The Whole World – Not Just the U.S. – Is Moving to Secure Its Borders

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It is a globalized world. A person can circle the earth in 36 hours, and an idea can do the same in 36 minutes. The value of international flows of goods, services and finances is today around $30 trillion a year and could triple by 2025. In 2015, the level of global foreign direct investment topped $1.7 trillion with about 60 percent of that amount going to developed countries. The same year, over $700 billion in cross-border mergers and acquisitions were completed. Applications for international patents, trademarks and industrial designs are all growing at a rapid rate. Annually, the number of international tourists is well over one billion, that of trans-border immigrants now tops 200 million, and the number of students studying abroad is around five million.

Yet at the same time, the nations of the world are increasingly concerned with securing their borders and acquiring the ability to monitor the movement of goods, finances and people. This is a response to a number of factors. First and foremost, has been the rise of international terrorism. Defeating modern terrorist groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda requires countering the international networks that provide them with resources, finances, expertise and new recruits. A close second reason is the growth of criminal cartels seeking to move illicit goods, money, weapons and people across borders. A third factor is the potential for a worldwide pandemic. Finally, many countries desire to better manage the inflows of economic migrants and refugees.

Insecure borders may do more harm than war to the institutions, practices, treaties, laws and norms that have sustained the present international order and supported global commerce. The massive tide of migrants battering the European Union’s porous borders over the past several years has done much to weaken confidence in and support for that organization. The opioid epidemic in the U.S. is the result, in part, of narcotics flooding into this country from overseas mail.

It is unfortunate that so much attention in the U.S. has been focused on the creation of a wall along the border with Mexico. The truth is that a portion of the 1,900-mile-long border already has physical barriers. Much of the remaining length of the border is subject to continuing surveillance. Programs such as the Integrated Fixed Towers and Remote Video Surveillance System offer capabilities that could form the backbone of a high-fidelity virtual wall along most of the southern border.

Opponents of a secure U.S. border need to recognize that other countries are aggressively pursuing upgrades to their border security systems. Israel, the gold standard in border security, continues to improve its system of manned, remote sensing and robotic systems. It is precisely because of Israel’s success in preventing cross-border penetrations that terrorist groups have attempted to burrow underneath the border or go over it with drones. Israeli defense companies responded to these threats with revolutionary tunnel detection systems as well as a set of sensors and countermeasures to defeat hostile drones.

Border security has become a major business. A number of U.S. defense companies, many with experience as a result of their work in Iraq and Afghanistan protecting U.S. forces, are now applying their expertise to the global problem of border security. The U.S. government is providing funding for many of these projects through the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Two prominent U.S. defense companies, Raytheon and Leonardo DRS, have been building a sophisticated border surveillance system for Jordan, a U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS. Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman were involved in a recent foreign military sales contract with Egypt to provide its Border Guard forces with mobile surveillance sensor towers, mobile command and control (C2) systems, a regional C2 system, voice/data communications equipment and training.

Smaller U.S. firms are also playing a role in this market. Advanced Technology Systems Company (ATSC) recently was awarded a contract by the U.S. Air Force to provide Egypt with a mobile surveillance sensor security system that would be deployed along the border with Libya. ATSC is also helping the Royal Army of Oman improve its border surveillance capabilities. BTP Construction and consulting and engineering firm AECOM are the winners of a contract to build an electronic fence along the Libyan-Tunisian border.

Elsewhere in the world, Unisys has been supporting Australia’s efforts to secure that country’s vast land and sea border. Raytheon has a project to provide improved maritime border security to the Philippines.

In 2008, Saudi Arabia hired the European defense giant Airbus to lead a consortium to build a fence along its border with Iraq. The next phase of this project will involve securing all 4,000 miles of Saudi Arabia’s borders, with priority to its border with Yemen. The overall project is said to involve hundreds of radar facilities, coastal detection centers, telecommunications networks and reconnaissance aircraft around the country.

The migrant crisis has made border security a priority issue for Europe. The major European defense companies, particularly Leonardo S.p.A, BAE Systems, Thales, and Airbus, are providing solutions both for individual countries and to the European Union.

For countries from Brazil to Nigeria, Egypt, India, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia and South Korea, the problem of border security has become a central concern. The nations of the world recognize that the policies and technologies that led to the rapid globalization of commerce and travel have also created serious threats to the security of almost all nations. The question is whether new security technologies, techniques, and procedures can adequately address these threats while not harming the global economy.


Daniel Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Goure has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team.



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