The futility of land borders

When we look at ancient history, we see that the governing unit then was not area-based where kingdoms demarcated borders, rather it was people-based where a clan had their leader and the leader governed these people – the government moved with the people wherever they settled (no concept of borders).

But then, the human population began rising (or maybe, exploding?). And soon, we had a shortage of resources (including land) for the rising number of people. This gave way to numerous wars for the determination of a geographical ‘area’ as a governing unit – and these wars were fought with bows and arrows and swords, to begin with, and with guns and fighter jets later on.

While these ‘countries’ and ‘nations’ were seen to be forming on the bases of language, or religion, or ethnicity, or common aspirations, or shared history, there was one common basis among all these divisions – there was an effort to clearly demarcate the piece of land (and later, even surrounding sea!) of that unit of governance.

While the people were still coming to terms with this new notion of ‘nationality’ and ‘citizenship’ – the world saw this system failing in the two world wars – one of which culminated in the use of nuclear weapon against civilians.

Resultingly, we attempted flexible global governance when the United Nations was formed. Since then, we have seen reductions in illiteracy and poverty. Human rights violations and authoritarian government are now exceptions and not the norm, yet our failures overshadow these minor achievements.

This failed eyewash of global governance and the demarcation of land borders did not keep us immune from global problems.

Today, we cannot fence the sky to save a country from climate change caused by emissions from another country. We have been unable to stop illegal migration from less developed/war-torn countries to the more developed/peaceful ones. We could not stop the seeds of terrorism that were laid on the soils of Pakistan and Afghanistan from causing 26/11 in their neighboring country or from causing 9/11 on the other side of the planet.

We could not stop SARS or Ebola or Covid-19 from getting on a plane and spanning its reach to entire all continents. We could not stop the ripples of the economic meltdown of 2008 in the US from bringing about a global recession in almost the entire world. We cannot stop ourselves from condemning Brazil when it decides to cut down its rainforests or Australia when it is unable to address its forest fires promptly.

We have not been able to prevent the Cold War over communism vs capitalism ideology. We could not turn a blind eye to American imperialism, or Chinese dominance or compromised sovereignty of smaller island nations in favour of the territorial ambitions of the larger ones. We cannot find a way to protect our indigenous tribes from extinction. The people of Hong Kong are not able to find a way to win back democracy.

We cannot choose to not go to war with a neighbour if the neighbour decides to go for it. We can perhaps do nothing more than ranting when a country decides to reduce the flow of water in its rivers to downstream countries. We still have disputes over claims of territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones in the South China Sea. We are yet to decide on the division of ownership of Antarctica, the Moon, Mars, and we-know-not what other celestial bodies in the future.

I sometimes equate the world and its countries to a family and its members. The more each member considers the other as an ‘intruder’ in his/her space, the more the irritation in the family. But we have seen happy families too – the ones that find pride not just in growing, but in in growing with one another and the ones that are there for each other through thick and thin.

Man is a social animal – and no man has been known to be happy in isolating himself. We need families, we need societies. Perhaps, its time the countries also realized this.

The future of borders lies in flexibility – and we will reach there – whether the route is violent or peaceful is yet to unfold. It would do us all good if the popular leaders of today realized it when the time was still right to make amends.

The pace of change

23 July 2020