International Security 28.2 (2003) 78-111
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Redrawing the Line
Borders and Security in the Twenty-first Century
Border control—the effort to restrict territorial access—has long been a core state activity. 1 As territorially demarcated institutions, states have always imposed entry barriers, whether to deter armies, tax trade and protect domestic producers, or keep out perceived "undesirables." All states monopolize the right to determine who and what is granted legitimate territorial access. 2 But there is significant historical variation in border control priorities. Although military defense and economic regulation have traditionally been central border concerns, in many places states are retooling and reconfiguring their border regulatory apparatus to prioritize policing. Thus, rather than simply eroding, as is often assumed, the importance of territoriality is persisting—but with a shift in emphasis. 3 In many cases, more intensive border law enforcement is accompanying the demilitarization and economic liberalization of borders.
The policing objective is to deny territorial access to what I term "clandestine transnational actors" (CTAs), defined as nonstate actors who operate across national borders in violation of state laws and who attempt to evade law enforcement efforts. CTAs are as dramatically varied as their motives. They may be driven by high profits and market demand (e.g., drug traffickers and migrant smugglers), the desire to carry out politically or religiously inspired acts of violence (terrorists), or the search for employment or refuge (the vast majority of unauthorized migrants). They may be highly organized or disorganized [End Page 78] and operate regionally or globally. Nevertheless, these otherwise radically different types of CTAs have some core common characteristics: They are the targets of border controls, and their border-crossing strategies are designed to avoid detection and minimize the risk of apprehension. CTAs have existed in one form or another as long as states have imposed border controls. What has changed over time are the organization of CTAs and their methods and speed of cross-border movement; state laws and the form, intensity, and focus of their enforcement; and the level of public anxiety and policy attention.
Although the methods of policing CTAs vary considerably both at and beyond physical borderlines, they can be collectively categorized as "border controls" given that the goal is to selectively deny territorial access. The intensification of border controls in recent years is evident in sharply rising law enforcement budgets; new and more invasive laws; the development of more sophisticated surveillance and information technologies; stricter visa regimes and more technologically advanced and forgery-resistant travel documents; enhanced cooperation with source and transit countries and a greater extension of tracking and control mechanisms beyond the point of entry (i.e., a "thickening" of borders and the creation of buffer zones); and in some places, growing use of military and intelligence hardware, personnel, and expertise for policing tasks. The importance of policing territorial access is also evident in the rising prominence of law enforcement in international diplomacy and in the policy discourse about borders, with many states formally promoting policing from the traditional status of "low politics" to the "high politics" of security. These border changes are most apparent in the advanced industrialized regions of the world, especially the United States and the European Union (EU), and have been substantially reinforced and accelerated by the policy response to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Although popularly called a "war," much of the day-to-day activities of counterterrorism resemble crime fighting more than war fighting.
Despite the increasing salience of policing CTAs in world politics, this has not been a central area of study in international relations. 4 Even the expansive literatures on transnational relations and globalization have had little to say about the clandestine side of the transnational world and state efforts to police [End Page 79] it. 5 Police matters have typically been bracketed by international relations scholars, left to criminologists and criminal justice specialists who have mostly focused on domestic issues such as local crime control. 6 While the dynamics of border law...