An Assessment of the Irrelevance of State Borders in 2035

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Civil Affairs Association and Divergent Options Writing Contest which took place from April 7, 2020 to July 7, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Specialist Brandon White is a Civil Affairs Non-Commissioned Officer at the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion, and recently served on a Civil Affairs Team in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. As a civilian, he presently works as a Consultant for National Security and Defense at Capgemini Government Solutions, and previously served as a Legislative Assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be found on Twitter @bwhiteofficial and LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bwhiteofficial/. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  An Assessment of the Irrelevance of State Borders in 2035

Date Originally Written:  June 29, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  September 2, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that by 2035, the primary drivers of civil instability and the main threats to human security will be cross-border, rendering states functionally border-less.

Summary:  By 2035, the primary drivers of conflict and competition will transcend the system of state borders that traditionally define national security policy. These threats will center on the physical security of individuals and communities, environmental crises, and economic vulnerability, and will demand a problem-solving approach that is similarly cross-border in nature.

Text:  Throughout the course of human history, there have been eras of great contrast: of peace and war, prosperity and poverty, vibrancy and plague. One consistent theme throughout has been the trend towards greater interconnectedness among people and the formation of bonds across physical and cultural divides. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 created the concept of territorial sovereignty[1] and the Montevideo Convention of 1933 required that a state have a defined territory and a permanent population[2]. The concept of territorial sovereignty has fundamentally shaped international relations and therefore every U.S. national security decision. Likewise, since the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the world has approached problem-solving within the construct of state borders. This approach is increasingly detrimental to global security because populations and the threats they face can rarely be confined in that way, with cross-border threats growing in prominence. By 2035, states will be functionally border-less as the primary threats to human security transcend the system of borders first conceived in 1648 and demand a different approach to solving them. These threats include the physical security of individuals and communities, environmental crises, and economic vulnerabilities.

Personal and community security includes protection from physical violence from state and non-state actors such as Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) or Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs), sectarian or ethnic groups, or violent criminals[3]. VEOs such as the Islamic State and Al-Shabaab violently pursue ethnic or religious homogenization and operate freely across state borders in the Middle East and Africa. TCOs such as MS-13 threaten vulnerable populations across the Northern Tier of Central America, leaving civilians with few options but to flee. These groups often seek out areas that are challenging for states to govern or maintain a meaningful presence, showing how easily a state’s territorial sovereignty can be undermined. As authoritarianism rises across the world[4], state-based repression will likely also increase, prompting migration alongside state-sanctioned violence. The Syrian Civil War is one example of how domestic political repression can lead to regional instability, create global migration crises, and intensify the spread of extremism. By the time a threat to a population’s physical security becomes a U.S. national security concern, it is certain that the threat would have major cross-border implications requiring the attention of U.S.-led, joint security organizations such as the Combined Joint Task Forces supporting Operation Inherent Resolve or operations in the Horn of Africa, or Joint Task Force-Bravo in the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility, or other regional and multilateral entities.

Environmental crises linked to climate change are inherently cross-border, such as rising sea levels, drought, and the frequency of severe storms. With these types of events, food supplies become less reliable and more expensive, a lack of clean water heightens hygiene and sanitation concerns and the spread of preventable disease, and vulnerable populations are pressed to relocate resulting in economic decline and cross-border displacement. As a result, it is wise to anticipate increased conflict over scarce resources, mass migration toward more habitable areas, and faster spread of disease. Some experts have already suggested climate change may have played a role in increasing the tensions which led to the Syrian Civil War[5]. The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review highlighted the importance of addressing environmental threats because they act as “threat multipliers,” aggravating “political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence”[6]. Additionally, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report of 2014 detailed all aspects of human security, including economic, health, and food security, that will affect both rural and urban areas as a result of growing environmental threats[7]. For the Department of Defense (DoD), both Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response operations and longer term, interagency coordinated stability operations will require a cross-border approach.

Globally, economic instability is growing in the form of extreme poverty, severe wealth inequality, and an overall lack of economic opportunity. These factors increase civil instability by fueling migration and enabling the exploitation of vulnerable individuals and communities. Due to the global recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic[8], these economic threats to human security are likely to worsen by 2035. Competition between the U.S. and China will also shape the national security landscape, and the ability to increase economic opportunity domestically and among regional and global partners will be a critical factor in the U.S.’ ability to ensure its own security. Already, the U.S. and Europe have struggled to manage large numbers of migrants seeking work and economic opportunity, which has exacerbated the economic anxieties of domestic populations and distracted from addressing underlying vulnerabilities[9]. The solutions to these problems are inherently cross-border, demanding creative regional and multilateral approaches to trade and investment, and the promotion of new, less exploitative, and more sustainable industries.

Upon accepting that the threat landscape in 2035 will be predominantly cross-border, national security professionals can begin to shape regional and multilateral solutions that address the underlying human factors of conflict and competition that often fester in the blind spots of state-based strategic interests. First, the U.S. can strengthen and contribute to the reform of regional and multilateral security organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, political organizations like the Organization of American States, and economic organizations like regional development banks to ensure the U.S. has viable mechanisms for working with allies and partners to counter these cross-border threats. Second, the U.S. government can reassess its bureaucratic organization and associated legal authorities to ensure its efforts are not hindered by structural inefficiencies or limitations. Legal authorities and funding streams can be flexible enough to meet these challenges, and partnerships with multilateral institutions can be solidified. Whether in Syria, Central America, Afghanistan, or the Sahel, DoD is increasingly asked to address cross-border security threats stemming from human factors in conflict and competition. Therefore, in order to increase the likelihood of mission success across all theaters, DoD has a vested interest in working with interagency partners to drive the evolution of the U.S. approach to addressing the human factors of conflict and competition that will define the border-less 2035 threat landscape.


Endnotes:

[1] Treaty of Westphalia. (1648, October 24). Retrieved from The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy: https://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/westphal.asp

[2] Convention on Rights and Duties of States. (1933, December 26). Retrieved from Organization of American States, Department of International Law: http://www.oas.org/juridico/english/sigs/a-40.html

[3] (1994). Human Development Report, 1994. United Nations Development Programme. New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://www.hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/reports/255/hdr_1994_en_complete_nostats.pdf

[4] Unit, E. I. (2020, January 21). Democracy Index 2019. Retrieved from Economist Intelligence Unit: https://www.eiu.com/topic/democracy-index

[5] Kelley, C. P., Mohtadi, S., Cane, M. A., Seager, R., & Kushnir, Y. (2015). Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(11), 3241-3246. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/112/11/3241.full.pdf

[6] (2014). Quadrennial Defense Review. Washington, DC: Department of Defense. Retrieved from https://archive.defense.gov/pubs/2014_Quadrennial_Defense_Review.pdf

[7] (2014). Fifth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Geneva: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Retrieved from https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg2

[8] Lu, J. (2020, June 12). World Bank: Recession Is The Deepest In Decades. Retrieved from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/06/12/873065968/world-bank-recession-is-the-deepest-in-decades

[9] Karasapan, O. (2017, April 12). Refugees, Migrants, and the Politics of Fear. Retrieved from Brookings: Future Development: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2017/04/12/refugees-migrants-and-the-politics-of-fear

2020 - Contest: Civil Affairs Association Writing Contest Assessment Papers Border Security Brandon White Civil Affairs Association Governing Documents

An Assessment of the U.S. Punitive Expedition of 1916

Roger Soiset graduated from The Citadel in 1968 with a B.S. in history, and after serving in the U.S. Army graduated from California State University (Long Beach) with a Master’s degree in history.   Roger’s fields of specialization are ancient history and the Vietnam Era.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  An Assessment of the U.S. Punitive Expedition of 1916

Date Originally Written:  April 7, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  June 3, 2019.

Summary:  Prior to the 9/11 attacks was Pancho Villa’s 1916 attack on Columbus, New Mexico.  Large-scale efforts to capture Villa failed.  Border violence continued until the success of a more focused U.S. response in 1919.  Today the U.S.-Mexico border remains unsecured and discussions continue to determine the best approach. 

Text:  The attack by Al Qaeda on 9/11/2001 was the second such attack on the continental U.S., the first being in the 20th century.  In view of ongoing discussions about U.S. border security, it is useful to look at the U.S. response to terrorist attacks from Mexico a hundred years ago.  

Emerging as the hero of the Mexican Revolution was Francisco Madero, elected president in 1911 and soon enjoying cordial relations with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.  The U.S. and Mexico both had presidents who were liberal reformers until Madero was murdered.  Madero’s purported murderer was his successor, Victoriana Huerta.  Following Madero’s death, rebellions promptly broke out in several areas, led by men like “Pancho” Villa,  Emiliano Zapata, and Venustiano Carranza.

The U.S. had already occupied a Mexican seaport, Veracruz, in April 1914 in order to prevent the landing of arms for rebels by a German ship.  Believed to be Mausers direct from Hamburg, it turned out the rifles were Remingtons from New York, but that was not discovered until later. The occupation of Veracruz lasted five months and saw lives lost on both sides.  Huerta’s departure in 1915, the successful blocking of “German” arms and U.S. recognition of Carranza’s government smoothed the troubled U.S.-Mexico relations for everyone except Pancho Villa[1].  Wilson’s arms embargo applied to all the parties involved in the revolution except for the legitimate government, so this meant Carranza was not affected–but Villa was[2].

Villa’s anger resulted in U.S. civilian casualties in Mexico when 17 U.S. mining personnel were executed by Villa’s men in January 1916[3].  Then on March 6, 1916, Villa and about a thousand of his men raided Columbus, New Mexico, killing nine civilians and eight soldiers.  The demand for Wilson to “do something” was not to be denied and he invoked the “hot pursuit” doctrine.  President Carranza’s foreign minister Jesus Acuna informed Wilson that he agreed in principle “to the reciprocity of hot pursuit of bandits…if the raid at Columbus should unfortunately be repeated elsewhere[4].”  Wilson chose to ignore this last caveat and took the message to be an unrestricted right to pursue Pancho Villa into Mexico.  Carranza desperately needed U.S. support, so remained largely silent.  

Despite the ruthless treatment of many Mexican towns by Villa and his men, he was still supported by most Mexicans; or perhaps they feared the local bandit more than their weak government and the “yanquis” whom they hoped would soon go home.  Carranza, seeing his popularity sinking due to his corruption and tolerance of this “gringo” invasion, increasingly made life difficult for U.S. Army General John J. Pershing and his 10,000 men who were pursuing Villa in Mexico.   Perhaps the best examples of Carranza’s efforts were his denial to Pershing the use of the Mexican Northwestern Railway to move troops and positioning Mexican federal troops in the Americans’ path[5].  

Notwithstanding the politics, weather, terrain and the difficulty of the mission, Pershing continued the pursuit some 300 miles into Mexico before two skirmishes occurred between the U.S. and Mexican Army forces with casualties on both sides.  After six weeks, the punitive expedition had come to its Rubicon: fight the hostile Mexican Army before them and possibly start a war, or withdraw.  The withdrawal option was taken, although it took more than seven months before the last U.S. troops crossed back into Texas in February 1917…just in time to pack new gear for World War I in France.  Despite Pershing not capturing Villa,  the nine months in Mexico had proven invaluable insofar as getting the U.S. Army in shape for World War I and giving new equipment a field trial.         

But it wasn’t over in 1917—Pancho Villa and his “Army of the North” were busy looting and shooting up Juarez, Mexico, again in June 1919, just across the Rio Grande from Ft. Bliss.  Bullets from the raid killed and wounded U.S. personnel on the base, and this time prompt action was taken.  A combined infantry and cavalry force attacked Villa’s band of approximately 1200 men and destroyed or disbursed them so effectively that Villa never rode again[6].  One wonders what the course of events might have been after a similar action in January 1915 at the town of Naco in Sonora, Mexico, when a Villa band had driven Carranza’s forces from that border town.  Stray bullets killed one American and wounded twenty-six more in Douglas, Arizona.  The U.S. reaction was to remove the Tenth Cavalry four miles north of the danger zone[7]. This reaction, viewed as weakness, encouraged contempt and further violence.  A limited response in 1915 like the later one in 1919 might very well have discouraged another such incident—and the violence at Columbus might never have happened.     

If President Wilson had recognized Victoriana Huerta as the legitimate ruler of Mexico as did most other countries, it is likely that the Mexican Revolution would have ended in 1913.  If Wilson had not decided to stop Germany from supplying arms to rebels in 1914, Pancho Villa’s relations with the U.S would not have soured.  The revolutions in Morelos (Zapata), Coahuila (Carranza) and Chihuahua (Villa) might very well have burned themselves out without the added incentive of a foreign army invading their land.  As it was, Carranza would become the undisputed president after the murder of his rival Zapata in 1919 and the bribing of Villa into retirement (which was made permanent in 1923 with his murder).  One is reminded of that description of Europe after the Hundred Years War: “They made a desert and called it peace.”

It is said that good fences make good neighbors.  The incidents cited in this paper show the truth of this from a hundred years ago, and certainly events today beg the question: What is the best approach to securing the U.S. border with Mexico?    


Endnotes:

[1] Mason, Herbert Molloy, Jr, pp. 45-50.  “The Great Pursuit: Pershing’s Expedition to Destroy Pancho Villa”, Smithmark Publishers, 1970.”  Hereafter, “Mason”.

[2] Eisenhower, John S. D., p. 185. “Intervention! The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1913-1917”. W.W. Norton & Co., 1993.  Hereafter, “Eisenhower”.

[3] “U.S. Imperialism and Progressivism 1896 to 1920”, ed. Jeff Wallenfeldt, p. 41. 

[4] Mason, p. 71.

[5] Eisenhower, p. 236.

[6] Eisenhower, p. 312.

[7] Eisenhower, p. 171.

Assessment Papers Border Security Mexico Roger Soiset United States