Book review: Migration, Terrorism and the Future of a Divided Europe: A Continent Transformed, by Christopher Deliso, Santa Barbara, Denver, Praeger Security International, 2017, 296 pages.
In 2015 alone, the migration crisis brought over one million asylum seekers to Europe – some of them war refugees, others economic migrants and others agents of different terrorist entities, the Islamic State included. Probably even more disturbing than their sheer number is the fact that many of them entered Europe with false documents or without any kind of papers at all, which raises tremendous security risks for the future. And it also raises questions related to the economic, social, cultural and political capacity of the European Union (and of European states in general) to manage this flow of migrants, and to understand the consequences and global ramifications of their presence on the continent.
Although this was not the first time Europe faced a wave of asylum seekers, the 2015 migration crisis seemed to have affected the continent to an unprecedented degree, and the main question is: what made this refugee crisis so different? Tackling this question in his recent book – Migration, Terrorism and the Future of a Divided Europe: A Continent Transformed (Praeger Security International, 2017) – American analyst Christopher Deliso provide us with valuable and fresh insights into the dynamics and the long-term political, economic and security implications of the 2015-2016 European migration crisis.
The author convincingly argues that the event signalled the beginning of a new era in the existence of the EU, a moment of ‘rude awakening’ from its previous numbing complacency; it was not only a test of the EU’s cohesion (a test which it failed), but also a mirror of its deep existential crisis, that stemmed, above all, from its ideologically very fragile foundations, Deliso contends.
The book can be read and analyzed on at least three distinct levels: the development of the crisis; its consequences and implications; and the causes of the EU’s inability to manage the crisis. Thus, on the one hand, Deliso describes the event, accompanying the successive waves of asylum seekers across Europe, through their usual Balkan route, from the periphery of the continent to its centre and far North. Unlike the sensationalism-driven media or the biased political elite, Deliso addresses the issue with objectivity, which does not mean, however, that his approach lacks in sensitivity towards the perils that the refugees had to endure during their long and dangerous journey, or will have to face during their future life in Europe. It rather means that the book unfolds as many layers of the crisis as possible.
Most of the previous commentators, being they analysts, journalists, political leaders or humanitarian advocates, seem to have dreaded presenting the big picture, and focused instead on individual cases, which they chose to illustrate with powerful emotional images such as drowned children, camps burned by alleged right-wing groups or police forces gassing and pushing refugees back behind border fences. Such powerful emotional displays produced a temporary public support for the migration cause, with people and humanitarian organizations gathering their efforts to aid the needy, and with accusations of nationalism and fascism being reserved for those attempting a different approach or pinpointing security risks. Not at all unsympathetic to the personal security risks that the refugees had to take to make this journey – which for many hundreds ended in death – Deliso, however, does not fear to emphasize that the migrant waves were composed not only of Syrian war refugees, but also of economic migrants from the Middle East, South-East Asia and Africa, as well as terrorist agents from the Islamic State. Some of them proved to be very skilful users of social media, able to gather and spread information and intelligence in several languages, forming online groups and using messaging applications such as Signal, Telegram, and Threema to organize themselves or to communicate with other refugees or human traffickers.
The book also pays very special attention to the reactions of European leaders in terms of both declarations and practice (security measures included), documenting Brussels’ inability to make decisions, its bureaucratic lethargy, its tendency towards centralization, and above all its lack of contact with what happens in the real world. The dichotomy between the leaders’ plans and intentions towards centralization and supranational integration and the citizens’ preferences towards sovereignty is also often stressed. According to Deliso, the EU leaders lamentably failed to secure the EU’s external borders; only ‘weak’ and non-EU countries like Macedonia and Serbia prevented the disaster from spreading even more that it already had.
The author explains how the crisis deeply affected and is going to continue to take its toll on the EU’s relations with Turkey and different African states, with Russia and the US, with private corporations and international humanitarian organizations, as well as with Balkan states seeking membership. The migrant crisis also altered the very fragile intra-bloc dynamics, revealing once more the divergent interests of its members. The local influences are explored in depth by Deliso, from altered electoral results to changes in the public opinion perceptions, from shattered public security feelings to frustrated police and security entities, from a biased media to a politically enrolled ‘civic society’, or from shifts in political ideologies and practices to the increased influences of different lobbyists and shadowy networks of the deep state’s representatives.
Deliso’s narrative focuses as well on the deep connections between migration, organized crime, financial interests, labour markets and NGO networks. The financial burdens posed on the EU and national budgets by the migrants are not overlooked either, with aspects explored including pressure placed on social welfare programs, the need to document and gather intelligence on specific related issues, the legal housing business, the enlargement of non-productive economic sectors such as the human rights industry, bureaucracy, running prisons, securitization of public spaces, funding of police departments, public spending on research programs and so on.
The short- and long-term consequences of the crisis are central to this work, which however goes far beyond any conventional interpretation found elsewhere. The 2015 migration crisis was ‘essentially a problem of volume and logistics’ (p. 159) Deliso argues throughout his book; though probably the most original aspect of the work lies with the author’s view concerning the EU’s responses to the migrations crisis and its plans for dealing with the phenomenon in future. Carefully documenting ‘a direct and unbroken line between the old [pro-federalist] European aristocracy and Europe’s modern influencers’ (p. 33), the author convincingly argues that the current debates on the European migration policies are closely linked with the supra-nationalist, anti-nationalist, pro-federalist world views that were shaped in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century within different pan-European movements. At the foundation of the European project stood the myth of the European ‘common’ or ‘shared values’, the argument reads. Thus,
The European Union itself was not set up according to any solid philosophical system, but rather was established through arduous and often contentious process of negotiations, referenda and treaties between bitterly divided sides. In the context of this historical reality, the current ferment of the immigration policy is not an aberration from the norm (p. 29).
The EU’s inability to manage the crisis is explained by the lack of a common ideological foundation, on the one hand, and by the ideological uniformity of the EU’s leaders, on the other. ‘Almost a half century of peace’ , Deliso’s thesis reads, and
Decades of pro-federalist education and propaganda (originally sponsored by the United States) had created several generations of leaders having a unique world view: they saw and still see supra-nationalism as benevolent and natural, and recognize World War II as the beginning of history. This is the fundamentally flawed contextualization in which EU reactions to today’s migration crisis must be understood (p. 40).
The EU was and is a political construct that proved functional in times of peace and cultural homogeneity, but that is unable to regulate itself in times of crisis. Deliso demonstrates that
The increasing influx of foreigners through immigration from the 1980s and then the age of Islamic terrorism and the backlash against it burdened the [European] system with new challenges that it had never been designed to confront. The problem with the European system is that it is no longer relevant for the times. And yet confronted with this reality, the Brussels bureaucrats continue to expand legislative control (p. 137).
Ethical aspects are also explored, through themes such as the principle of representativeness, the media’s role in creating and sustaining mass manipulations, political correctness and self-censorship, global governance, conflicts of interests, propaganda, and German public discourse on the Holocaust in the context of national political responsibility for refugees, and so on.
In conclusion, Deliso’s work offers a well-documented and balanced examination of the sophisticated connections between the recent migration crisis in Europe, the increasingly vicious terrorist attacks and violent events on the Continent and the existential crisis that the EU project faces today. The book challenges the generally uniform public discourse on the ‘success’ of the European project, and that concerning its historical determinism. Instead, this book persuasively attests to how contradictory the European reality actually is. European leaders argue that the EU is shaped around notions such as common values, humanitarian aid, solidarity, moral issues and shared culture, though in reality the project seems to crumble under the pressure of the divergent interests of its members, of sovereignty movements, of foreign (non-European) influences or economic global crisis and more.
Thus, Migration, Terrorism and the Future of a Divided Europe: A Continent Transformed (Praeger Security International, 2017) is a fundamental read for anyone interested in current European and global affairs, from informed citizens to political leaders, from students and scholars to human rights activists, from theoreticians and practitioners of politics alike to security analysts, intelligence specialists and journalists.
Holding an MPhil in Byzantine Studies from the University of Oxford (1999), Christopher Deliso has covered Southeast Europe as a journalist and analyst since 2002. He has expertise in fields such as politics, security, intelligence and terrorism. Deliso is the founder and director of the independent and self-sustaining website Balkanalysis.com (to which I contribute occasional texts and materials on current affairs in Romania). Christopher Deliso is also the author of numerous books, including The Coming Balkan Caliphate: The Threat of Radical Islam to Europe and the West (Praeger Security International, 2007).