A Line in the Sand: Borders and Boundaries

Natalie Tan - Singapore

Editor’s Note: In our third topic, F&H investigates the role that borders and boundaries play in an increasingly interconnected world. We will assess the ways in which borders are being reinforced in some places, while being degraded in others, as well as the various ways that ‘boundaries’ shape our world.

For most of the Western world, experience with borders is largely static. Unless one is a member of a community that aspires to breakaway or otherwise reshape its borders, questions surrounding the physical demarcation of the nation-state are not typically at the forefront of the public conscience. In Canada, sovereignty for Quebec is no longer as much of a lightning rod issue as it was in the 1990s; in Scotland, a national referendum clearly indicated an aversion to independence; and in Spain, despite an overwhelming vote in support of Catalan secession, it is not going to happen. For much of the non-Western world though, issues of regionalism, identity, and violent struggle all share a common characteristic: borders are of critical importance. Civil wars rage on in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and borders there are increasingly obscure and degraded. These two sets of examples are clearly not analogous in many ways, but at the core of each of these conflicts is the issue of geography and the constraints that invisible lines place on various communities. The first lie dormant, while the latter are at the forefront of global crises.

For the next two weeks, F&H will assess borders and boundaries not merely as physical separations, but more broadly as the range of divisions that nations can create between each other. Military incursions are a clear affront to a nation’s borders, but are more ambiguous in the context of our oceans. The creation of financial institutions to expand a sphere of influence is not an intrusion on any geographic barrier, yet constitutes a blurring of boundaries that many aspiring superpowers are uncomfortable with.

Borders, in their multiple embodiments, are constitutive parts of the modern world. To be born within one set of borders and not another will have a dramatically different set of implications for a person’s prospects in life. Some nations will defend their borders with gusto, while others experience internal political decay and witness a complete disintegration of their borders. Thus, not only are issues of sovereignty, power, and identity inherently linked to borders, but far less nebulous concerns are also integral to our study of political geography. A drastic increase in the number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe and a hope of prosperity represents a very basic search for well-being. The extent to which borders thus create and entrench inequalities is a critical issue of our generation, and must be thoroughly examined.

In this third topic, we will publish a series of pieces that endeavour to tackle the variety of issues described above, all of which relate in some foundational way to borders. Pieces will include the first part of an interview with François Crépeau, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, a ‘first-principles’ analysis of borders by Henk van Houtum, and commentary on the Middle East, Europe, new global financial institutions, and more. We hope that a bringing together of otherwise disparately reported stories into a single and coherent narrative will give our readers a clearer sense of how borders impact our lives on multiple levels.

buy Keppra (Keppra) description Illustration – Natalie Tan