• Toby Irwin

'Faceless' Security Threats

The spread of COVID-19 globally raises an unorthodox question of security for policymakers, how does one combat a threat that is unidentifiable. Indeed, coronavirus is not a biological weapon and thus cannot be linked to a perpetrator. Surely, in any security threat there must be the subject which is, by default, exerting the threat. A failure to identify the subject posing the threat pulls into question the response mechanisms for state apparatus. Suppose, for instance, how a state's military sees its role in countering the spread of a virus? Or rather, moving onto the focus of this article, suppose how a state's military perceives its role in countering another security threat: mass migration.


As if it needs to be clarified, this is not to equate migrants with a viral infection. Rather, it is to say that both these two security threats share the similar trait of having an unidentifiable subject: viruses for being bacterial and untraceable, and mass migration for being itself a sort of 'group'. Rather than perceiving the mass migration from Turkey to Europe as a case of individualistic illegality, it seems increasingly the case that entire populations are being grouped together. Grouping together has the effect of negating the 'perpetrators' of migration their sense of identity, and thus also their position as the 'subject' of the security threat.


Providing some context, Turkey has recently opened its border with Greece, claiming that it can no longer unilaterally support the number of migrants arriving from the Middle East. Resistance from Greece has received praise from the rest of the EU, noting that Greece acts as the ultimate external border of Europe. Tensions are high on the border, and a video released by Greek authorities show Turkish armoured vehicles attempting to tear down the Greek border (see link at bottom). Indeed, while Greece has the right to maintain the integrity of its borders, the matter is complicated by the fact that the migrants coming fro Turkey can be classed as refugees.


International law is clear on the status of refugees, and the obligations of the host state to accommodate them. Crucially, the law upholds refugees as cases of individual legality, each asylum application must be treated on a singular basis, and this of course runs in contrast to the group-minded perception security responses have to mass migration. The UNHCR notes: "Persons entering irregularly on the territory of a state should also not be punished if they present themselves without delay to the authorities to seek asylum,". While it is certainly true that a number of variables affect this claim, such as obligation to settle in first stable country, and bilateral financial assistance treaties, this will remain a contentious issue that should require a re-evaluation of the subject of non-traditional security threats, and the status of identity.


Twitter video of Turkish vehicle at Greek border: https://twitter.com/nstamouli/status/1236363444007374849


Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

At the time of writing, Toby Irwin is a third year student at the University of St Andrews. He is studying International Relations. Areas that interest him the most are UK foreign policy and the defence/aerospace industry.

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