Nation as a fortress: We will all be North Korea by another name

In a world of fortress nations, with severely circumscribed interests and mindsets, collective defence is a paradox and selflessness a sin.

2017/09/24 Issue: 124 Page: 7

The Arab Weekly
Rashmee Roshan Lall

In 1945, when the Soviets installed Kim Il-sung as putative head of the new country called North Korea, the former guerrilla pre­sented himself to his people as a leader who would build up the nation as a fortress. North Korea would be racially pure and therefore superior to the mixed-race Muggles in South Korea and everywhere else. It would be im­penetrable to imperialists, mostly because foreign entry would be restricted.

Now, 72 years later, and the idea of fortress nations seems to have become alarmingly popular in unexpected parts of the world. Consider the following:

US President Donald Trump’s senior aides want an annual cap on refugee entry of 15,000, which is approximately half the world’s daily number of new refugees. Trump has until October 1 to decide on the issue.

Leaked reports suggest the White House is being selective in its information-gathering pro­cess. It is said to have rejected an official study that said refugees earned the government billions more in revenues over the past decade than they cost. It is obvious that refugees have been added to an anti-immi­grant agenda that is meant to secure the fortress nation.

Anti-immigrant parties are gaining support in Germany, which voted September 24; in Austria, which votes next month; and in Italy, which votes early next year. Only in Austria is there a real chance that rising hostility to foreigners, espe­cially those from the Arab world, will propel the anti-migrant party into government. The conservative Austrian People’s Party, which shifted closer to the far-right Freedom Party’s positions on immigra­tion and Islam, has maintained a poll lead in the four months since the election was called.

Finally, countries are defend­ing their walled fortresses by any means possible. Extraordi­nary new deals are being done. Italy may be paying Libyan warlords to prevent migrants from setting sail in the central Mediterranean, the busiest route into Europe. The Euro­pean Union is paying people traffickers in Niger to start other businesses, which don’t involve the dispatch of human beings.

The Italians deny a monetary arrangement with the warlords but it’s hard to understand why else the number of migrant arrivals from Libya would fall sharply the past two months. In July, arrivals in Italy were down 50%; in August, 85%.

If money is changing hands, it shouldn’t really be particularly shocking. Eighteen months ago, the European Union as a whole brokered a money-for-migrants deal with Turkey. Ankara was promised more than $7 billion to help pay for the upkeep of migrants intercepted on the Aegean Sea route to Europe.

That arrangement seems to have worked even though Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is routinely caustic about it. He complained to the UN General Assembly that Europe was stumping up less than it should.

In a way, Erdogan’s constant grousing pairs well with Trump’s eternal griping. Both seem to believe that a sharp-eyed, elbows-out and hostile world is taking advantage of their countries. However, their narrow self-focus merely illustrates the philosophy Trump has proposed as the guiding principle of global affairs.

He told the General Assembly that sovereignty should reign supreme rather than submission to global collectivism. Refugees, by extension, were cast in terms of a hopefully short-term affliction that is best quaran­tined in or near the refugees’ home countries.

“Are we still patriots?” the US president asked world leaders at the most multilateral institution on Earth. “Do we love our nations enough to protect their sovereignty and to take owner­ship of their futures?”

In real terms, that was a call to base nationalism, a nod to me-first transactional relation­ships rather than inspirational or aspirational shared values.

In a world of fortress nations, with severely circumscribed interests and mindsets, collec­tive defence is a paradox and selflessness a sin.

We will all be North Korea by another name.

Rashmee Roshan Lall is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly. She blogs at and is on Twitter @rashmeerl

As Printed
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar


Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi


Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor

Subscription & Advertising:

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved