Strategic Approaches to Border Security and Management in the Context of Combating Terrorism and Preventing Transnational Threats

By: Dr. Noora Hassan is a Defence and Strategy Consultant, Lawyer, and Scientist. Integrating Law and Science for Strategic Consulting

The persistent challenge posed by terrorist groups and transnational criminal organisations exploiting porous land borders to traffic illicit goods and deploy operatives for attacks not only undermines global efforts to combat terrorism and organised crime but also compromises state security measures and exacerbates vulnerabilities among affected populations. This phenomenon further fuels the financial resources of these illicit syndicates. Additionally, the infiltration of “foreign terrorist fighters” (FTFs) highlights the critical need for robust border security and management (BSM) to prevent the cross-border movement of individuals intending to carry out violent extremist activities or join extremist groups abroad. Effective strategies and anti-corruption measures are imperative to strengthen border security and mitigate the threats posed by terrorism and transnational crime. Given the distinct challenges presented by porous borders, it is imperative for states to acknowledge the significance of securing these boundaries and fostering cross-border cooperation, facilitating collaboration among various inter-agency bodies, neighbouring border security agencies, and local border communities comprehensively.

States must recognise that adopting a multilateral, coordinated strategy towards border management is essential in effectively mitigating the diverse array of threats and challenges encountered by each state independently. Intra-agency cooperation pertains to collaboration and coordination among various levels of hierarchy within a border agency or ministry, while inter-agency cooperation involves coordination and collaboration between distinct ministries and border agencies, spanning both national and cross-border domains. International cooperation encompasses collaboration and coordination among border agencies, training centres, and ministries of other states or international organisations. Intra-agency relations encompass both formal and informal arrangements, with formal agreements or procedures being essential for sustained cooperation in operational activities. These formal arrangements should be documented and cover aspects such as standard operational procedures, reporting mechanisms, communication protocols, analytical methods, and workflow coordination, all aligned with national legislation and administrative directives. Informal arrangements involve unit-to-unit or person-to-person exchanges of information, consultations, opinions, or advice during daily operations, lacking institutionalisation within a broader structure.

To effectively achieve their objectives, national border services must enhance capabilities and capacities among their subordinate departments and units. This entails sharing expertise, implementing best practices, and improving coordination and cooperation across the organisation. In some states, border guard, border police, and customs services operate as autonomous entities, potentially affiliated but not integrated within a larger ministerial structure. Thus, it is beneficial to outline in national border management strategies and action plans methods for enhancing cooperation, information exchange, and resource management within these services at local, regional, and central levels. In other states, tasks related to BSM are divided among various law enforcement agencies simultaneously, leading to potential duplication and overlapping of competences, which can hinder effective border security and management efforts. State services responsible for border security and management often face limitations in cooperation when it comes to establishing overall strategic directions.

To enhance cooperation, state border services should focus on improving collaboration between relevant departments at central, regional, and local levels, ideally establishing coordination structures such as inter-departmental committees. This collaboration should include not only Ministries of the Interior and Finance but also other relevant ministries like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. These inter-institutional bodies must routinely address operational issues rather than setting long-term strategic directions. Inter-agency cooperation adopts a horizontal approach, emphasising effective coordination of activities, tasks, and responsibilities among officials of relevant services operating at the border, as well as among regional and central ministries or authorities responsible for those activities. It should be formalised through a memorandum of understanding (MoU) covering the entire spectrum of BSM. However, existing regulations often fall short in this regard, leading to ambiguity in defining activities and responsibilities. Collaboration among civil services, including border guards, border police, customs agencies, and security services such as police and defense forces, is essential for maximising resource utilisation, building comprehensive intelligence, and addressing complex threats posed by terrorist organisations and transnational crime. Successful inter-agency cooperation relies on regular interaction, timely exchange of information, and the use of common communication platforms, although establishing such platforms can be challenging.

Neighbouring states should establish inter-agency task forces to bolster BSM efforts and combat transnational threats like terrorism and organised crime. These structures enable coordinated responses to crises and immediate threats. Regular joint exercises among BSM services are considered a best practice for refining coordination and response mechanisms, learning from experiences, and addressing any identified shortcomings. Engaging with international, regional, or multilateral organisations enhances access to vital information, research, analysis, and intelligence, while also facilitating accountability and combating corruption. These organisations can offer assistance in training, and provide neutral platforms for practitioners to collaborate, share information, and improve coordination in border security efforts. Clarifying specific responsibilities among border officials contributes to enhanced security, particularly in areas where border demarcation is challenging. Cooperation between border agencies can be bolstered through practical measures such as reporting suspicious activities. Proficiency in local or widely spoken languages among cross-border officials is crucial for effective cooperation and communication in border areas. Efficient monitoring of remote border areas and zones adjacent to official ports of entry, including airports, seaports, land border crossings, train stations and ferry terminals, where applicable, is essential to prevent individuals from bypassing official checkpoints, smuggling goods, carrying out terrorist attacks, or entering and leaving a state’s territory illegally. A consistent presence of border officers in these areas acts as a deterrent to terrorists, FTFs, and cross-border criminal activities, while also fostering resilience within border communities against the influence of terrorist groups and criminal enterprises. This presence also enhances awareness of terrorist threats among local communities and highlights the personal impacts of such activities. Understandably, this is particularly challenging for countries like Turkey and Syria who share a border, which is 911km long.

When deploying border security equipment and systems, especially in remote regions, it is crucial to consider local conditions and capabilities, including climatic and territorial challenges, like along the difficult 560km Turkey and Iran border. Advanced equipment may not always be suitable, so states should explore cost-effective and agile surveillance systems tailored for remote areas. Establishing a baseline of infrastructure requirements applicable across various investment levels and capabilities is essential. Border guards should utilise both stationary and mobile units to fulfil effective border surveillance duties. Legal frameworks should empower border guards to carry out their tasks effectively and prevent individuals from bypassing checkpoints. Adequate legal provisions should also be in place for mobile units. The deployment of border guards should be adjusted according to identified transnational threats and estimated risks.

Interacting with remote border communities can provide essential behavioural insights for officials, thereby improving situational awareness and facilitating the detection of suspicious activities. With their intricate understanding of the local terrain, criminal networks, and terrorist organisations operating in their vicinity, these communities are well-equipped to offer pertinent intelligence to border services. Fostering connections with border communities promotes collaboration between remote areas and central government agencies. It is essential to educate these communities about the link between common crimes such as smuggling and the financing of organised crime and terrorism, with the resulting impact on society, thereby building resilience against criminal influence. Border law enforcement agencies can cultivate trust and resilience within communities through initiatives like Border Community Policing, addressing shared threats collaboratively. When considering the economic impact of border security policies, development projects aimed at bridging communities and fostering trust with authorities are crucial. To prevent exploitation by criminal and terrorist organisations and mitigate radicalisation, states should pursue policies promoting social and economic integration for border communities, ensuring access to essential services and infrastructure. Trust-building measures are vital, as border communities can serve as valuable partners in enhancing border security, leveraging their local knowledge and networks in remote areas. Border Community Policing fosters collaboration between national border services and border communities to tackle transnational threats like terrorism and organised crime, enhancing public safety and improving the lives of border communities. It underscores the importance of building ties with law enforcement agencies and working closely with community members. Clear and precise communication, as well as proactive information exchange among officials from border police, border guards, and customs services, are critical for successful cooperation and effective coordination of activities at border crossing points and along borders. Overcoming barriers to information exchange is essential and extends beyond cooperation between border police, guards, and customs services. Successful cooperation necessitates broader information exchange involving ministries and their respective agencies, such as criminal police, organised crime units, intelligence services, immigration services, and visa regime authorities. Developing an effective information exchange system connecting border communities to state border services is crucial for comprehensive BSM systems. Communication, coordination, and cooperation among neighbouring border services and relevant law enforcement agencies within and across states are crucial for preventing transnational threats and combating cross-border crime.

Coordinating border surveillance activities between neighbouring states, based on mutual agreements and national legislation, is essential for effective cross-border cooperation. Joint patrols, coordinated patrolling, and mixed patrolling involving officers from different border services contribute to sharing expertise, building trust, and developing cross-border cooperation. Joint multi-agency and interdisciplinary operation exercises should be organised with the participation of relevant border agencies within a region, focusing on border management strategies, cross-border security issues, national policies on BSM cooperation, mutual aid frameworks, and human rights considerations in porous border areas. Joint operations between border law enforcement agencies, both nationally and across borders, are crucial for efficient coordination and effective cooperation in BSM.

Cross-border operational engagement involves planned activities of greater coordination over an extended period or wider territory. These operations range from detailed checks to large-scale efforts aimed at intercepting trafficking channels and countering transnational threats. They may occur at major BCPs, nationally, or involve multiple states’ law enforcement agencies. Joint operations often involve border patrol and surveillance using combined mobile units. The benefits of joint operations include increased effectiveness through the pooling of intelligence and resources, as well as enhanced efficiency with on-site authorities able to expedite proceedings when uncovering crimes falling within their jurisdiction.

Risk analyses play a critical role in BSM by informing cooperation, joint operations, and training at national and cross-border levels, focusing on public safety and security risks and identifying gaps between risk and capabilities. While it’s impossible to eliminate risk entirely, understanding risk scope and nature is vital for effective risk management. Risk analyses assess identified risks, uncertainties, intelligence gaps, and recommend priorities for mitigating transnational threats. They inform decision-making by presenting post-incident reports and guiding appropriate actions based on analyses. The establishment of robust border management and control mechanisms at national ports of entry necessitates the engagement of all pertinent domestic stakeholders. The execution of a BMS mandates the development of a National Action Plan, outlining key activities including protection against transnational threats, counterterrorism measures, combating cross-border organised crime, human resource management, education and training, procurement of technical equipment, as well as implementing public awareness campaigns and fostering public-private partnerships. These initiatives are to be collaboratively implemented by all relevant stakeholders.

Effective border security management relies on comprehensive strategies, cooperation among national and international stakeholders, and the implementation of recognised standards and best practices. From enhancing communication and coordination among law enforcement agencies to engaging border communities and conducting joint operations, these efforts aim to mitigate transnational threats, combat organised crime, and ensure public safety. By prioritising collaboration, investing in resources, and implementing robust border management mechanisms, states can bolster their ability to protect their borders and safeguard against emerging security challenges in an increasingly interconnected world. This holistic approach to border security underscores the importance of adaptive strategies that evolve alongside the changing nature of threats. Recognising the dynamic nature of border security challenges, it is imperative for governments to remain vigilant and adaptable. This includes ongoing assessments of threat landscapes, regular updates to policies and procedures, and continuous investment in training and technology. Additionally, fostering strong international partnerships and information-sharing networks is paramount in addressing transnational threats effectively. Furthermore, promoting community engagement and public awareness initiatives can serve as force multipliers in enhancing border security efforts. By empowering local communities to become active participants in safeguarding their own borders, authorities can tap into a vast network of eyes and ears on the ground, thereby increasing the likelihood of detecting and thwarting illicit activities. Ultimately, the pursuit of effective BSM requires a multifaceted approach that integrates a range of strategies, from technological advancements to community empowerment initiatives. By embracing collaboration, innovation, and adaptability, governments can build resilient border security frameworks capable of effectively countering evolving threats in today’s complex security landscape.