How can the Western world respond to the mass migration of desperate refugees and economic migrants into its territory? The challenge seems all the more pressing in the light of the tragic scenes along the Polish-Belarussian border, where Vladimir Putin and Aleksander Lukashenko appear to have “weaponized” migrant flows into the European Union in retaliation for the sanctions against Belarus imposed by Brussels last year.
Such “Migrant Wars”—which I warned about back in 2017—are also taking place elsewhere in the world. The French government appears to be deliberately allowing considerable numbers of refugees to cross the English Channel, launching boats from French soil in a bid to reach English shores, and its likely motive is to retaliate against Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
There are several other, relatively recent, examples of such weaponization. Back in 2010, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had claimed that unless he was given large sums of money, Europe would experience the “advance of millions of immigrants” that would transform it into “another Africa.” His comments were condemned as “unacceptable blackmail” by Italian parliamentarians.
And Turkey, which is the host of several million refugees from the Middle East, has made similar sallies at political blackmail in recent years against the European Union: in 2016 it demanded a $3.3 billion aid package and new negotiations on its membership in the European Union in return for stemming the flow of migrants.
Dealing with the rapidly emergent threat posed by mass migration in general, and its weaponization of migration, in particular, will require imagination, tenacity, and a certain audacity. And one such policy response would be the advent of “migration interventionism” by Western governments that could intervene in foreign lands—either countries of departure or transit countries, such as Libya—in a bid to curb those flows at the source.
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.”
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. 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.
The single most compelling example of where migration interventionism could have worked, and to some extent did so, was Afghanistan. After 2001, the allied presence there was 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. But later there was a change of emphasis. For example, at the Munich Security Conference in February 2017, the British 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.”
And instead of retreating and abandoning the country, the United States and its allies could have justified maintaining even a minor presence there. Such a presence could arguably have been maintained at relatively minimal cost—in both lives and spending—and have forestalled the march of the Taliban, which seized the capital on August 21. Not only could this have been justified on national security grounds, but it would have prevented the considerable exodus of refugees which have overwhelmed neighboring countries and spilled out into Europe.
The age of “liberal interventionism” is over, its dreams and illusions swept away in the sands of the Middle East, but the arguments for “migration interventionism” deserve to be carefully weighed.
RT Howard is the author, most recently, of Power and Glory: France’s Secret Wars Against Britain and America 1945-2016.