A bordered world

Israel is to build a barrier along its Egyptian border. We look at other separation barriers worldwi

Israel has announced plans to build a wall along its border with Egypt to keep illegal immigrants out and protect against terrorism.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said yesterday that a barrier blocking the main infiltration routes along the 266-kilometre (166-mile) frontier will be constructed and advanced surveillance equipment installed. The total cost will be roughly £170m (one billion shekels).

Thousands of migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia have crossed the border over the past few years. Netanyahu said that, while refugees could still seek asylum in Israel:

This is a strategic decision to secure Israel's Jewish and democratic character.

So, the wall is largely a pragmatic measure, but physical barriers are fraught with the symbolism of oppression -- Gaza, the Berlin Wall. Just how common are these physical boundaries, why are they there, and which countries make most use of them?

Here are just a few examples of the separation barriers that exist along country borders. They offer a snapshot of the political tension around them and the complex technology they entail. Interestingly, walls have also been proposed on the borders of Pakistan/Afghanistan and Russia/Chechnya. Is this the answer to cross-border conflict and problems such as smuggling and immigration? Please do leave comments below.

Israel

This new barrier will cover nearly all of the country's borders. Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, sums up the Israeli position:

We need a fence, as I said ten years ago, with all of our neighbours. With the Palestinians, we need two states for two people, a fence that will surround a solid Jewish majority. We will be here and they will be there.

Indeed, a barrier runs along the entire land border of the Gaza Strip. The section separating it from Israel was constructed in 1994, and consists of wire fencing with sensors. It is separated from Egypt by a wall of concrete and steel, built after 2004.

A similar barrier around the West Bank is under construction, but has attracted huge controversy. The International Court of Justice declared in 2004 that the erection of the barrier is "contrary to international law". Debate rages, as the wall (in some places, eight metres high) is not being built along 1949 Armistice lines, but within the West Bank, annexing areas with substantial Israeli settlements, as well as water sources.

Settlers, and others, have also protested, arguing that none of the land should be relinquished. Construction paused in 2007, ostensibly due to lack of funds.

Elsewhere, Israel's borders are a physical legacy of past wars with neighbouring states. Its borders with Lebanon and Syria are covered by sophisticated security barriers with electronic surveillance and warning systems, a result of the 1949 Armistice and 1967 war, respectively.

Jordan -- the most peaceful of the borders -- is largely unbolstered, except for the section adjacent to the West Bank.

India

India -- the seventh-largest country in the world -- has also been constructing walls along its extensive borders since the mid-1990s.

Construction of a Kashmir barrier was completed in 2004, covering 550 kilometres (340 miles) of the disputed 740-kilometre (460-mile) ceasefire line; the aim is to prevent arms smuggling and keep Pakistani separatist militants out. The electrified barrier is between eight and 12 feet high, and also carries a network of thermal imaging devices and alarms, where power supply allows. It is well within Indian-controlled territory, though Pakistan claims that it violates bilateral accords.

Roughly half the tumultuous 2,900-kilometre (1,800-mile) border with Pakistan is similarly covered by barriers, and India plans to extend this the whole length. A barrier on the border with Bangladesh is under construction to prevent illegal immigrants from entering. And it is hoped that another structure on the Burmese border will stem smuggling and terrorism.

America

About 554.1 kilometres (344.3 miles) of the 3,141-kilometre (1,951-mile) Mexico/US border is covered by a separation barrier, aimed at keeping illegal immigrants out and stemming the drugs trade. The barrier runs mainly along the border with New Mexico, Arizona and California, with construction ongoing in Texas, and consists of a series of short walls with "virtual fences" in between, including a system of sensors and cameras.

In the past 13 years, there have been approximately 5,000 migrant deaths along this border, according to the Human Rights National Commission of Mexico, a finding that was endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Donald Trump ushers in a new era of kakistocracy: government by the worst people

Trump will lead the whitest, most male cabinet in memory – a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

“What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone,” wrote the American poet James Russell Lowell in 1876, in a letter to his fellow poet Joel Benton. “Is it or is it not a result of democracy? Is ours a ‘government of the people by the people for the people’, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?”

Is there a better, more apt description of the incoming Trump administration than “kakistocracy”, which translates from the Greek literally as government by the worst people? The new US president, as Barack Obama remarked on the campaign trail, is “uniquely unqualified” to be commander-in-chief. There is no historical analogy for a President Trump. He combines in a single person some of the worst qualities of some of the worst US presidents: the Donald makes Nixon look honest, Clinton look chaste, Bush look smart.

Trump began his tenure as president-elect in November by agreeing to pay out $25m to settle fraud claims brought against the now defunct Trump University by dozens of former students; he began the new year being deposed as part of his lawsuit against a celebrity chef. On 10 January, the Federal Election Commission sent the Trump campaign a 250-page letter outlining a series of potentially illegal campaign contributions. A day later, the head of the non-partisan US Office of Government Ethics slammed Trump’s plan to step back from running his businesses as “meaningless from a conflict-of-interest perspective”.

It cannot be repeated often enough: none of this is normal. There is no precedent for such behaviour, and while kakistocracy may be a term unfamiliar to most of us, this is what it looks like. Forget 1876: be prepared for four years of epic misgovernance and brazen corruption. Despite claiming in his convention speech, “I alone can fix it,” the former reality TV star won’t be governing on his own. He will be in charge of the richest, whitest, most male cabinet in living memory; a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

There has been much discussion about the lack of experience of many of Trump’s appointees (think of the incoming secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who has no background in diplomacy or foreign affairs) and their alleged bigotry (the Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, denied a role as a federal judge in the 1980s following claims of racial discrimination, is on course to be confirmed as attorney general). Yet what should equally worry the average American is that Trump has picked people who, in the words of the historian Meg Jacobs, “are downright hostile to the mission of the agency they are appointed to run”. With their new Republican president’s blessing, they want to roll back support for the poorest, most vulnerable members of society and don’t give a damn how much damage they do in the process.

Take Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt describes himself on his LinkedIn page as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and has claimed that the debate over climate change is “far from settled”.

The former neurosurgeon Ben Carson is Trump’s pick for housing and urban development, a department with a $49bn budget that helps low-income families own homes and pay the rent. Carson has no background in housing policy, is an anti-welfare ideologue and ruled himself out of a cabinet job shortly after the election. “Dr Carson feels he has no government experience,” his spokesman said at the time. “He’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”

The fast-food mogul Andrew Puzder, who was tapped to run the department of labour, doesn’t like . . . well . . . labour. He prefers robots, telling Business Insider in March 2016: “They’re always polite . . . They never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

The billionaire Republican donor Betsy DeVos, nominated to run the department of education, did not attend state school and neither did any of her four children. She has never been a teacher, has no background in education and is a champion of school vouchers and privatisation. To quote the education historian Diane Ravitch: “If confirmed, DeVos will be the first education secretary who is actively hostile to public education.”

The former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated for the role of energy secretary by Trump, promised to abolish the department that he has been asked to run while trying to secure his party’s presidential nomination in 2011. Compare and contrast Perry, who has an undergraduate degree in animal science but failed a chemistry course in college, with his two predecessors under President Obama: Dr Ernest Moniz, the former head of MIT’s physics department, and Dr Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from Berkeley. In many ways, Perry, who spent the latter half of 2016 as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, is the ultimate kakistocratic appointment.

“Do Trump’s cabinet picks want to run the government – or dismantle it?” asked a headline in the Chicago Tribune in December. That’s one rather polite way of putting it. Another would be to note, as the Online Etymology Dictionary does, that kakistocracy comes from kakistos, the Greek word for “worst”, which is a superlative of kakos, or “bad”, which “is related to the general Indo-European word for ‘defecate’”.

Mehdi Hasan has rejoined the New Statesman as a contributing editor and will write a fortnightly column on US politics

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era