Published on People Move

Security and Development

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Wish you a new year of happiness and prosperity.

Recent events have once again confirmed that security threats will remain a recurring theme in this new decade as in the past decade. To me, security and development seems more of a global public good issue than, say, conflict and development, and has more practical implications in the immediate term than, say, climate change and development. Yet I have not read much on the global development implications of the new security regimes. There is a bit of literature on conflict, but not much on the global development implications of the current security concerns.

Tighter security post-911 has made international travel and trade more cumbersome, costly and time consuming than before. Efforts to track the terrorists by tracking the flow of financing has greatly increased the need for new financial laws and documentation to open a bank account, get a car loan, or simply send money. All countries have increased the scrutiny of foreigners’ legal status and intentions. To what extent such tighter measures have impacted different aspects of globalization – for example, aid, trade, investments, tourism, study abroad, sports, the flow of information and the sharing of technology?

So far our knowledge of these impacts remains minimal and anecdotal, especially when we approach this from a development angle. In the area of migration and development, we have evidence that the AML-CFT (anti-money-laundering and countering the financing of terrorism) regulations have raised the cost of remittances and encouraged more flows through the formal channels, resulting in an increase in the size of recorded remittance flows (figure 1). It is not clear, however, how the tightening of security and scrutiny of border crossings has impacted the size of international migration and its impact on development back home. Sketchy data from the Department of Homeland Security and the Mexican Migration Project indicate that at the US-Mexico border, the number of border patrol agents has been increased significantly, but at the same time: (a) the number of people apprehended has declined (figure 2); (b) anecdotally, an increasing number of people are trying to cross the border through more difficult terrains, resulting in more human suffering; c) the duration of migration has increased from an average 10 months a decade ago to 16+ months now(figure 3); and (d) the coyote fees (that is, fees paid to smugglers) have risen significantly during the same period (figure 4).

These points appear to highlight a trade-off between tighter security and the development benefits of globalization. Considering that a lack of opportunities and large income disparity may be the root cause of security threats in the first place – again highlighting the trade-off – efforts to enhance security at home ought to include a careful assessment of the development implications of such efforts.
Shall we devote some time to thinking about this issue of security and development?

Wish you a new decade of peace!


Fig 1: Global remittances exceeded $338 billion in 2008, fell to $317 billion in 2009 Fig 2: Apprehensions have declined in the US-Mexico border even as US border controls increased
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Fig 3: Duration of Mexican migration has increased with tighter border controls Fig 4: Coyote fees have increased with tighter border controls
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 For a larger image, please click here.



Dilip Ratha

Lead Economist and Economic Adviser to the Vice President of Operations, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, World Bank

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