Daniel Goure and J. Michael Barrett have an interesting op-ed published this week by the Federal Times, focused on the topic of border security. In the piece, they argue for a systemic approach to addressing border security challenges, rather than looking piecemeal at technologies – which is essentially the strategic intent of the Secure Border Initiative:
A plan for border security that focuses on building fences, buying widgets and hiring personnel will likely cost a lot of money and provide relatively little in the way of additional security. It also will overwhelm the capabilities of the local authorities, who continue to struggle with these challenges every day.
That is where the Homeland Security plan comes in, with the resources and the big-picture view to create an overarching approach that integrates multiple, disparate activities. Each one in isolation creates some value, but together they effectively and efficiently hinder illegal activity.
The primary focus of the SBI program should be on defining the overall task and developing the appropriate information technology system-of-systems architecture and the manpower base to support it.
I agree unreservedly with the authors that there needs to be this type of strategic, system-level approach to addressing border security challenges, and I think that DHS has moved toward this perspective. But I don’t think that this viewpoint is incompatible with the viewpoint that they dismiss: an overemphasis on investment in fencing, technologies, and/or manpower. In fact, I think that appropriately rigorous analyses of the overall situation at the border will naturally lead one naturally to realize the need for these types of investments. I’ve strongly advocated additional investments in border fencing on this blog, but this advocacy has always been within the context of an overall strategic framework, thinking about fencing not as a barrier in an of itself, but as a tool to change flows and the operational parameters of interdiction at borders. So while I agree with the authors’ main point, I think that their attack on “fences, widgets and personnel” is something of a straw man.