Time to get rid of all borders, experts say

Freedom of movement: in a borderless world, people and goods could circulate freely.

Should we get rid of all borders? As countries bicker over vaccine distribution, some thinkers dream of a world without boundaries. But others believe borders are integral to order.

It was the miracle before Christmas. Last December, three Covid-19 vaccines passed their trials in quick succession. As countries blazoned the achievements of their scientists, the whole world breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The heroic race to develop a vaccine is over. In its place, a scramble over who gets the most doses has begun.

Developed countries have adopted what World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom calls a “me first approach”. The US has ordered enough to vaccinate its population twice over; the UK, three times over; and Canada has five times enough. By contrast, many countries in the developing world are unlikely to see a single vaccine in 2021.

Wealthier nations have even begun to argue amongst themselves. Politicians in Taiwan have quibbled over accepting vaccines from arch-enemy China. On Monday, after Britain-based AstraZeneca told the European Union it would receive fewer vaccines than proposed, the EU threatened to halt exports of the Pfizer jab to the UK. Meanwhile, the virus infected its 100 millionth sufferer worldwide.

Such horse-trading reveals an ugly truth about countries. Nations pursue their own interests first.

Faced with this selfishness, some thinkers have proposed a radical solution: a world without national borders, where people and goods could move at will.

The arguments against borders are myriad. Borders trap people in one place, removing their freedom to migrate. They can be cruel, as seen by the families separated and children imprisoned along the US border with Mexico.

Throughout history, much blood has been shed over border disputes. These continue to this day, whether in Kashmir, Transnistria or Somaliland. A world without borders, argue some, could be a world without conflict.

It might also be a more prosperous one. The Schengen Area, which removes borders between 420 million people across 26 European countries, generates an estimated £2.5tn a year. According to economist Alex Tabarrok, opening borders would double the world’s GDP.

By allowing populations from poorer regions to migrate to more productive areas, a border-free world could reduce poverty. Tabarrok says: “Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised.”

For others, such ideas are utopian. Immigration might wipe out poverty in the long term. But if 630 million people moved across the globe at once, it might cause chaos.

Borders are matters of convenience. They prevent disputes about which laws apply, which language are spoken and which customs are followed in each place. And by giving governments knowledge of who enters and leaves a country, borders help maintain vital security. During crises such as the pandemic, the ability to close borders might save lives.

For conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, borders could even prevent other, more dangerous divides. Scruton says: “Take away borders and people begin to identify themselves not by territory and law, but by tribe, race or religion.”

Should we get rid of all borders?

Open season

Wipe them from the map, say some. Humanity existed for millennia before borders, and can flourish without them. Borders threaten our basic right to move across the world. Since being established, they have encouraged selfishness, conflict and inequality, while inspiring terrible acts of cruelty. A world without boundaries would be fairer, more prosperous and more peaceful.

Batten down the hatches, say others. A borderless world would quickly become an orderless one. Borders allow governments to function independently of one other. They protect individual cultures within their boundaries. And although they can provoke violence, they can also defend against it. And in a world prone to war and crisis, we should be thankful for the safety and security borders provide.

You Decide

  1. Do you feel a strong attachment to the country you reside in, why or why not?
  2. Should people be allowed to choose the country they live in?

Activities

  1. Research a region with an ongoing border dispute, then deliver a short presentation explaining the conflict’s history and the reasoning of both sides.
  2. Imagine your hometown has been surrounded by a border wall. Write a letter to a friend outside, explaining what has changed since the wall was erected.

Some People Say...

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at.”

Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900), Irish poet, playwright and novelist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that clearly-defined borders between countries are a relatively modern concept. For most of human history, groups of people enjoyed unrestricted movement across the world. Borders sprung up with states in the Middle Ages, but rather than strict lines in the map they often encompassed entire regions, known as marches or borderlands. The idea of a border as a specific line became popular in the 19th Century, as European colonial powers sought to demarcate their territories.
What do we not know?
There remains some debate over what constitutes a nation. The English word derives from an old French term meaning “place of origin,” and some define a nation as a group of people united through common descent. Others see nations as bound together by language, history, culture or political values. The late historian Benedict Anderson defined nations as “imagined communities”, created in the collective minds of its individual members.

Word Watch

Blazoned
Displayed deliberately and conspicuously. In heraldry, a blazon is a description of a coat of arms.
Quibbled
A small, silly argument, or an objection to a small or irrelevant matter.
AstraZeneca
Developed in Oxford by a Cambridge-based company, the AstraZeneca vaccine will be sold at a low price during the pandemic so that poorer nations are able to vaccinate.
Horse-trading
Shrewd bargaining. Historically, the difficulty in assessing a horse’s quality allowed sellers to be dishonest.
Myriad
An indefinitely large number of things, taken from the Ancient Greek word for 10,000.
Kashmir
A region of the Indian subcontinent. When the British Empire partitioned India and Pakistan into two separate states in 1947, fighting erupted over which country should control the region. Conflict continues to this day.
Transnistria
A narrow strip of land in present-day Moldova that, since a military conflict in 1992, has declared itself an independent state.
Somaliland
A self-declared independent republic in Africa, internationally regarded as part of Somalia.
Utopian
Belonging to a perfect, imaginary world. Coined by the English Renaissance man Sir Thomas More for his book of the same name. More took the world from the Greek ‘ou-topos’ meaning ‘no place’.
630 million people
The number of people who would permanently leave their country of birth if able to, according to American pollsters Gallup.

Subjects

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