection against Hamas’ tunnels’ attack.

Security fence’s construction at the border with Gaza Strip has started after the 2014 conflict. Then they sought for solutions to stop the digging of the tunnels under the border. The dramatic 2018 protests pushed Israel in front of a new challenge, the creation of an interdiction space, which would stop anyone from getting close to the border and the use of fire kites. The construction to be completed at the end of this year, answers to most of the challenges, being, probably, the most complex infrastructure structure built by Israel.

However, the example Trump called on is not this one, as he was actually pointing out border with Egypt. Here, the protection structure has definitely decreased a lot the immigrations’ pressure the Jewish state had from Africa. Tel Aviv and Cairo joined forces for this project to be completed, as both states were interested in stopping the migration wave. And the success is clear as day.

The fence, a barbered wire structure equipped with video cameras, radars and motion detectors, which has also some pass-through points, has managed to decrease the illegal immigrants’ number from 9.500, in the first half of 2012, to 30 in the similar period of the following year. Ulterior, border’s number of illegal pass-troughs got to 11 in 2016 and to zero in 2017. This is, indeed, a spectacular evolution, given that in 2010 there were, each month, around 1.500 illegal entries through this portion of the border.

Today, the 40.000 African immigrants, 70% of Eritrea, 20% of Sudan, who came, most of them, between 2006-2012, before building the security fence, could consider themselves lucky, even if their status in Israel remains unclear.

Success came with a $2 million cost per kilometer, the complete construction of the fence being estimated to $450 million for the 242 border kilometers.

And, indeed, there is no coincidence that among the companies chosen to create one of the eight prototypes for the wall at the border with Mexico is Elta North America, a subsidiary company of the Israel Aerospace Industries trust.


Why is this security borders infrastructure so intense debated lately?

Globalization produces also unexpected consequences. It is a world wherein products and people, money and information are moving so fast and so easy that are creating unexpected opportunities, but also uncertainties and insecurity. The liberal world is staved off by the conservative, traditionalist visions of some categories of the population, of some states and politicians. Openness comes with protection measures as well. Fences and security walls are part of this phenomenon, which is rather political, although, in particular cases, their effectiveness is certain.

US’s need to have a security fence and the border with Mexico is a topic debated for decades, and, in the meantime, some of it was actually built, but it was never as debated as it was in the past two years. And not even in these two years the public visibility was the same. The first year of Trump’s Administration hss gone without him materializing the promises made during the electoral campaign on this matter. It is again in the spotlight because another electoral campaign is around the corner.

Security walls and fences are not that useful for the conventional military protection of the territory. These can be used for this purpose only where the technological and the endowment difference between those on distinct parts of the border is too high.

Many of the states got full protection, or only on sensitive parts of the border, by raising barbered wire fences or even concrete blocks. Around 65 states, according to some evaluations. As there are 50 island states in the world, naturally protected, it comes out that from these states with terrestrial borders, half of them chose to build such borders between them and their neighbors.  

Although these are expensive, are also somehow cheaper than the costs that managing a great number of immigrants would involve, being the exact reason of their construction. Domestic investments, to create the economic and social accommodation conditions, or foreign ones, to convince those assaulting borders to remain in their own states, are huge, long-term and hard to be implemented and tracked. Fences are handy. And it is one of the electoral promises which can be accomplished with quite reduced costs (the US is an exception, given border’s length), pretty quick and, most important, to get voters’ sympathy.


Fences, walls and mine fields for all needs, tastes and requirements

Hence, we have the classic example, Berlin’s Wall, which lasted from 1961 until 1989. There’s the other example as well, truly classic and historical, the Great Chinese Wall, which lasted for thousands of years, but whose true usage was gained only recently, as national symbol and landmark. We have security fences built by Israel for different types and intensities of the threats this always-on-alert state is facing. This year began with the rhetoric of the wall at the US-Mexico border.

But there are other examples as well:

  • the double-wire concertina fence between India and Pakistan, named also the Kashmir control line, with a 550 km length, built on the Indian part of the border, in order to stop the infiltrations from the Pakistanis part. It has motion sensors, video, and illumination and warning systems, connected at the electric system. Between the two barbered wire lines there are mines. It is strongly contested by Pakistan, and as for its effectiveness, the last events, the bloody attack over the Indian militaries, the air forces` clash between the two offended countries are showing the contrary;
  • the wire fence built by India, this time at the border with Bangladesh, with a 3000 km length, 95% completed. The objective was to combat the traffic and immigration, India being a mirage for the poor inhabitants from Gange and Brahmaputra’s rivers delta;
  • “the peace walls” in Northern Ireland, built by two communities that were in a conflict after 1969. Now, these are some kind of a touristic monument and easel for the graffiti pieces of art. These are speculated to be destroyed by 2023, but the Brexit debates can raise some complications, somehow or other;
  • the wire fence, 450km length, at the border between Finland and Russia, built to stop reindeers’ migration on the Russian territory.  The coincidence is that, after building it, the number of immigrants using the reverse course has decreased also;
  • the two kilometers length wall, built with British money (equal to $23 million), on the French territory in order to prohibit immigrants' access through the English Channel. Hence, from the number of the island states, we have to put one aside;
  • the sand berm, 2700 km, built by Morocco in East of Spanish Sahara, but also of its own territory, to stop fighters’ attacks from the Polisario Front, who are contesting Rabat’s sovereignty over this space. Even if it is placed in an extremely barren field, this sand wall has barbered wire systems, bunkers, electronic tracking systems and the longest mine field in the world;
  • the concrete wall, but also the barbered wire fence, built by Spain, in the 70’s, around its enclave Melilla and Ceuta, in North of Morocco, to protect them from immigrants’ entry in North of Africa. The Spanish wall is, actually, a wall to separate the European Union from Africa, the only place in the world that, with only one jump over the barbered wire, one can directly enter Europe. Hundreds of Africans are doing it, annually. Because it was proven that it is almost impossible to stop these immigrants' waves, in the actual structure of the protection barrier, president Trump offered the Spanish a free advice: “make a wall in Sahara”. “It cannot be longer that our border with Mexico”, insisted the president;
  • the concrete 765 km length wall built by Turkey along the border with Syria, in Sanliurfa, Gazintep, Kilis, Hatay, Mardin and Sirnak districts. It has warning systems, sensors and parallel barbered wire fences. Currently, they are working on completing the last portion they have committed to in 2015, reaching 826 km, and they are about to reach the total length of the Turkish-Syrian border, of 911 km. After receiving 3,5 million refugees, Turkey has decided that this wall can be discouraging against them and the terrorists, the latter being usually the Kurds from North of Syria. Those supported by the US until recently! Complicated!

There are also the barbered wire fences Saudi Arabia built, preventively, at the border with all its neighbors, the Arabs, as there are no other people around. With the support of the European companies, for example, the well-known EADS (which became Airbus Military and Space), one of the most moderns in this field. There are also the security accommodations, fences, but also mine fields at the Turkey-Greece border, especially Evros section, where the security fence is known in the local environment as “immigrants' fence”.

And there are also other examples, on each continent of the world.



It was speculated that globalization will cut borders off. Security threats, but also the lack of new solutions at the new waves of immigrants, which are passing through Africa’s deserts or Middle East’s ones, the tropical bridges of Latin and Central America, South and South East Asia flooded camps, in search of a better life somewhere in the North, supposedly more developed, rich and civilized, have provoked excitement for building barriers against them, but also other collateral threats.

Sometimes are more effective, other times being extremely effective, and it happens to have consequences, also, collateral, the most important being the dislocation of those living on one side and the other of the artificial barrier, the negative ecological impact, tensions’ increase between states.

The use for mostly political and electoral purposes is transforming them in temporary projects, subjected to electoral cycles, perishable in regard of a long-term solution.

Because those against the fences and walls are built, finally, will find a solution to jump over. They will adapt. They always do.