Border Security, Boat Migration and Mediterranean Operations in the Frames of Securitisation and Law Enforcement: Causal Explanation and Process Tracing

  • B. M. J. B. Klein Goldewijk
Part of the NL ARMS book series (NLARMS)


The Central Mediterranean route is currently the main one for migrants crossing the European Union’s (EU) external borders. Boat migration and border security will be approached here within two main frameworks for analysis: a securitisation frame and a law enforcement frame. First, the pathways of securitisation will be traced in the context of the discourse and military-naval operations conducted by Frontex and its partaking EU Member States, with an emphasis on EU Operation Sophia. Second, a seemingly opposing process of desecuritisation of migration will be analysed, where the implications of the legal Hirsi Judgement are at the core. Categorisation and contentious data analysis will be explored in connection to both frames. The central research question is why and how the outcome of the (de)securitisation of Mediterranean borders and boat migration has been reached. This is a ‘how is this possible’ or effects-oriented question, by taking the outcome of securitisation processes as its point of departure. The major objective is primarily theoretical: to contribute to strengthening securitisation theory by focussing on its disputed capacity of a causal explanation of social mechanisms and facilitating conditions. This will be realised by engaging in interpretivist process tracing: by so doing the relevance of this research strategy within international security studies will be confirmed. It is concluded that (de)securitisation processes can be explained by their paradoxical effects: they enable the protection of the rights of migrants but also create new divisions through current external border operations, and so establish ambiguities within both frameworks.


Securitisation Law Enforcement Boat Migration Border Security Mediterranean Operations Causal Explanation Process Tracing 


  1. Alden E (2017) Is Border Enforcement Effective? What We Know and What It Means. Journal on Migration and Human Security 5 (2): 481–490Google Scholar
  2. Aradau C, Huysmans J, Neal A, Voelkner N (eds) (2015) Critical Security Methods: New Frameworks for Analysis. Routledge, London/New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Balzacq T (2011a) Enquiries into Methods: A New Framework for Securitization Analysis, 31–53. In: Balzacq T (ed) Securitization Theory: How Security Problems Emerge and Dissolve. Routledge, London/New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Balzacq T (ed) (2011b) Securitization Theory: How Security Problems Emerge and Dissolve. Routledge, London/New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Balzacq T, Guzzini S (2015) What Kind of Theory – If Any – Is Securitization? International Relations 29 (1): 97–102Google Scholar
  6. Balzacq T, Léonard S, Ruzicka J (2016) “Securitization” Revisited: Theory and Cases. International Relations 30 (4): 494–531Google Scholar
  7. Bennett A (2015) Using Process Tracing to Improve Policy Making: The (Negative) Case of the 2003 Intervention in Iraq. Security Studies 24 (2): 228–238Google Scholar
  8. Bevilacqua G (2017) Exploring the Ambiguity of Operation Sophia Between Military and Search and Rescue Activities, 165–189. In: Andreone G (ed) The Future of the Law of the Sea: Bridging Gaps Between National, Individual and Common Interests. Springer, ChamGoogle Scholar
  9. Bigo D (2014) The (In)Securitization Practices of the Three Universes of EU Border Control: Military/Navy - Border Guards/Police - Database Analysts. Security Dialogue 45 (3): 209–225Google Scholar
  10. Borelli S, Stanford B (2014) Troubled Waters in the Mare Nostrum: Interception and Push-backs of Migrants in the Mediterranean and the European Convention on Human Rights. Review of International Law and Politics 37(10): 29–69Google Scholar
  11. Buzan B, Wæver O (2003) Regions and Powers. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  12. Crawley H, Skleparis D (2018) Refugees, Migrants, Neither, Both: Categorical Fetishism and the Politics of Bounding in Europe’s “Migration Crisis”. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 44 (1): 48–64Google Scholar
  13. Del Sarto R, Steindler C (2015) Uncertainties at the European Union’s Southern Borders: Actors, Policies, and Legal Frameworks. European Security 24 (3): 369–380Google Scholar
  14. Eck K (2012) In Data we Trust? A Comparison of UCDP, GED and ACLED Conflict Events Datasets. Cooperation and Conflict 47 (1): 124–141Google Scholar
  15. European Commission (2015) A European Agenda on Migration, COM(2015) 240, 13 MayGoogle Scholar
  16. European Commission (2016a) Progress Report: Fourth Report on the Progress Made in the Implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, COM(2016) 792, 8 DecemberGoogle Scholar
  17. European Commission (2016b) Joint Way Forward on Migration Issues between Afghanistan and the EU, Brussels, Afghanistan Donor Conference, 4 OctoberGoogle Scholar
  18. European Commission (EPSC) (2017) Irregular Migration via the Central Mediterranean: From Emergency Responses to Systemic Solutions. European Political Strategy Centre, EPSC Strategic Notes 22, 2 FebruaryGoogle Scholar
  19. European Council (2016) EU-Turkey Statement, Press Release 144/16, 18 MarchGoogle Scholar
  20. Fargues P, Bonfanti S (2014) When the Best Option is a Leaky Boat: Why Migrants Risk Their Lives Crossing the Mediterranean and What Europe is Doing About It. Policy Brief (5). Migration Policy Centre, European University Institute, FlorenceGoogle Scholar
  21. Figueiredo P (2011) Muros do Mediterrâneo: Notas Sobre a Construção de Barreiras nas Fronteiras de Ceuta e Melilla. Cadernos De Estudos Africanos (22): 153–175Google Scholar
  22. Follis K (2017) Vision and Transterritory: The Borders of Europe. Science, Technology, & Human Values 42 (6): 1003–1030Google Scholar
  23. Frontex (2017) (FRAN Q2) FRAN Quarterly, Quarter 2 (April-June 2017), Warsaw, Poland: Frontex Risk Analysis Unit (December 2017)Google Scholar
  24. Frontex (2018) Risk Analysis for 2018, Warsaw, Poland: Frontex Risk Analysis Unit (February 2018)Google Scholar
  25. Frontex-AFIC (2017) Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community Joint Report 2016, Warsaw, Poland: Frontex Risk Analysis Unit (April 2017)Google Scholar
  26. Ghezelbash D, Moreno-Lax V, Klein N, Opeskin B (2018) Securitization of Search and Rescue at Sea: The Response to Boat Migration in the Mediterranean and Offshore Australia. International and Comparative Law Quarterly: 1–37 (first access, online ahead of print, 16 January 2018,
  27. Giuffré M (2012) Watered-Down Rights on the High Seas: Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy. International and Comparative Law Quarterly 61 (3): 728–750Google Scholar
  28. George A, Bennett A (2005) Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA/LondonGoogle Scholar
  29. Guzzini S (2011) Securitization as a Causal Mechanism. Security Dialogue 42 (4–5): 329–341Google Scholar
  30. Guzzini S (2012) The Return of Geopolitics in Europe? Social Mechanisms and Foreign Policy Identity Crises. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  31. Guzzini S (2017a) Power and Cause. Journal of International Relations and Development 20 (4): 737–759Google Scholar
  32. Guzzini S (2017b) Militarizing Politics, Essentializing Identities: Interpretivist Process Tracing and the Power of Geopolitics. Cooperation and Conflict 52 (3): 423–445Google Scholar
  33. Hedström P, Swedberg R (1998) Social Mechanisms: An Introductory Essay, 1–31. In: Hedström P, Swedberg R (eds) Social Mechanisms: An Analytical Approach to Social Theory. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  34. Hedström P, Ylikoski P (2010) Causal Mechanisms in the Social Sciences. Annual Review of Sociology 36 (1): 49–67Google Scholar
  35. Horii S (2016) The Effect of Frontex’s Risk Analysis on the European Border Controls. European Politics and Society 17 (2): 242–258Google Scholar
  36. IOM (2016) Mixed Migration: Flows in the Mediterranean and Beyond: Compilation of Available Data and Information 2015. International Organization for Migration (IOM), GenevaGoogle Scholar
  37. IOM (2017) Mixed Migration Flows in the Mediterranean and Beyond: Compilation of Available Data and Information 2016. International Organization for Migration (IOM), GenevaGoogle Scholar
  38. Klein Goldewijk, B (2008) Why Human? The Interlinkages of Security, Rights and Development. Security and Human Rights 19 (1): 24–36Google Scholar
  39. Klein Goldewijk B, de Gaay Fortman B (1999) Where Needs Meet Rights: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in a New Perspective. WCC Publications, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  40. Klein Goldewijk B, Contreras Baspineiro A, Carbonari P (eds) (2002) Dignity and Human Rights: The Implementation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Intersentia/Transnational Publishers/TMC Asser Press, Antwerp/Oxford/New York/Zurich/The HagueGoogle Scholar
  41. Little A, Vaughan-Williams N (2017) Stopping Boats, Saving Lives, Securing Subjects: Humanitarian Borders in Europe and Australia. European Journal of International Relations 23 (3): 533–556Google Scholar
  42. Mahoney J (2015) Process Tracing and Historical Explanation. Security Studies 24 (2): 200–218Google Scholar
  43. Moreno-Lax V (2011) Seeking Asylum in the Mediterranean: Against a Fragmentary Reading of EU Member States’ Obligations Accruing at Sea. International Journal of Refugee Law 23 (2): 174–220Google Scholar
  44. Moreno-Lax V (2018) The EU Humanitarian Border and the Securitization of Human Rights: The ‘Rescue-through-Interdiction/Rescue-without-Protection’ Paradigm. Journal of Common Market Studies 56 (1): 119–140Google Scholar
  45. Oliveira Carvalho G (2017) The Causal Power of Securitisation: An Inquiry into the Explanatory Status of Securitisation Theory Illustrated by the Case of Somali Piracy. Review of International Studies: 1–22 (first access, online ahead of print, 29 November 2017,
  46. Paul R (2017) Harmonisation by Risk Analysis? Frontex and the Risk-Based Governance of European Border Control. Journal of European Integration 39 (6): 689–706Google Scholar
  47. Roberts P (2018) The Militarisation of Migration: From Triton to Sofia: Assessing the Credibility of the EU’s Naval Interventions Against Migrant Smuggling in the Mediterranean, 217–233. In: Reitano T, Bird Ruiz-Benitez de Lugo L, Jesperson S (eds) Militarised Responses to Transnational Organised Crime: The War on Crime. Palgrave Macmillan, ChamGoogle Scholar
  48. Robinson C (2017) Tracing and Explaining Securitization: Social Mechanisms, Process Tracing and the Securitization of Irregular Migration. Security Dialogue 48 (6): 505–523Google Scholar
  49. Santos Vara J, Sánchez-Tabernero S (2016) In Deep Water: Towards a Greater Commitment for Human Rights in Sea Operations Coordinated by Frontex? European Journal of Migration & Law 18 (1): 65–87Google Scholar
  50. Tannenwald N (2005) Stigmatizing the Bomb: Origins of the Nuclear Taboo. International Security 29 (4): 5–49Google Scholar
  51. Tannenwald N (2007) The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons since 1945. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  52. Tannenwald N (2015) Process Tracing and Security Studies. Security Studies 24 (2): 219–227Google Scholar
  53. Trevisanut S (2014) Is There a Right to be Rescued at Sea? A Constructive View. Questions of International Law 2: 3–15Google Scholar
  54. Trevisanut S, Ippolito F (2016) Migration in the Mediterranean: Mechanisms of International Cooperation. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  55. Waever O (2011) Politics, Security, Theory. Security Dialogue 42 (4–5): 465–480Google Scholar

Copyright information

© T.M.C. Asser press and the authors 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Military SciencesNetherlands Defence Academy, Ministry of DefenceBredaThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations