Monday, September 28, 2009

Are governments losing control over national borders? In a word: No.

According to John Robb, "governments worldwide are losing control over all of the classical forms of national power from borders to finances to communication to media to economic activity to security to trade flows (of all types)."

Focus on the first item in this list: borders. Are governments
worldwide losing control of their borders? No.

Next month, a conference on "Fences and Walls in International Relations" will be held at the University of Quebec at Montreal. The conference's call observes that:
"...some 26,000 kilometers of new political borders have been established since 1991 (Foucher 2009), and states have declared their intention to dig in behind fences, barriers and built structures. Moreover, the post-Cold War and post-9/11 periods have seen the rise of border walls, symbols of separation which seemed to be on the way out in the wake of decolonization...and were believed to be entirely finished and done with after the fall of the Berlin Wall."
Border walls are back in a big way, and walls often mean more control of what goes in and out of the national territory. They won't always work -- I am skeptical about the extent to which the mostly-uncompleted wall/fence along the U.S.-Mexican border will reduce undocumented immigration -- but on the whole, the more walls, the more control. The notion that states have lost control of their borders is wrong.

P.s. This is not to say that border fences/walls are necessarily a good idea. See, for example, here.


hank_F_M said...


Fences and such are expensive to construct, and they are useless unless guarded, which involves an on going expense (but perhaps less than guarding an unfenced border), which is why the US Mexico fence won‘t work, there is no provision to guard it.

I would suspect that there are at least perceptions of a threat to border control if people are willing to pay big money to build them.

LFC said...

Agreed (especially with the second point).

This might be the place for me to mention George Gavrilis's recent book The Dynamics of Interstate Boundaries. I haven't read it, but it's been getting kudos. No doubt worth a look if you're seriously interested in boundaries and borders etc.