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Border security: Realism vs. Utopianism

In a world of nation-states and borders, is it right for us to believe that national borders are inviolable? At stake are two distinctly different ideologies. Firstly there is an expectation by citizens of Australia that something be done to deter people smuggling rackets circumventing national laws governing the numbers and methods by which people enter the country. And then there is the idea of ‘doing what’s right’ to preserve the human rights (broadly defined) of people wanting to escape their countries of origin. The pawns of this ideological struggle are the Australian people (usually, but not always drawn from the middle classes and lower socio-economic groups) fearful that unrestrained people movements will erode their national way of life and undermine their ability to compete fairly in the labour market. Then there are the asylum seekers themselves, believing that Australia will secure for themselves and their children a better life. This is potentially an explosive issue. Therefore we need to take a realist view of international relations.

Australia is a sovereign nation and its citizens, that is, the people whose taxes go into propping up the edifice of the Commonwealth of Australia, have a human right. Their right is due because they are directly invested in the functioning of their society. It is they who have the right to expect their political leadership to enact laws designed to control the entry of people into their country. Without such laws, any country is essentially borderless. Internally, the threat is that the existing system of law and order becomes increasingly meaningless as different illegal migrant groups cluster together in exclusive enclaves, their ‘rights’ protected by well-meaning civil libertarians. Without a national integrative mechanism controlling immigration and encouraging new comers into an inclusive national community, Australia will eventually become a collection of semi-autonomous ethnically and socially disaggregated groups. Human rights advocates don’t necessarily see this as a bad outcome. They argue that the greater the base of diversity and the sharing of different belief structures, the greater the possibility of Australia becoming a paragon of internationalism – a utopian ‘non-state’ where the United Nations and all forms of multilateralism replace the need for Canberra or other centres of national or sub-national authority. This, however, is a view that cannot sit comfortably with existing realities. The United Nations and all forms of multilateralism (economic and social) only exist because sovereign states signed up to them. But, taking a closer look at this, the more states that have signed up to UN or other multilateral conventions, the less credible these organisations appear. Why? Because the core Western states that form much of this international architecture have a hard-fought history of political liberty and commitment to peace and stability forged on the battlefields of World Wars I and II. Furthermore, Western states all share the legacy of the 18th Century Enlightenment, which means that for every time a war or genocidal act took place, post-conflict societies deliberately strove to improve the nature of their political and social structures. As most countries peripheral to this philosophical tradition had no parallel development on this level, their superficial emulation of Western standards is a case of ‘all style, no substance’. Signing up to an international convention is a ‘feel-good’ on paper, because if the reality is that your country has a history of gross human rights violations and has not undergone a process of consistent internal political reform to change this situation, why would signing a convention have any meaning? An example of this is the number of failed and failing states that have signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees & its accompanying 1967 Protocol. Among the signatories are countries such as Afghanistan (2005), Azerbaijan (1993), Burkina Faso (1980), Iran (1976), Somalia (1978) and Sudan (1974) to name but a few. None of these states have the will nor the capacity to ensure the safety and security of refugees displaced by war or famine. Indeed, many of these states cannot even deal civilly with their own people. But supposing that this reality is accepted by human rights advocates as an excuse to bully Australia to change the scope and nature of its border security program for humanitarian reasons – will more people landing on Australian territory now, reduce numbers in the future? Unlikely. If the current number of the potential asylum seeker population in Indonesia is anything to go by, lax laws may very well see more people enter Indonesia with view to eventual resettlement in Australia. At what point would an Australian government have to act to deter this? There is a supreme irony at work here. The very people who want Australia to accept more and more people circumventing established migration laws, are the same people who argue about problems associated with the environment. From an environmental perspective, the more people Australia carries, the more stress our already stressed cities and supporting rural communities face.

We have sent our industries offshore, productive jobs are scarce, taxes are high, the majority of the Australian people are doing it tough and more often than not have to forego essential needs. This begs the question – who will pay to house, feed, clothe, educate, take care of medical/dental needs, not to mention the cost of utilities for thousands of people lining up to come to the promised land? Show me the money! We all know the old saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

By Dr. John Bruni, Director SAGE International

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3 THOUGHTS ON "Border security: Realism vs. Utopianism"

  1. Yolanda Stadlmaier on July 2, 2012 at 6:48 am said:

    Alexis de Tocqueville (French Historian, July 29,1805 – April 16, 1859)
    “Society will develop a new kind of servitude which covers the surface of society with a network of complicated rules, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate. It does not tyrannise but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
    Enjoy the blogs. Keep up the good work.

  2. Chris Heysen on July 4, 2012 at 10:18 am said:

    Hi John, I agree with much of your analysis of this very complex issue – but what is the solution? I doubt there’s any simple or easy road here which is what the politicians – and, more particularly, the media, are seeking.

    • John Bruni on July 6, 2012 at 8:48 am said:

      Hi Chris,

      I think the solution we spoke about with Ray just prior to my leaving last Monday is possibly the only humane one we have. There are parts of this country that are largely uninhabited, but, with the right infrastructure put in place, could prove good for long-term settlement. Opening up the interior would allow Australia to carry more population. It would also make people physically invested in the national concept of Australia. It’s either this, or a proliferation of no-go suburbs among Australia’s capital cities and all the attendant social alienation and problems that this will incur.

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