“Build A Wall”: The Return of Physical Barriers

By Randall T. Oliver

In 1987, Ronald Reagan famously told the leader of the Soviet Union, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The fall of the Berlin Wall is seen as one of the hallmarks of the 20th century. Rhetoric, however, has changed. In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned that, “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall.” Technology has changed, and our world has changed, but walls remain.

Walls are certainly not a modern phenomenon. From the Great Wall of China, to Hadrian’s Wall, to the Western Wall, to the Walls of Jericho, walls have existed for centuries (though some have come tumbling down.) However, a modern phenomenon is occurring - the resurgence of walls. After World War II, border walls were few and far between, and until 2001, their numbers were stable. Elisabeth Vallet, from the University of Quebec, says “one-third of barriers were intended to bring an end to a conflict, such as that between north and south Cyprus, the two Koreas, and India and Pakistan.” From 1945 to 2000, there were less than 20 border walls globally. Since 2001, that number has grown to nearly 70 border walls.

According to Professor Valet, more recent wall construction falls into “three distinct types… including anti-migration walls (the most common), anti-trafficking walls and anti-terrorism walls.” In Europe, recent border walls have been constructed, almost exclusively, as anti-migrations walls:


  • Greece built a barbed wire fence along the Evros River, its border with Turkey, to help curb the tide of refugees into the country.


  • Bulgaria followed Greece in constructing its own razor wire barrier on its border with Turkey.


  • In 2015, Hungary completed two separate walls. One was a 175km fence along its Serbian border, and the other on its Croatian border, to help stop the flow of refugees.

  • Macedonia built a wall along its border with Greece, in response to the European Refugee Crisis.

  • Austria built a wall along its border with Slovenia, to restore the integrity of their border.

  • Slovenia built a wall along its border with Croatia, to control migration into the region.


  • France and the United Kingdom conducted a joint venture to build a barrier at Calais, an entry point for refugees, from France into the United Kingdom.

In the span of less than five years, eight European countries, and one-quarter of the European Union, built physical barriers to migration. U.S. citizens may think that “wall talk” is merely a subject of debate in the United States, but that is false. It seems, at least for now, the walls of old are returning, and it may require overcoming a different “wall of thinking” to stop it.  



Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/9d4d10cc-0e28-11e7-b030-768954394623