What Happens If There Are No Borders?

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February 1, 2017 · Posted in Commentary 

Leslie Evans

John Owens raises an understandable discomfort with national borders in the era of Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. Their unfeeling extremism and ultra-nationalism are reprehensible and contrary to more widely accepted American values.

Our country has gone back and forth on this issue for a long time. The massive wave of immigration from Russia and Eastern and Southern Europe from the 1880s led to the extremely restrictive rules of the 1924 Immigration Act, which set quotas that virtually excluded everybody except from the major West European countries like Germany and France, and from Great Britain.

The 1965 revision opened the gates pretty broadly, especially with its family reunification provisions. Nevertheless, even that liberal reinterpretation did not simply throw the doors open to all comers.

Nations are not at all just groups of people who think alike and chose to live together. Great Britain is the result of centuries of warfare with the Scottish, Irish, and Welsh. Spain, France, Germany, and Italy, are all states that were formed through the forcible unification of many rival principalities.

If eventually something like a common purpose is forged, it is never universal. Look at the divisions that exist in the United States today, where there are actual calls in both Texas and California to secede, for opposite reasons.

Each distinct nation generally has its own major one or two languages, distinct customs, a set of laws, and a government that is supposed to have a monopoly in the use of armed force to protect its citizens from foreign attacks or domestic criminality. Only borders establish where those elements have authority and where a different set, possibly hostile in many respects, take their place.

Most central, a complete free flow of people without borders is the quickest way to destroy a nation, whether it was formed voluntarily or not.

Jared Diamond, in his seminal book Collapse, traces the collapse of numerous historical societies and empires due to the swamping of their viable regions in times of food shortage by a flood of refugees from outer regions that were more heavily affected.

Borders, of course, for many reasons, moral and economic, should not be watertight. But eliminating them would have a number of rapid and obvious bad consequences.

Germany and France are already in serious trouble from a mere million or two refugees. There is not enough housing or jobs, no common language, etc. Jordan and Lebanon are falling apart because they do not have enforceable borders, and in part have chosen to relax them to accommodate the Syrian refugees.

Most failed states have lost control of their borders, which are crossed freely by hostile armed groups, as in Iraq, or criminal gangs, making effective government impossible.

If there are no borders, what is to keep Russia from swallowing up Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, and the now-independent Central Asian countries that Lenin after the 1917 revolution forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union? Or even Poland, which was long under Russian domination, or the East European states run by Soviet dictatorships after World War II.

How about China taking over Taiwan, Vietnam, and Korea, as these were historically under its rule.

Having no borders would destroy small nations, enable aggression by large ones, and create a flow of population from failed and failing states into functional ones that could readily sink those lifeboats.

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