GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
du Bouchet
First Name:
Title of Paper:
“Working the Fringes”: Thickening and Deepening Yemen’s Borders in the context of the ‘Global War on Terror’
Paper Proposal Text :
Since 9/11, the creation of a complex, layered, and multi-scale bordering structure is a critical dimension of the Pentagon’s forward defence system to preventively protect the ‘homeland’ from the insecurities originating from, and disseminated by the chaotic periphery. Ringing ‘failed’ states, such as Yemen, with ‘terrorist interdiction’ measures and erecting borders abroad is a complementary aspect of Western politics of differentiated enclosure at home. The West’s comprehensive and layered border management strategy has been stretched forward to include peripheral states and their borders. Rather than symbolising the free movements of people, goods and information once hailed by ‘the borderless world’ literature, Yemen’s porous borders are seen as enabling the unchecked transit of militants, illegal immigrants and weapons, all of which is seen as facilitating international terrorism.

A logical extension of the West’s reliance on indigenous forces to prosecute the GWoT in the periphery, and the attendant internationalised military build-up, state-building initiatives are specifically designed to produce a particular kind of state – a ‘responsible sovereign’ committed to exert control over its territorial space, and the people and goods transiting within it and across its borders. Accordingly, building up Yemen’s borders, hence reinstating the state’s inside/outside divide, is key to Western strategies of prevention and containment in the GWoT. The making and remaking of Yemen’s recently demarcated borders – typically identified with the nation-state – is transnational in nature, and this is evidence that international dynamics are constitutive of state formation and transformation.

A rich vein of literature has shown how borders in the Global North have been redrawn in the context of a radicalisation of the politics of mobility that entails sharply differentiated and differentiating openings. Differing types of border have been simultaneously lifted and reasserted to discriminate what is to be included or excluded from the core’s political community. In keeping with Bauman’s compelling analysis, deterritorialisation under the auspices of globalisation has developed in tandem with an ever stricter and rigid structuration of territorial space. The nature, function and location of borders have been redefined.

This redefinition is taking place in the Global South as well but has remained largely unappreciated. Within the GWoT’s preventive framework, Yemen’s borders have been solidified, a process coeval with the militarisation of surveillance, detection and enforcement techniques that stands in direct continuity with trends observed on the US-Mexico border and in the European Union’s (EU) Schengen area. Since 9/11 the West has sought to erect Yemen’s maritime borders by assembling a Yemeni Coast Guard (YCG) that it fully funds, trains, advises and equips. Anglo-American military-related aid has been partly slated for the Army units tasked with border patrol along Saudi-Yemeni and Omani-Yemeni land borders, whilst Saudi Arabia, wary of militant infiltration and arms smuggling from Yemen, has undertaken to put up a technologically sophisticated separation wall. As well as hardened, if not militarised, Yemen’s borders have been delocalised, dematerialised and outsourced thanks to Western-led “secure border initiatives”. New inspection, screening, and profiling techniques in the form of networked electronic databases, such as the American PISCES programme, visa procedures and biometric identity cards have been introduced. In ways akin to processes of border ‘capillarisation’ and ‘pixilation’ noted in the Global North, the effect of ‘smart borders’ techniques has been to disseminate and multiply Yemen’s borders into a myriad of networks, entry/exit points, centres and lines that are lodged both deep inside and far outside its territory.

Yemen’s borders are not simply the lines demarcating a territorial sovereign entity from another on the politico-legal map of equal and symmetrical states. They are the densely politicised and securitised economic frontiers that mediate and divide between the Horn of Africa and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and beyond it the West. From a Western viewpoint, Yemen’s duality as a breeding ground for terrorism and, simultaneously, a bulwark against it – hence, the significance of its borders – lies in its eminently strategic geographic location. Yemen not only commands the Strait of Bab al-Mandab, hence the world’s busiest shipping lanes, but it adjoins two different regional systems. To the north and east it abuts the mainstay of the West’s economic and security strategies in the region, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC club of oil-rich monarchies. Facing south and west, lies the infamously turbulent Horn of Africa, especially Somalia, the archetype of ‘state failure’ and Yemen’s nemesis in the eyes of Western and Yemeni officials alike. Located at the interface of these two ensembles, Yemen pertains fully to neither but partakes of the insecurity of both. For the West, the idea that Yemen represents the point where the Horn and the GCC dangerously overlap and interpenetrate, is evidenced by the manifold trafficking (refugees, arms smuggling, militants) that interconnects them all. Thus Yemen plays as much the role of a transit point, fuelling flows of insecurities between these two regions, as that of a cornerstone of regional stability by containing the one from the other.

For the West, this gives the Yemeni state’s effectiveness in exercising spatial and social control international strategic salience, and it requires that Yemen’s borders be (re)constructed from a holistic regional perspective. Western preventive strategies have consisted in ‘thickening’ Yemen’s border management and control far beyond its actual physical boundaries in the form of concentric circles. The creation of a US military base, Combined Joined Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), in Djibouti in 2003, as well as the presence of various international taskforces, such as CTF-150 and the EU Operation Atalante, in Yemen’s adjacent waters, notably the piracy-ridden Gulf of Aden, testify to the construction of a thick, layered bordering complex. The latter is linked up with Yemen’s coast guard and other border agencies, as well as coordinated with neighbouring Djibouti’s and Oman’s authorities with the overarching objective of fostering a “regionally integrated maritime security environment”. Yemen is enclosed with this national-transnational bordering complex, which for the West serves to freeze illicit flows and dangerous bodies inside its territory, and to cordon them off from within and from without.

CJTF-HOA epitomises this prevention and containment strategy, and the simultaneously interwoven and concentric lines that make up its intricate scaffolding. On a par with development initiatives to remove the ‘underlying conditions of terrorism’, CJTF-HOA conducts ‘advice and support’ missions with African and Yemeni militaries, seeks to contribute to regional border security by assisting YCG, and acts as the staging post of preventive air strikes against al-Qaeda operatives inside Yemen. Accordingly, CJTF-HOA can be viewed as the outer ring of Yemen’s transnational stratified border system or, alternatively, as the first line of defence erected by the Pentagon as part of the complex of enclosure deployed in, around and out of Yemen.

While ‘thickening’ border security, Western ‘terrorism interdiction’ programmes have also led to ‘deepening’ it well inside Yemen’s territory through a variety of regulatory, disciplining, and enforcement dispositions. This is evidenced by measures such as the establishment of an FBI office in Sana’a, proposals to introduce biometric identity cards and export control rules, and the government’s crackdown on East African illegal immigrants. Initiatives designed to formally reduce and control the stockpile of small weapons in Yemen, viewed as a regional arms bazaar and middleman for neighbouring governments and non-state movements, are another way in which the West seeks to insulate the ‘homeland’ by restructuring the Yemeni state and managing insecurity from within. Correspondingly, US unrelenting demands for a comprehensive system to trace and register arms sales, as well as monitor end-use, could be seen as forming integral part of transnationalised bordering and rebordering policies that are not only implemented from a liminal position, but also deployed deep inside Yemen’s socio-political fabric.