By Kevin Doremus | United States
Ideas of closed and open borders have dominated topics on migration in the American context. The debates focus on what immigration policies should be instead of focusing attention on what is occurring in the international system. Questions of western identity infuse themselves into the discussion. Western societies are gripped by the conflict between differing conceptions of the nation and idealism.
Populist anti-immigrant movements have risen across the Western world. The skepticism of immigration has newfound prominence in Brexit, Swedish Democrats, National Front, Alternative for Germany, Freedom Party, and President Trump’s government shutdown over a border wall. In Western Europe fears of a changing national identity has led to the increase of support for immigration restrictions.
The rise of populist movements has created political chaos. The United Kingdom held a popular vote to exit the European Union without a plan in place in case the electorate voted to leave. Negotiations with the EU produced a Brexit bill that was rejected in the U.K. parliament. In Sweden, the establishment parties formed a coalition government with themselves to isolate the rising Swedish Democrats.
In the United States, political chaos continues with debates over funding a wall on the Mexican border. Central to the Trump campaign was a “big beautiful wall” paid by Mexico. When it became apparent that Mexico was never going to pay for the wall, President Trump sought congressional funding which Democrats refused to fully accommodate.
Mass migration that is affecting the Western world is a result of the United States grand strategy of liberal hegemony. Following the Cold War, the mission of the US foreign policy was to spread liberal democracy and open markets. Attempts to change nation-states from dictatorships to liberal democracies has resulted in a massive outflow of migrants fleeing towards Western Europe.
There are different types of migration. One is the unintended consequences of interventions by foreign actors on nation-states. The other is coercive engineered migration which is a state sending migrants to a target state in an attempt to achieve a specific foreign policy objective. Coercive engineered migration is a form of migration that is manipulated. It can disrupt the social cohesion in a society creating political instability. In addition to testing the social cohesion, mass migration tests the liberal values that western societies claim to hold dear. Liberal nation-states face hypocrisy costs. Mass migration challenges liberal democracies commitment to universal values and human rights. If liberal states place restrictions, they are met with accusations of promoting idealistic values that they do not follow.
Coercive engineered migration is a tool for weaker powers to achieve military and political goals. Kelly Greenhill argues that there are three categories that make up the objectives. The first is dispossessive which “is the appropriation of the territory or property of another group or groups, or the elimination of said group(s) as a threat to the ethnopolitical or economic dominance of those engineering the (out-)migration…” The second is exportive migration. The objective is to solidify political dominance by forcing the opposition to leave or to disrupt the social cohesion of a target state. The third is militarized engineered migration that is meant to disrupt “an opponent’s command and control, logistics, or movement capabilities…”
In her study, Greenhill found that states that engage in coercive migration are successful. Out of fifty-six cases, forty-one cases had a state that is considered a weak power successfully used migration to achieve its objective. These cases include Cuba, Yugoslavia, Haiti, Austria, Poland, Turkey, and North Korea. To maintain social cohesion liberal states have to support five key characteristics.
- Belonging: the sense of connectedness to and pride in the community or the nation
- Inclusion: equal access to resources
- Participation: political/civic participation as well as social/community participation
- Recognition: the extent to which there is mutual respect and tolerance
- Legitimacy: institutionally grounded issues, such as policies promoting pluralism and public confidence in the political system and government.
Coercive migration presents challenges to these characteristics by:
- Power-base erosion: threatening a regime’s relationship with its core supporters
- Unrest: creating popular dissatisfaction with a regime
- Decapitation: jeopardizing the regime leadership’s personal security
- Weakening: debilitating a country as a whole
- Denial: preventing battlefield success (or political victories via military aggression).
The creation of internal instability within a liberal state targeted by coercive migration is designed to force the targeted state to meet the demands of the state that is using coercive migration. The handling of migrants by liberal states is key to stability. If the environment is hostile to newcomers (not meeting the five characteristics of social cohesion), “migrants become ‘permanent outsiders, resentful, skeptical, [and] rebellious.” There can be reasons for hostility on newcomer’s or target state’s side. Collective groups are skeptical of the “other” and fear a shift in the balance of power in politics, culture, and economics. Most commonly in western societies, there are topics of white racism against minority groups. However, this is not always the case.
Language and culture is another aspect of creating apprehension or hostility towards migrants. Central and Eastern Europe are often referred to as inferior or “white oriental.” In the case of Brexit, Central and Eastern Europeans were targets of anti-immigrant crimes. In 2015, Poles became the largest ethnic minority group in the U.K. Central and Eastern Europeans who migrated to the west were seeking better opportunities than their native countries could provide. In response to the influx of Central and Eastern Europeans, western natives feared a loss of jobs and a decrease in wages.
While economists provide very compelling arguments for open borders, they fail to tackle the issue of apprehension. Yes, people can shame and call people racists/xenophobic, but it does not provide a solution to the problem. One of the main concerns is the issue of identity. The Western world has its roots in Western values. Nationalism in the West is ethnocentric. In the East, the nation is cultural. There are two possible directions to find a solution. One is the creation of a civilizational structure, and the other is decentralization.
Civilizational is the centralization of ethnic groups; Alexander Dugin’s concept of Eurasia and Liberal internationalists concept of the Trans-Atlantic, are examples. This idea of the nation would transition to a sense of nationhood, which is a combination of various people groups sharing “language, religion, norms, values, faith, culture, identity, and ideals.” Some believe that nationhood is promoting the idea of multiculturalism and diversity. Raymon Taras and Melissa Aronczyk consider diversity as the “fake news” in constructing nationhood. Diversity discusses social differences but never discusses the social consequences. Issues of racism and xenophobia are results of “fake news” diversity. Nationhood, argues Taras, can link an individual to a “cultural, personal, emotional and devotional experience.” An example of this is Eurasia.
Russian identity following the collapse of the Soviet Union embraces the concept of Eurasia. Russia sees itself as a global power and a multicultural nation. This concept is the cultural crossroads between Western, Oriental, and Islamic civilizations. Eurasianists promote the idea of rossiyanin instead of russki. Rossiyanin is a civic nationalist term for citizens of Russia while russki (ethnic Russian) was deemphasized. Eurasia is a form of multinationalism with ethnic Russians at the core. It is an interesting concept, but it remains to be seen if the concept can hold.
Instead of adopting multinationalism to solve the problem of social cohesion, a decentralized option is possible. Market forces can signal a demand for labor. Systems like in Canada and Australia have systems that “allow[s] labor to flow into those parts of the countries where it is needed and kept away from parts without a labor shortage or that don’t desire immigrants, as well as allowing for states to implement their own policies concerning welfare eligibility.” Zachary Yost argues for privatization of migration. If some areas do not want migration, they do not have to offer local visas to migrants while those who do can provide migrants with visas. It allows for culturally proximate communities to handle social cohesion.
Proximity plays a crucial role in social cohesion. Diasporas overtime integrate into the host’s society but the time it takes depends on the cultural proximity or the cultural distance between the host and the migrant. The longer the distance, the longer it takes to integrate, and an increased likelihood of anti-migrant sentiment rises. Migrants and natives can see their shared values and see themselves both as humans. In analyzing the Middle Eastern migration crisis, Paul Collier and Alexander Betts argue that immigration policies are out of date and that the crisis should be viewed as a development crisis not humanitarian. They also observed that cultural proximity plays an important role. The nation-states that were culturally closer to the migrants did not face the same backlash as the Americas and European states. A market solution within a cultural framework is essential.
There may be alternatives to decentralization and civilization. Discussing social cohesion is important, as some analysts assume human beings are rational. While that is true, there are limits. Virgil Henry Storr notes that “culture set limits to economic rationality: it proscribes or limits market exchange in sacred objects and relations…or between ritually classified groups…Culture provides scripts for applying different strategies to different classes of exchange.” People are institutionalized into certain frameworks as John Mearsheimer notes in his book The Great Delusion. If people can understand the cultural limitations of humans and adapt, it can help to solve issues of social cohesion that stem from immigration.