THERE is an urgent need to address the critical issue of securing our borders as part of the broader effort to protect our country from foreign enemies, terrorist threats, and criminal activities such as drug and human trafficking, and smuggling of weapons and other illegal contraband.
We must acknowledge that we cannot separately address border security whether the threat is from the air, land or sea.
Furthermore, as we improve one aspect of border security, threats may be displaced to other areas.
For example, if policies and initiatives to control and prevent illegal activities across our land borders become more successful, the threats could shift to the maritime or air sectors.
Therefore, a comprehensive and innovative approach must be adopted when designing and developing a strategic security framework, of which border security is only one part.
The maritime challenges to border security are enormous. Every day, maritime cargo containers pass through Malaysian ports. Other cargo not carried in containers, such as oil and natural gas, and hundreds of fishing boats are also part of the larger picture of maritime security. The millions of people and tonnes of cargo that cross our borders are the economic lifeblood of our nation.
As such, decisions about security at the border could affect the livelihood of thousands of Malaysians and the neighbouring citizens too.
Would additional security fencing along borders, patrolling our coasts and significantly enhancing law enforcement and military presence at entry and exit points be sufficient to protect our borders?
Do we also need to intensify the screening of containers and cargo entering our ports (land, sea and air)? These questions address important pieces of the overall picture of border security but not the comprehensive questions which the Government and the public are most concerned over: Do we have an organised, systematic and coordinated border security framework?
Our priority and main objective should be to manage the risks related to our borders intelligently, effectively and efficiently. Risk assessment is a must as it would identify a credible threat of attack on a vulnerable target. Risk assessment also addresses uncertainty – a potential, unpredictable, and uncontrollable outcome.
The task of establishing a national border security and control policy and strategy must be top priority for this nation’s government.
An effective and efficient national border security control policy and strategy must include the establishment of quantified benchmarks, and performance and effectiveness metrics.
Benchmarks and metrics will help us understand which programmes are working, which merit additional investment and priority, and which should be de-emphasised or discontinued.
There is also a need to develop a comprehensive border technology road map. There is no shortage of new and potentially useful technologies for use in border security.
When designing and developing the technology road map, we should not prescribe technology as the most critical component of a national border control strategy.
Another crucial factor is the integration of planning and coordination among border security agencies. These agencies should develop comprehensive operational plans that clearly articulate the roles, missions, responsibilities, coordination and communication line among the various entities.
Evaluation is also necessary in order to determine how effectively and efficiently those agencies are functioning and are able to operate collectively.
In addition, other entities have responsibilities that must be part of a comprehensive, department-wide approach to effective and efficient border security.
The coordination of border security with comprehensive immigration and border management policies is evidently top priority. Effective border management requires more than capability to intercept illicit cargo and people. It also requires understanding of how measures put in place for security affect how goods and people move across our borders.
The effects these policies have on our population and neighbouring population can dramatically impact on both economies and the delicate social fabric of society.
Implications on human and civil rights must be addressed as well. These rights must be guarded and honoured.
Programmes for border security must always consider the effects of implementation on these critical issues. If corruption and questionable levels of integrity interfere in this process, we are doomed.
Research Team on Crime and Policing,
School of Social Sciences,
Universiti Sains Malaysia