INTERVIEW: BLP Interviews National Security Expert Joseph Humire on the Importance of Border Control in National Security Policy

Big League Politics’ José Niño sat down with Joseph Humire, Executive Director of the Secure Free Society, to discuss immigration and its ties to national security. As Executive Director, of SFS, Humire has been one of the leading advocates of re-orienting American foreign policy priorities towards Western Hemispheric interests. The conversation touched on immigration and how it must form a part of any serious national security policy going forward.

  1.  How long has SFS  been investigating Venezuela and it’s destabilizing effect in the Western Hemisphere?

SFS has been researching Venezuela for the better part of the last decade. Our first major policy report on Venezuela was in 2014 about an immigration security scheme with Iran and Cuba. We were the first think tank to reveal that the Venezuelan immigration agency (SAIME) was providing identification documents to suspected members and supporters of Hezbollah and other foreign terrorist organizations. Since then, we have published several reports, testified before the U.S. Congress, and hosted policy events about the crisis in Venezuela and its destabilizing effect throughout the region. Most recently authoring this report on the “Maduro-Hezbollah Nexus” published by the Atlantic Council last year.

2. When people think about Venezuela, they see it as a collapsed, failed state that’s incapable of projecting power. SFS argues that despite these limitations, Venezuela still poses a strategic challenge for the United States. What kind of threat does Venezuela pose to US interests in the Western Hemisphere? 

This is a great question and at the heart of why many Americans underestimate the strategic challenge that Venezuela poses to U.S. national security. The first mistake many Americans make is confusing the Venezuelan regime with a Western Democracy. In Venezuela, there is no rule of law, its economy shrunk more than half, it has a weak military, and very little freedom of speech or press. And if measured on those terms, then yes, the regime and the Venezuelan state is very weak. But if measured on asymmetric terms, such as its employment of transnational organized crime, ties to international terrorism, its use of propaganda and disinformation—than the Maduro regime is very strong and has used modern threat networks like a 21st century vanguard army to spread throughout the Americas, infiltrating adversarial nations, corrupting state institutions, and empowering anti-American leaders throughout the region. (See here and here to read more SFS analysis of the threat that Venezuela poses to U.S. national security)

The best way to describe Venezuela is as an anti-fragile state. As opposed to a strong state, which is one that can resist international pressure and remain intact. Conversely, a fragile state or failed state is one that when pressured will crack. But an anti-fragile state is one that when pressured or attacked, the regime expands and increases its capabilities. That is why Venezuela and the Maduro regime not only resisted the U.S. maximum pressure campaign in 2019 but got stronger after it ended (in 2021).

The anti-fragility of Venezuela is designed so that global powers, Russia, China, and Iran, have a platform to create conflict and destabilize our neighborhood. It’s a way for them to diminish the geographic disadvantage they have with the United States. And its a problem, a threat, unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the Western Hemisphere.

3. SFS stands out for its analysis on modern-day forms of warfare. Lots of people tend to only focus on conventional war, one of armies fighting other armies. Basically, state vs. state violence. However, the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century has changed significantly. What types of warfare should the US be most prepared for in the upcoming decades?

The recent debacle and disastrous withdrawal in Afghanistan showed that military might is not enough to win on the modern battlefield. Wars are no longer won by those with the strongest or biggest military. In fact, warfare has evolved to the point that public opinion and political legitimacy are the primary center of gravity.

The United States needs to adapt. We need to evolve to address the geopolitical realities of the 21st century. Asymmetric warfare is not about capturing and killing our enemies, it’s about winning moral legitimacy over our adversaries. What good is it to launch a precision drone strike that kills a terrorist, if we don’t know anything about the community where the terrorist lives, thinks, and thrives. The terrorist will just be replaced, and we’ll be stuck playing whack-a-mole worldwide.

There is a need for surgical strikes, and limited military interventions (i.e., Soleimani strike), but this has to be complemented with a more holistic national security strategy that has the right diagnostic of our adversaries, understands the nature of asymmetric warfare, and is rooted in multi-dimensional security. Ironically, in the Western Hemisphere we have a document elaborated by the OAS in 2003 called the “Declaration on Security in the America” that is directionally correct. But it never was really implemented in a meaningful way and now needs to be updated.

4. Since Donald Trump won in 2016, there has been a noted shift in American foreign policy. The neoconservative/neoliberal, nation-building of yesteryear has largely been called into question, if not, outright rejected. This has left a vacuum in terms of foreign policy approaches.  In an Ideal world, what would America’s grand strategy look like?

I once heard a foreign policy speech by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) at the Hudson Institute in 2019 where he called himself a non-interventionist hawk. I think he nailed it. Military interventions are not homogenous, they are not all the same. Some situations require a limited, kinetic military intervention. But nation-building is out of the question. It doesn’t work and was a bad idea to begin with.

So, we need a new strategy.

America’s new grand strategy should focus on five areas and be built on three pillars but with a razor focus on securing our neighborhood, the Western Hemisphere. Those five areas are borders, telecommunications, energy, monetary, and space. The focus on these areas needs to be built on the three pillars of economic freedom, individual liberty, and national sovereignty. If we can mire those three pillars with the five areas of focus than I believe we can bring to life a Greater North America, one that extends from Canada to Colombia and includes our “third border” the Caribbean and Central America. If done correctly, we can outcompete and outmaneuver Russia, China, and Iran in the Western Hemisphere and in the rest of the world without having to overextend our military forces.

5. One of the key issues that got Donald Trump elected was immigration. Generally speaking, immigration tends to be argued about in terms of economics, culture, and rule of law. However, SFS argues that there is a geopolitical facet to immigration which malign actors exploit.

There is a professor at Tufts University named Kelly Greenhill who coined the term “strategic engineered migration” which is when migrants are “deliberately induced or manipulated by state or non-state actors, in ways designed to augment, reduce, or change the composition of the population residing within a particular territory, for political or military ends.”

We published a report in 2018 on the Central American caravans that showed that this was not a normal form of mass migration. It was not spontaneous nor organic. The Central American caravans that began in 2018 and continue to today are a form of “strategic engineered migration” and are induced and manipulated by anti-American political actors in Latin America with help from extra-regional state actors.

In the end, borders are what define a country. They are what determine the difference between an illicit activity and a legitimate activity. For instance, for the U.S. and Colombia the gold shipments coming out of Venezuela is considered illicit gold smuggling but for the Maduro regime it’s their gold exports. They don’t care that criminals and terrorists are exploiting the gold mines. They have a different perspective on organized crime and terrorism.

That difference is defined by the border of Colombia and Venezuela. And this is why the Maduro regime is trying to destroy that border. They want to take away Colombia’s national sovereignty, they want to weaken its national identity—and replace it with a new identify that is Colombo-Venezolano and is tied to illicit economies that are more powerful than Colombia’s GDP.

This is what will happen to all the borders throughout the Western Hemisphere if not stopped, and the disintegration of borders will create new trade routes and establish new shipping ports and canals, blending legitimate trade with illicit trade and redefining what is illicit and what is legal—where honest businessman are persecuted, and corrupt businessman are rewarded. This is kleptocracy on steroids.

In the end, this is how China, Russia, and Iran can defeat the United States. This is why borders matter.

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