Future Imperfect: Uncontrolled Migration 21st Century Style

World War II was marked for its brutality and horror. Twenty one years after the end of World War I – the ‘war to end all wars’, a harsh and unsustainable peace treaty imposed on Germany saw the Weimar Republic lurch from crisis to crisis with right and left wing paramilitaries fighting for dominance among German cities and towns. Many of those involved in the fighting were former soldiers. Those from the right felt humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war and left Germany, the largest power in Europe, economically and militarily constrained. Those on the left viewed the remnants of the old political order with hostility and were eagre to foment revolution. Out of this chaos emerged Adolf Hitler, a soldier and political advocate of the far right. His 1933 political victory, saw him win the German Chancellorship and cement the NAZI Party as Germany’s ruling party. Hitler’s expansionist policies, however, saw the outbreak of war in 1939. By the end of this Manichean seven-year struggle, Germany was in ruins. Millions of Germans were killed or displaced. Millions of Jews and other European nationalities, victims of NAZI racist ideology, were also killed and/or displaced. The onslaught of the Russian armies into Eastern Europe saw millions of NAZI sympathisers, collaborators and anti-Russian nationalists take flight to the West – in massive uncontrolled migration. It was a time of great chaos and change. The capture and occupation of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union was by and large completed in 1948, and the following year, Stalin’s quest for a nuclear weapon to underscore the USSR’s supreme position in Europe was also completed. Barring a US-initiated nuclear war in Europe, no country, individually or collectively, could roll back Soviet advances and after World War II, there was no desire to revisit the nightmare of total war.

Throughout the Cold War (1947-1991), although punctuated by moments of high confrontation such as the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and the 1973 Yom Kippur War – when the nuclear genie almost left the bottle; or Leftist, Irish and Palestinian-inspired political violence which brought terrorism to the sedate and phlegmatic heartlands of the West, these episodes, though exceedingly dangerous, deescalated rapidly or in the case of terrorism, were relatively limited in scope and reach. War did not cease to exist, it was largely fought by proxy between the US and USSR using the developing world as its bloody chessboard. Korea (1950-53) and Vietnam (1965-75) were arguably the most noted proxy wars between the Communist bloc and the West. Vietnam gave rise to the first real ‘uncontrolled migration’ since the end of World War II and was certainly Asia’s first modern experience of this phenomenon. The rest of the developing world was too poor and lacked the means and proliferation of transportation to move transcontinental distances. Those who were caught up in proxy wars of one type or another, were usually permanently displaced within their country or exiled into UNHCR camps in neighbouring countries.

Fast forward to today. The Middle East is a mess. Since the Arab Spring of 2011, the ossified dictatorships that had their genesis during the Cold War and acted as the bedrock of stability for Western and Soviet interests have been either overthrown, replaced by other dictators (in the case of Egypt) or left to fester as is the case of the al-Assad regime in Syria. The comparatively young and well-educated populations of the Middle East, unwilling to fight for secular pluralism at home, seek sanctuary and economic opportunity in the West – especially Europe. And, of the European states most targeted as the ultimate destination for asylum seekers, Germany is number one. Since reunification in 1990, united Germany is the economic engine driver of the Eurozone economies. Its social welfare net is one of Europe’s most generous and, on average, people living in Germany enjoy some of the highest living standards in the world. So attractive is Germany, that asylum seekers not of Syrian origin, are attempting to pass themselves off as Syrian in order to gain entry into Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the door to a mighty 800,000 in 2015-16 alone, but her promises to take in another 500,000 per year over the next few years quickly raised the ire of other German politicians who knew that these numbers were unsustainable. Why? Because the Eurozone economies are in deep crisis and it is Germany that is largely footing the bill to keep the European Union concept afloat. Furthermore, the global economy is undergoing disruptive technological transformations that will bring about the end of full-time white and blue-collar employment. Employment and the promise of full employment have long been powerful social tools. But now no Western leader, corporate or government, is able to address how best to keep idle hands from delving into more destructive behaviours. Passive self-destruction through over-indulgence in vice such as gaming, overeating, gambling, drinking, drugs and consumerism – ‘engineered apathy’ – will, over time, numb the majority into depressed silence. However, as the percentage of national wealth is shrinking and more households in the West are unable to afford even modest standards of living once taken for granted, the arrival of new migrants is adding pressure to scarce national resources. As competition for these resources between native citizens and newcomers intensifies, the risk is that even the most passive among them will rise up against their government. In time, the shadow of racism and racist violence will cast its pall over Europe the likes of which we have not seen since 1938. With border controls being reinstituted in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria and Germany, one of the central tenets of the EU – the free movement of people known as the Schengen Agreement – has already been sacrificed.

Recently, the wealthy, but fragile kingdoms of the Arabian Gulf have been openly criticised for not doing enough to take in Syrian and other refugees. But the international community should well remember that the Gulf States are far from bastions of stability and political pluralism. The Gulf Arabs (Khaleeji) generally view all non-Gulf Arabs with suspicion and a degree of enmity. When employed in the Gulf, other non-Gulf Arabs are often bonded in exploitative work relationships. Therefore, even if the Gulf States were to ‘do more’, they would always be considered a destination of last resort by those seeking to flee their countries of origin. Digging deeper into the perceived Gulf Arab ‘apathy’ towards Syrian and other refugees, one has to also remember that the Gulf States have a peculiar demographic issue. For the smaller kingdoms, ‘locals’ are invariably tiny minorities ruling a much larger foreign-born population. This is a major dilemma for Gulf Arab rulers as they cannot rely on the loyalty of the foreign born to defend the interest of the Khaleeji population. Adding more alienated foreigners to this already volatile mix would only serve to complicate political stability in the Gulf, with the very real probability that these monarchies could fall and create new waves of uncontrolled migration from the Middle East. Were this to happen, the economic damage to established oil and gas consumers could not be measured in numbers alone.

The Africa rising narrative is also interesting. Rather than seeing economic growth ground people’s loyalty to their ‘national patch’, newfound wealth is enabling people to move to the greener pastures of the developed world. Locals, especially those who might not be from the right tribe, clan or family and who feel abandoned by the process of economic activity, find the prospect of leaving home more attractive than breaking through the various cultural barriers to the national nomenclature. And, the African rising narrative has also masked the fact that not all 54 countries are rising. Indeed war and political instability are rife on the African continent and for every success story there are other stories of privation, political oppression, terrorism and war. Africa’s successes thus far are encouraging, but they are far from being definitive and more work has to be done on restructuring societies so they are less tribal in nature, less corrupt and more inclusive of local diversity.

Similarly in the South Pacific, the island-states suffer from many of the same problems afflicting Africa. Overpopulation and resource scarcity are major issues but the one issue focussing the minds of South Pacific leaders, including those of Australia and New Zealand, is climate change. The low lying atolls, islands and reefs are uniquely vulnerable to changing weather patterns and rising sea levels, and while things appear manageable for now, it is thought that further rapid climactic changes will force South Pacific islanders to find sanctuary in Australia and New Zealand in significant numbers. Parts of Southeast Asia will also be threatened by uneven economic development and exposed to the threat posed by climate change. It is unlikely that Canberra or Wellington will be well prepared for this wave of uncontrolled migration when it finally hits their shores.

In the United States, Hispanic migrants from Central and South America have already profoundly changed the nature of American society and this is likely to continue due to the porous nature of the US-Mexican border and corrupt officials on both sides of this north-south divide profiting from people and drug trafficking – the irresistible lure of making easy money. The social consequences have been stark. Mexico is effectively run by drug cartels and facilitated by a black market of easily accessible US small arms. Black Americans and their social impact on American society is being diminished, outcompeted by Hispanic workers who are rapidly rising from the lower socio-economic levels to the middle class. White Americans are not necessarily happy with this situation and outrageous anti-immigrant, especially anti-Hispanic immigrant political diatribes have been made by some of the Republican candidates in the current primaries for the 2016 US Presidential Elections.

In a very real sense, uncontrolled migration is the critical global security issue of the 21st Century. The collapse of the European Union as a consequence of domestic political and social pressures to stem the tide of uncontrolled migration, a very real prospect, will have long-lasting, negative effects. The return of the nation-state to the centre of European life and identity, and the recovery of national mythologies based on ethnic and linguistic exclusivity will return Europe to an older, more familiar setting. If Europe goes down this path, it is likely that states currently considered peripheral to the contemporary European experience with uncontrolled migration, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, may become more emboldened to resort to re-creating national stereotypes and symbolism as a means of shoring up public faith in a shaky system sitting betwixt and between doing the ‘right thing’ by constituents, while placating those more economically privileged who advocate for international humanitarianism.

SAGE International, with partners, Global Impact Solutions Pty Ltd, and the French-based International Geostrategic Maritime Observatory, have been watching the unfolding complexities of the current situation in Europe and the potential for this current crisis to escalate to a spill-over effect into other countries. The Uncontrolled Migration Summit planned for 2016, is designed to be a neutral, apolitical platform where policy makers, agency heads in charge of border security, humanitarians and national leaders can come together to work out a plan to defuse existing tensions and come to a reasonable compromise between the rights and expectations of established, settled populations and mobile, displaced populations.

The EU was established with the best of intentions but has become a testament to the fact that policies alone, good as they may be, will not work unless they are implemented efficiently and effectively. A polyglot of bureaucratese, in a setting of highly differentiated national expectations can only result in confusion and weakness.

While those of us lucky enough to live on this island-continent called Australia where we can deal with life’s problems and hardships without the fear of war or significant internal political violence, we need to be mindful that as the world’s political tectonic plates shift to accommodate new realities, no country remains untouched.

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