Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kelly M. Greenhill's "Weapons of Mass Migration"

Kelly M. Greenhill is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Tufts University and Research Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion, and Foreign Policy, and reported the following:
Coercion is generally understood to refer to the practice of inducing or preventing changes in political behavior through the use of threats, intimidation, or some other form of pressure—most often, military force. Weapons of Mass Migration (WMM) focuses on a very particular nonmilitary method of applying coercive pressure—the use of migration and refugee crises as instruments of persuasion.

This kind of coercion can succeed in large part because of the very real fears that uncontrolled cross-border population movements tend to generate within those societies expected to bear their political, social and monetary costs. Indeed, long before September 11 galvanized a new preoccupation with border security, refugees and illegal migrants had transmuted in many countries from a matter of low politics to high politics, involving a shift in the definition of national security threats and the practice of security policy. At the same time, many of these self-same societies are legally, if not morally, obligated to welcome those fleeing violence and persecution. Reconciling competing imperatives to keep people out while also letting them in can be challenging, if not simply impossible. Under such circumstances, incentives to concede to coercers’ demands—in exchange for making a mass migration stop or simply evaporate—can be quite powerful.

Page 99 discusses the United States’ confused and muddled initial response to the 1980 Mariel boatlift, one of three attempted cases of Cuban-initiated migration-driven coercion examined in Chapter 2. Although Mariel has been traditionally viewed as the result of a fit of pique by Cuban President Fidel Castro, WMM shows that it was in fact part of a concerted effort by Cuba to materially change US foreign and immigration policy by flooding the country with what were often referred to as “undesirables”. As a consequence, 125,000 additional Cubans emigrated to the US in a five-month period, including a non-trivial number of criminals and the mentally ill. Castro, for his part, extracted a new immigration accord and a crackdown on Cuban hijackers, while US President Jimmy Carter attributed his subsequent loss in that fall’s presidential election in no small part to the immigration crisis. And, as the book makes clear, Mariel was far from unique.

WMM identifies at least 57 documented cases of this kind of coercion since ratification of the United Nations Convention on Refugees alone, well over half of which allowed coercers to achieve at least some of their objectives—objectives that have ranged from monetary payoffs and foreign aid to full-blown military interventions and even regime change. Indeed, attempts to employ this kind of coercion have influenced foreign policy—and continue to do so—in domains as wide-ranging and diverse as the US’s decision to escalate the war in Vietnam in the 1960s as well as to intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s; the European Union’s resolutions to end sanctions against Libya in the early 2000s; and China’s relatively quiescent stance regarding North Korea’s nuclear program today. Although heretofore a phenomenon that has been “hiding in plain sight,” WMM demonstrates that mass movements of people can be powerful, if tragically exploited, policy weapons.
Learn more about Weapons of Mass Migration at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue