Over the past few years, border control between and on the GCC periphery is becoming a major security issue. Historically, border demarcation between the GCC states were based on historical differences driven by sea, air and land requirements by tribes and, later, by possible oil deposits. Oman, to date, is the only GCC state that has solidified its borders with its neighbors. Bilateral agreements solved several border disputes, the most threatening problem within the GCC -- such as those between Saudi Arabia and both Oman and the UAE. But even these problems are not permanently solved, given the perception that any solution is but temporary until a better one can be reached. The GCC itself does have a the GCC Borders and Coast Guards’ Officials body that recently held its 22nd meeting to coordinate policies and needs.
Biometrics, E-Government, CCTV, UAVs are all part of keeping border security. At border crossings biometric facial recognition software is now playing an integral role in filtering possible criminal elements. E-government is another form of biometrics that helps to capture the changing social nature of each GCC country through the movement and occupation of migrants and nationals. CCTV’s are springing up everywhere possible, capturing real time footage of possible border penetrators and halting illegal smuggling. Finally, UAV’s hover over border areas guaranteeing a falcon’s eye view of activity among long stretches of uninhabitable border areas known to be smuggling routes.
GCC security roadmaps
In terms of border control in the defense and security realm, a few GCC states stand out. KSA is looking to obtain and develop a constant persistent stare capability in regards to its border security requirements. The border fence acquired by KSA-- 1,800 km border fence is to bolster security at its frontier with Yemen from Oman and the Red Sea. The border defense consists of a network of sandbags and pipelines, three meters high, filled with concrete and fitted with electronic detection systems.
In the GCC, command and control, border security and critical infrastructure protection are the main drivers that unite the GCC’s hands together in border security.Dr. Theodore Karasik
Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia will need constant monitoring and will use assets such as the King Air 350ER-ISR to monitor events on their borders, whether land or sea. The sheer size of KSA's land borders –whether with neighboring countries or the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf, are so great that there is little need for ground vehicles to hold responsibility for the border protection mission, but to leave the responsibility to air assets. This is undertaken by the KSA Ministry of the Interior and with help from the Armed Forces. KSA is looking at employing air-borne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets for both conventional and non-conventional threats i.e. the Iranians have used submersibles and are a direct threat to KSA. Overall, there is a surge of spending within the GCC of looking to Littoral Combat Ships due to the maritime domain awareness needs and environmental restrictions. These will be used to patrol KSA maritime borders and will be combined with greater responsibility and duties for the Saudi Arabian National Guard.
With the UAE, there have been great advancements to the UAE's border security capabilities specifically since 2008. The recent designation of Critical National Infrastructure Authority (CNIA) under GHQ should help unify efforts dealing with border protection and the defense of critical infrastructure. In typical GCC fashion there are a number of official government entities that overlook and advise organizations with the General Authority for the Security of Ports, Borders and Free Zone's under the UAE Higher National Security Council and not GHQ is contributing to this effort. Furthermore, the UAE has also signed a Dh271 million deal with Advanced Integrated Systems, an Abu Dhabi based national company established to provide security solutions, to provide total solutions related to UAE’s border security. The objectives of this project include the establishment of highly automated target detection, identification and tracking border security systems designed to integrate fully automated systems to respond to external threats to the UAE border. Overall, the UAE is moving forward to tighten-up its border security requirements in an ever-changing world where state and non-state threats abound.
In Qatar, a $330 million defense contract with the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) was signed for the creation of an advanced border security system, which, according to the Qatari military, would create a monitoring network that would be linked to command and control centers at several points by a secure telecommunications system to transmit information and pictures. Crucially, Kuwait, too, following the war with Iraq, has beefed up its border security, supervision of which is maintained by the United Nations. Recently, Bahrain implemented an electronic visa system and related technology solutions from aviation IT provider SITA Information Networking Computing, which provides information essential to improving the quality of immigration services by including tracking systems to monitor and effectively analyze the travel patterns of high-risk passengers and simultaneously ensuring that relevant border control agencies have the detailed and accurate information they need to enhance security. Oman, similarly, has managed to reduce the number of infiltrators, as the Royal Oman Police reported, through a series of tighter vigilance measures aimed at reducing illegal immigration.
Overall, a growing population, rapid airport expansions and a shift towards alternative energy sources are boosting demand for border security systems in the Gulf countries. In the GCC, command and control, border security and critical infrastructure protection — both on land and in the maritime environment — such as oil platforms and port facilities, and airports, are the main drivers that unite the GCC’s hands together in border security.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.