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Maintaining Borders: Explaining Border Control Through Fortified Boundaries
Unformatted Document Text:  boundaries may provoke outrage by target states and others affected states or groups, with significant economic, political, or reputational costs for the builder. Such blowback is particularly likely to occur if the barrier is extensive, coincides with a boundary dispute, and is perceived as successful at the tactical level, all features shared by the bulk of cases in our dataset. Moreover, by alleviating short-term security risks and creating a viable status-quo, a successful fortified boundary can delay comprehensive dispute resolution, a cure for a symptom rather than the underlying disease. In restraining violence from escalating to war, a seemingly effective barrier may create disincentives for compromise, imposing long-term costs on builders and targets alike. Case Study III: The Moroccan Berm By way of illustration, consider the Moroccan Berm, a 2700 mile-long system of sand and stone walls, constructed by Morocco in the Western Sahara. The berm was designed to thwart incursions by the Polisario Front, an insurgent movement representing the indigenous Sahrawi population of Western Sahara. The berm crisscrosses 125,000 square miles of arid desert that is meager in oases, permanent rivers or arable land, and in which temperatures can reach 135°F in the summer months. 63 The Moroccan government initiated construction in 1980, in response to a series of successful attacks by Polisario. 64 Morocco sank an estimated 40% of its GDP into the berm’s construction and defense. 65 It completed the construction project within six years, 63 Ursel Clausen, Der Konflikt um die Westsahara (Hamburg, Germany: Institut für Afrika-Kunde, 1978) pp.2-3; Tony Hodges, “The Western Saharans,” Minority Rights Group Report No.40 (London, UK: Minority Rights Group Ltd., 1984), pp.3-4; 64 Wener Ruf, “The Role of the World Powers,” in Richard Lawless and Laila Monahan (eds.), War and Refugees: The Western Sahara Conflict (London: Pinter Publishers, 1987), pp.73-74. 65 Arms Sales and the Conflict in Western Sahara: an Assessment of US Policy, Hearing Before the Subcommitees on International Security and Scientific Affairs and on Africa of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Ninety-Seventh Congress, First Session, 25 March 1981 (Washington, 34

Authors: Wittenberg, Jason. and Hassner, Ron.
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boundaries may provoke outrage by target states and others affected states or groups, 
with significant economic, political, or reputational costs for the builder.  Such blowback 
is   particularly   likely   to   occur   if   the   barrier   is   extensive,   coincides   with   a   boundary 
dispute, and is perceived as successful at the tactical level, all features shared by the bulk 
of cases in our dataset.  Moreover, by alleviating short-term security risks and creating a 
viable   status-quo,   a   successful   fortified   boundary   can   delay   comprehensive   dispute 
resolution,   a   cure   for   a   symptom   rather   than   the   underlying   disease.     In   restraining 
violence from escalating to war, a seemingly effective barrier may create disincentives 
for compromise, imposing long-term costs on builders and targets alike.  
Case Study III: The Moroccan Berm
By way of illustration, consider the Moroccan Berm, a 2700 mile-long system of 
sand and stone walls, constructed by Morocco in the Western Sahara.   The berm was 
designed to thwart incursions by the Polisario Front, an insurgent movement representing 
the indigenous Sahrawi population of Western Sahara.   The berm crisscrosses  125,000 
square miles of arid desert that is meager in oases, permanent rivers or arable land, and in 
which temperatures can reach 135°F in the summer months.
The Moroccan government initiated construction in 1980, in response to a series 
of successful attacks by Polisario.
  Morocco sank an estimated 40% of its GDP into the 
berm’s construction and defense.
 It completed the construction project within six years, 
63
   Ursel Clausen, Der Konflikt um die Westsahara (Hamburg, Germany:  Institut für Afrika-Kunde, 1978) 
pp.2-3;   Tony Hodges, “The Western Saharans,” Minority Rights Group Report  No.40 (London, UK: 
Minority Rights Group Ltd., 1984), pp.3-4;  
64
   Wener Ruf, “The Role of the World Powers,” in Richard Lawless and Laila Monahan (eds.), War and 
Refugees:  The Western Sahara Conflict (London: Pinter Publishers, 1987), pp.73-74.
65
     Arms Sales and the Conflict in Western Sahara:   an Assessment of US Policy, Hearing Before the 
Subcommitees on International Security and Scientific Affairs and on Africa of the Committee on Foreign 
Affairs, House of Representatives, Ninety-Seventh Congress, First Session, 25 March 1981 (Washington, 
34


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