Michel Foucher, diplomat and geographer, holds the chair of geopolitics applied to the College of World Studies and expert in the Peace and Security Division of the African Union Commission
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, some announced the end of the borders. Does not the rise of identity populism indicate a reverse movement?
We are witnessing the reaffirmation of the borders, which had never disappeared. They had only become less visible. Essentially in the European space, in West Africa or in the Turkish zone of influence. We rediscover the role of the latter when safety issues arise. The frontier as a parameter of the identity of nations has been erased in the European area in the name of free economic and people movement and because the EU’s only external policy was enlargement.
“We have forgotten that our peaceful borders were former front lines”
We have forgotten that our peaceful borders were old front lines. Today, Russia and Turkey force us to delimit our space, to put an end to this continuous expansion, because one can not have an external policy if one does not know where the outside begins. One arrives, in pain and clenching, to a period of clarification.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world was seen as a space to be converted to our Western faith: human rights and democracy. Today, there is a link between borders and religion. This resulted in all the disasters, because violent religious reactions were aroused.
When did this reaffirmation of borders go back?
It dates from the effective implementation of the Russian policy of restoration of power which goes hand in hand with territorial revisionism. The policy of expansion of the European Union stumbles on the Ukrainian issue. There is also the “without borders” discourse held by the radical jihadists who consider that the world is divided in two: on the one hand, the house of Islam and that of war; On the other, that of the disbelievers. We dreamed of a world without borders where we would impose our values. This is ending, it is the end of liberal interventionism. We realize that the world is heterogeneous.
Have digital technologies not played a role in this illusion of a world without borders?
Cyberspace also has borders. Google is not in China. A state can perfectly control cyberspace. There are a million kilometers of optical fibers arriving somewhere, these are the famous “landings” – Marseille, Singapore, Alexandria … These are strategic places. This resembles the 19th century British telegraph . Only the Chinese are trying to bypass the optical fibers of the submarine cables with their project of “digital silk road”. The day they get there they will break a monopoly. But when we speak of space, there are boundaries, localized material dimensions. So there is a political geography of cyberspace.
Are maritime boundaries a new battlefield?
A legal battlefield, yes. There is a territorialization of the oceans. In the case of Russia and its demands on the Arctic, these are issues of prestige, even if the economic stakes are always put forward to give a rationality. Offshore Africa treats oceans and subsoil resources as if they were land resources. It is linked to globalization. We are in a full, not just demographic, world where we can exploit everything, including the deep offshore. The only depoliticized continent is the Antarctic.
The creation of South Sudan and Eritrea in recent years foreshadowed a questioning of the African borders inherited from the colonial era
African states have had no choice but to appropriate colonial borders, even if there are dissatisfactions. In Cairo, in 1964, African states recognized that “frontiers [étaient] had become tangible realities” . Everyone knew that their questioning would have led to a widespread war.
In fact, the African borders group more than they cut. And they are subverted by all traders. The African border is a resource. Even if there are dissatisfaction. And then regional integration processes work quite well on the monetary or the infrastructure side. Finally, the frontier, before being a resource, is a protection. People do not migrate for economic reasons but first to be protected or “to have a better life.”
What reflection does the will of the new American president, Donald Trump, to build a wall on the border with Mexico inspire you?
This is the expression of a strong conviction around the closure. Nowadays, divisions are no longer between right and left, but between open societies and closed societies.
There is, on the part of Donald Trump and his constituents, a real fear that the United States loses its status as a superpower, linked to the fact that the globalization they have imposed on the rest of the world no longer benefits them As much, in comparison with China mainly. Their response is closure, whereas it should be multilateralism. This is a problem, because this “deval- alization” can only lead to open conflicts. Closed states clash. If there is no more multilateralism, there are prospects of war.
Article produced in the framework of a partnership with Les Voix d’Orléans (31 March-1 er