By James Cohen, Leanne McKay and Joyce A. Kasee

The Maghreb countries of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia face threats to their borders from transnational illicit networks, such as terrorist groups and criminal organizations. To address these threats, USIP convened operational border officials from the three countries through a series of workshops in spring 2016. This brief highlights the key lessons that emerged from this work: addressing border security requires understanding the underlying drivers of insecurity; border security requires states to maintain legitimacy and support from the broader population; and ground the strategy to address insecurity through operational realities.


  • The three Maghreb countries—Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia—share a threat from terrorist and transnational organized criminal networks, such as Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, the so-called Islamic State (also known as Daesh, ISIS, and ISIL), and arms, drugs, and human smugglers, that are active throughout the region and beyond and have exploited the vulnerabilities of national borders.
  • A series of workshops with border operations officials in the Maghreb provided valuable lessons for creating a regional border security cooperation plan—a critical component of global peacebuilding efforts.
  • A plan to establish sustainable regional border cooperation must address underlying drivers of insecurity, be rooted in the rule of law, and engage border communities as partners.
  • Effective border cooperation requires governments to address the needs and grievances of border communities, which are often politically, socially, and economically marginalized, and to involve multisector government and nongovernment stakeholders.
  • Engaging operational officials in developing a plan for regional border security cooperation grounds strategic thinking in the operational realities of the affected countries. It reveals the margins within which regional cooperation opportunities may exist as well as how these opportunities can be leveraged to promote political support for regional cooperation.
  • A strategic plan that is driven by operational needs and realities results in a comprehensive, overarching vision and recommendations for action that are contextually relevant, technically sound, and politically persuasive.