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Technology, Virtual Walls and Concrete Fences: Border Walls in a Comparative Perspective

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Abstract

While border walls have been a constant throughout history, even during the second half of the 20th century, the end of the Cold War marked the end of an era and signalled the wall’s fall from favour as a political institution. 9/11 appears to have brought back the wall as a political object and instrument, in terms of quantity, since there is now an unprecedented number of walls, greater even than during the Cold War, in terms of the length of walls built or planned and in terms of technology. The reappearance of the wall (made out of concrete and barbewires or solely virtual) is particularly striking when one studies those three border fences/walls that are often mentioned together, largely because of their semantic and chronological proximity. While they are actually quite different, they do attest to new attention to the wall in theories of international relations. First, the U.S. is extending the existing 130-km wall on its Mexican border. Meanwhile, Israel has extended its separation wall in the West Bank up to the 1967 Green Line. Like the U.S.-Mexico wall, Israel’s 730-km fence boasts sophisticated electronic detection equipment, which the Israeli defence ministry claims is highly effective. Third India has completed a 3000-km long fence along its bangladi border. The construction of protective walls intended to “secure” borders considered dangerous or porous has also become a fast-growing market and trend. The walls going up today, such as the American “virtual fence,” the Israeli “security fence” and the wall under construction in Saudi Arabia are being built to high standards and boast hi-tech features, providing an opening for private-sector involvement. Arms manufacturers and security firms are shifting to providing border protection goods and services: advanced technology, security fences, related logistics and military equipment. We will therefore study the EU digital borders as part of a global trend that implies a comparative analysis of those virtual walls, real fences and technological barriers.