Migration Will Drive the Next Wave of World Wars

Scanner chatter: Caller says neighbor is armed with a gun and threatening to shoot her. He's already shot her cats.

Today, not only does war continue to cause mass migration, but migration can itself become a cause of war.

January-February 2018

Such “migration interventionism” could of course be entirely peaceful—such as the provision of foreign aid, for example, to specific programs and initiatives that are designed to reduce the level of migration. But it could also take more ambitious, militaristic forms, such as troop deployments to stabilize foreign countries, or regions within them, that are experiencing, or could potentially experience, a significant outflow of population. This would not only reduce or eliminate any incentive for putative migrants to leave, but also allow those foreign governments to deport and return existing migrants to a “safe country”: many international and domestic laws (Article 16a of German Basic Law is an example) prohibit the deportation of a refugee to a country that is not “safe.” However, the legal and practical difficulties of deporting migrants may mean that “migration interventionism” will, in the years ahead, be undertaken more as a preventive exercise—to prevent any possible outflow—than a reactive one.

The emergence of migration interventionism became clear at the Munich Security Conference in February 2017, when the UK defense secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, justified the ongoing, if limited, British presence in Afghanistan on the grounds that the collapse of the country would lead to a massive refugee crisis. “We here will feel the consequences, very directly,” he claimed. “There could be three to four million young Afghan men sent out by their villages to migrate westwards, and they are heading here.” This was a new justification for the allied presence in Afghanistan, which had previously been rationalized on a number of other grounds, varying from combating terrorists who presented a threat to the West to preventing the flow of narcotics and establishing democracy and human rights.

It is possible that any future Chinese military intervention in North Korea, in a bid to resolve the ongoing deadlock surrounding Kim Jong-un’s nuclear provocation, could also become a kind of migration interventionism. Any conflict between North Korea and the United States, or perhaps merely heightened risk of such a conflict, would provoke a huge exodus of North Korean refugees over the northern border, overwhelming Chinese resources.

Instead of committing their own troops overseas in order to prevent or reduce migration into their territory, governments can also sponsor foreign armies to act on their behalf. An example is the G5 Sahel Joint Force, which the French government, supported by other Western countries, began to establish in the Sahel in the course of 2017. Comprising five thousand soldiers drawn from the armies of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad, the force is funded by the EU, whose leaders regard it partly as an anti-insurgent force, but also as a means of reducing the flow of migrants. “Our support will be an important contribution to the efforts to counter terrorism in the Sahel region, as well as irregular migration from West Africa to Europe,” the Danish minister for foreign affairs, Anders Samuelsen, has said. The force is also sanctioned by UN Security Council Resolution 2359, which points to the “serious challenges posed by . . . the smuggling of migrants [and] trafficking in persons” from the Sahel. In the future, such a force could also guard any Western nationals who are posted on foreign soil in order to process asylum claims. (It was just such a proposal that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, appeared to make in the summer of 2017 when he said France could establish processing “hotspots” in Libya—which, since the overthrow of Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, has been a major departure point for millions of refugees.)

Countries that are seeking to stem the migrant flow into their own territory are also increasingly diverting their existing military resources, not just within departure states, but also outside their borders. In the summer of 2015, for example, the EU began EUNAVFOR MED, a naval operation in the Mediterranean Sea that was intended to end human smuggling from Libya by seizing or destroying some of the boats that the gangs were using. Under its mandate, this €12 million operation involved “boarding, searching, seizing and diverting” smugglers’ boats, and wherever possible, efforts to “dispose” of those vessels. “This important transition,” as an EU official argued, “will enable the EU naval operation against human smugglers and traffickers in the Mediterranean to conduct boarding, search, seizure and diversion on the high seas of vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking, within international law.” Vessels, drones and aircraft drawn from at least ten member states formed part of what the EU’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called a “holistic” approach to the migrant crisis.