The Internal-External Security Nexus. Achieving Internal Security by Creating a Secure External Environment and the Current Migrant Crisis in the Mediterranean

Term Paper, 2015

18 Pages, Grade: 1,7



The idea of an internal-external security nexus is holding greater sway in both politics and academia. The nexus describes the blurring of two formerly distinct security spheres: internal security (domestic affairs), the domain of police and law enforcement; and external security (foreign affairs), traditionally the domain of diplomats and the military. The internal-external security nexus is widely acknowledged in contemporary European Union (EU) documents, also in respect to the issue of migration. Central components of the EU’s approach to the current influx of irregular migrants are to enhance the capacity of countries at the Union’s periphery in order to prevent illegal migration movement early on, to fight migrant smuggling, and to rigorously return persons who do not qualify for international protection under the 1951 Geneva Convention. However, the EU is externally lacking partners while at the same time appearing to be internally in quarrel over how to respond.

Keywords: European Union • internal–external security nexus • migration

Short Introduction

Complex and increasingly salient security issues, such as transnational terrorism and organized crime, as well as instability and conflicts caused by failing and weak statehood, traverse the divide between a state’s external environment and its domestic affairs.

(Schroeder, 2009: 487)

Traditionally, internal security and external security have been distinct fields, associated with different actors, objectives, cultures, and powers. While internal security has been the domain of the police and law enforcement agencies, external security was mainly associated with diplomatic and military power. This division was also reflected in the academic discourse until after the end of the Cold War, when a ‘ widening ’ and ‘ deepening ’ of the notion of security commenced (Buzan & Hansen, 2009: 187-191). With the discontinuation of Cold War bipolarity, the main threat for decades—a major military confrontation between the two superpowers—disappeared, but was swiftly replaced by an expanding range of new security challenges. Transnational organized crime, international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), risks associated with state failure, and cyber crime gained prominence. Whole new concepts of security thinking emerged, such as environmental security, energy security, or the concept of human security, all competing with the traditionally dominating object of reference: the state’s (national) security.[1]

Transcending borders, these new security threats are no longer confined within one particular sphere of security, but have rather internal as well as external implications at the same time. With the rise of trans-boundary security issues came the perception of an increasing interdependence between internal and external security and so critical connections were made between both security domains (Eriksson & Rhinhard, 2009: 244), demanding for a more comprehensive, holistic approach. Threats that arise in one distant location rarely remain confined within national borders, but often cause spill-over effects affecting neighboring countries by setting off other potential risks (e.g. internal conflict causing internally displaced people and refugees, which might lead to illegal migration) or having the initial threat spread geographically (e.g. insecurity leading to instability with the possibility of resulting in state failure affecting neighboring states and whole regions). Neither the sole use of military might abroad, nor exclusive reliance on law enforcement ‘at home’ are any longer sufficient to tackle security issues such as organized crime, terrorism, illegal migration or for instance a highly contagious disease.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

This development has only been accelerated by ‘ globalization ’ and the rapid pace with which individuals can communicate ideas, exchange goods, and travel across the globe. In addition, and linked with the disappearance of the East-West confrontation and advancing globalization, is another phenomenon that adds to the complexity of today’s security environment: power is becoming more diffuse as states experience a certain, albeit limited decline in power (Nation, 2012: 155). Lastly, “present security challenges are more diverse, less identifiable and less predictable” (Trauner, 2011: 11) too, adding another layer to the overall complexity.

The internal-external security nexus is an acknowledgment of the aforementioned developments. The basic reasoning behind it is that achieving internal security under current conditions is best achieved by creating a secure external environment. One of the underlying core ideas therefore is to address the threat at a distance—in the location where it actually emerges, and ideally before it ever reaches the homeland—by making strategic use of the foreign policy instruments available to the state (Ioannides & Collantes-Celador, 2011: 420).

(1) Discussion of Literature on the Internal-External Security Nexus

Much has been written on the internal-external security nexus in recent years, and the academic world and political sphere both seem to agree on the blurring of internal and external security, as described above.

Kurowska & Pawlak maintain that security is becoming “an important dimension of almost every policy” within the European Union (2009: 475). This is also apparent in the number “of references to the increasing linkages between internal and external security” within official EU documents (Shepherd, 2015: 3). The changes in the international security environment have made more concerted and comprehensive action a necessity (Duke & Ojanen, 2006: 478; Tauner, 2011: 19), a fact that is exemplified by what Ioannides describes as a “rapid growth of the EU internal-external nexus” (2014: 130). Such a “comprehensive approach would provide a platform for overcoming the EU’s institutional stove-piping, bureaucratic turf wars and divergent security cultures” (Shepherd, 2015: 14).

Schroeder identifies a strategic void that is the result of a capability-driven approach to strategy formulating. According to Schroeder, this mismatch is caused by the variety of actors pursuing different security strategies (2009: 486). Kurowska & Pawlak agree with Schroeder, stressing that “security policies emerge out of the politics of security performed at different levels” (2009: 475) instead of being the result of genuine strategic-level thinking. The amount of different actors involved, divergent objectives, and diverse cultures are among the reasons identified for causing frictions. Issues regarding powers hold and the relations between actors, politics and society at large are also cited as complicating factors.

Carrapico (2013) describes the EU’s approach to the internal-external security nexus in relation to organized crime as a lengthy process that already started decades ago and is not yet concluded. Changing threat perceptions and the subsequent—but by no means inevitable—projection of a security concern from the formerly internal domain into the broader external realm has taken place with regard to organized crime. But despite the EU’s acknowledgment of intermingling internal and external dimensions, Carrapico identified “a disconnection between the rhetorically emphasized importance of OC [organized crime] and the practice being developed in the external dimension” (2013: 471). That the EU’s preceding internal security objectives frequently clash with its external security aspirations is also observed by Monar, who points to a prevailing “vagueness and lack of substance” (2010: 28) in the EU’s approach to security challenges.

Sjöstedt (2013) highlights the role of ‘securitization’ in creating the alleged security nexus through framing. According to Sjöstedt, internal or external security issues are sometimes linked with the purpose of either triggering specific policy action or at least to shape perceptions in a more favorable way for otherwise unpopular policies. Duke & Ojanen hold that politicians are increasingly speaking about an “artificial distinction between internal and external security, not only in terms of where threats originate, but also in terms of the various tools required to protect societies” (2006: 478). Eriksson and Rhinhard (2009) meanwhile bemoan a general lack of genuine research into the alleged internal-external security nexus. Instead, they claim, academia has largely assumed the existence of such a nexus without truly exploring and seeking empirical evidence. Weiss likewise argues “that the current debate lacks comprehensiveness and conceptual underpinning” (2011: 396).

(2) Brief Introduction of the Cross-Border Security Phenomenon

One such cross-border security phenomenon is irregular or illegal migration. In 2014, about 219,000 people have fled via the Mediterranean Sea, seeking safety from war, displacement, poverty, and oppression. During the first six month of 2015, another 137,000 people made the dangerous journey to Europe’s southern shores—an increase of 83% when compared to the first half of 2014. The death toll climbed dramatically as well with more than 1,800 lives lost at sea.[2] Most of the refugees originated from Syria, which is engulfed in civil war since 2011. According to estimates of the United Nations (UN), at least 220,000 people have perished in the war, and many more are internally displaced or have sought refuge in neighboring countries. With no end to the war in sight, the temporary refugee camps are set to become permanent establishments in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Of the 219,000 people who made the passage over the Mediterranean Sea in 2014, 42,000 are said to have come from Syria, while an additional 34,000 are said to have fled the oppressive regime in Eritrea. Refugees have also come from Mali, Nigeria, Gambia and Somalia.[3] The routes traversing the Mediterranean Sea to France, Malta, Italy or Greece have become the most deadly ones for refugees worldwide, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).[4]

The causes for the current migration crisis in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are manifold, as already explained above. While the underlying root-causes are often easy to identify, addressing them is another challenge altogether. To possibly stem the tide of Syrian refugees, hostilities in the country would need to stop with the real probability of ceasing indefinitely. The same applies to certain conflict-ridden areas in Africa, since as long as widespread violence creates a climate of insecurity and general volatility, people cannot be expected to remain within those areas or to return to them. But next to forced migration or refugee movements, some migration movement is less related to physical security than to economic considerations. This so called economic migration movement has different causes, i.e. the lack of economic prospects in the country of origin, which turns especially younger individuals into voluntary migrants (Williams, 2013: 523-524). In order to address this kind of migration movement, the economic conditions in the home countries need to be improved, for example through the provision of development aid. Development aid—which can and is being utilized as a foreign policy instrument—is in that case more than a purely altruistic act. It is a means to an end.

The internal explosiveness of migration stems from the fact that migration may ultimately alter a population’s composition in various forms. “By introducing large numbers of people of diverse ethno-cultural and ideological backgrounds to a host-society, the globalization of migration represents a potentially significant threat to notions of stable national identities, culture, and ways of life” (Rudolph, 2003: 605). In addition, “[m]igration can become a threat to social cohesion and stability if migrant minority communities are seen to be an economic burden on society” (Williams, 2013: 530). The resurgence of right-wing political parties and populist ideas is said to be interrelated with the framing of migration as a security issue (Williams, 2013: 530-531). “The increasing ‘securitisation’ of the Union’s illegal immigration problems […] foster[s] violent racism and xenophobia,” (Monar, 2011: 25)[5] as became shockingly apparent in the latest series of attacks on accommodations for refugees inside Germany.[6]


[1] Modern national strategic thinking has left the narrow military security perspective and encompasses the multitude of different instruments of power. “National Security Strategy. (also referred to as Grand Strategy and National Strategy). The art and science of developing, applying and coordinating the instruments of national power (diplomatic, economic, military, and informational) to achieve objectives that contribute to national security” (Yarger, 2012: 46).

[2] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC), (accessed 7/1/2015).

[3] UNHCR, (accessed 5/27/2015).

[4] In the period spanning from January 1st until April 19th, 2015, at least 1,600 refugees have gone missing on sea. International Organization for Migration (IOM), (accessed 5/27/2015).

[5] Carl Levy argues that by “segregating asylum-seekers from domestic labor markets, Member States feed the misconceptions about asylum-seekers and welfare and fuel the rise of the xenophobic Far Right” (2010: 105).

[6] The latest Verfassungsschutzbericht (Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution), presented to the public on 30th June 2015, states that “[t]he number of right-wing extremist offences directed at housing for asylum seekers (mainly property damage and propaganda offences) more than tripled over the previous year to 170” (Engl. Summary, 2015: 10). The English summary of the report can be found at (accessed 7/1/2015).

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The Internal-External Security Nexus. Achieving Internal Security by Creating a Secure External Environment and the Current Migrant Crisis in the Mediterranean
Leiden University  (Public Administration)
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ISBN (Book)
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European Union, internal-external security nexus, migration, migrant crisis
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Stefan Pauly (Author), 2015, The Internal-External Security Nexus. Achieving Internal Security by Creating a Secure External Environment and the Current Migrant Crisis in the Mediterranean, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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