Post by Jorge Mantilla, Ph.D. candidate in Criminology, Law, and Justice at the University of Illinois Chicago. Jorge has worked as a practitioner and analyst with public agencies and international organizations on topics related to armed conflict, public safety, and drug policy. Jorge is on Twitter @jmantillaba.

Review of World of Walls: The Structure, Roles and Effectiveness of Separation Barriers by Said Saddiki (Open Book Publishers 2017)

World of Walls offers a broad overview of separation barriers in the context of a global border control paradox. This paradox is characterized by increasing border controls and fortifications during an era of globalization dynamics, globalism narratives, and ultimately, an opening world. Finally, it manifests in the tension between exertions of nation-state sovereignty and the international system’s need for border-crossing mobility. 

The book addresses the problem of global barriers and the complex surveillance systems that are used to enforce them from two vantage points: the first examines the disparities between countries that border walls symbolize, while the second investigates border control as a private market. Saddiki highlights the contested nature of the contemporary global border regime and the ways in which immigration and security policies reconfigure the role of the state. However, as the author acknowledges, any border control regime is also an expression of particular contexts, which is why the book develops through five case studies. 

In the first chapter, the book describes the fencing policy adopted by Israel since the beginning of its constitution as a nation-state. The fencing of 270,000 Palestinians who live trapped by military fortifications, makes the wall less a protective barrier than a form of collective punishment. While Israel claims the border wall is a temporary measure to contain direct threats to its national security, it has reshaped the map of an eventual peace plan as it advanced new Israeli settlements. Paradoxically, as Saddiki argues, Israel has not been able to achieve security or ameliorate its relationship with its neighbors. What it has done is trap itself within the confines of its own fencing policy.  

In the second chapter, Saddiki digs into the complexity of Southeast Asia’s borders, with a particular focus on border fencing dynamics in India. From the Indian perspective, the country engages in three different types of historically influenced, geopolitical border games with its neighbors. The first concerns border disputes that have resulted from separatist movements along borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh. The second concerns a competition over border territory with the global superpower China. And the third type of border game regards maintaining stable and pacific borders that are artifacts of colonialism such as those with Myanmar, Bhutan, and Nepal. As India continues pumping funds and technical resources into its fencing policies, the absence of a thorough bilateral or regional approach to these dynamics undermines efforts at stopping irregular migration, smuggling, and reaching a stable situation with Pakistan over the Kashmir dispute. 

The third chapter looks at the Mediterranean dynamics of border control through the lens of Ceuta and Melilla. For Saddiki, the separation barriers built in these two Spanish cities are indicative of both the general ineffectiveness of contemporary border fortifications around the world, and their function within the broader geopolitical agenda. In this particular case, Ceuta and Melilla are part of a European Union anti-irregular migration strategy, which regards North Africa as Europe’s southern border, enabling Europe indirect control under the auspices of "managing the problem where it begins” (pg. 69). This means not only the participation of private companies in the increasingly profitable border security market, but also using third nations as “waiting rooms” to enter Europe (pg. 72). 

The various ways in which these Mediterranean de facto borders are policed have profound implications for refugees and those trying, by any means possible, to reach European soil. For instance, Spain’s Integrated System of External Surveillance exposes irregular migrants to further risk as smugglers rapidly adapt to the new enforcement conditions and change technical and organizational aspects of their illegal trade. This adaptation includes using larger boats called “pateras” where smugglers double the number of immigrants per journey to increase their profits (pg. 62). Longer routes and overcrowded vessels put more risk onto immigrants’ shoulders, especially for those without nautical or maritime skills. 

In the fourth Chapter, Sadikki elaborates on the historical transformation of the US-Mexico border from an effectively open border into the present-day heavily militarized regime. A particular feature of the US-Mexico border wall is that it deploys a range of high-tech tools for narrow and broad surveillance, erecting a second virtual fence to confront non-traditional threats. Recent developments suggest, however, that the US is having only moderate success, and as a result has sought Mexico's commitment to further enforce its own militarized anti-irregular immigration policies. Among other consequences, the most recent US-Mexico immigration agreement exacerbates the victimization of immigrants and asylum seekers in the Mexican borderlands.

The book closes with a chapter on the border wall between Morocco and Western Sahara. This chapter is particularly important within an extended examination of a world of walls for two reasons. First, it shows the limitations of the Westphalian concept of sovereignty to understand the Sahel issue due to its religious and temporal ties to the Islamic and Arab constructions of sovereignty. Affecting the broader context of the entire Maghreb, the Western Sahara dispute stands along traditional and deep-rooted conceptions of allegiance that transcend the modern state model. Second, it involves a spatial complex of border fortifications governed by a peace plan developed by the United Nations Mission For The Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso). Paradoxically, being part of the broader Sahel geopolitical map, the Western Sahara Wall has contained the expansion of Islamic armed groups. 

Immigration and border crossing dynamics are now dominant national security concerns all over the world. Amid the tension between connection and disconnection that underlies globalization, some states are tightening border controls and imposing borders through militarization and fortification. World of Walls provides a useful guide to this tension and the many paradoxes of border control. While the broad treatment of the subject limits its analysis in terms of the local processes behind border walls, the book excels at assessing the global trends of border control. Without doubt, it will be useful for students of international politics and comparativists of all disciplines examining the politics and practices of borders.  

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Mantilla, J (2020). Book Review: World of Walls: The Structure, Roles and Effectiveness of Separation Barriers. Available at: [date]