Borders and Global (Dis)Order

By Mauricio García Villegas*

 

Our borders are in crisis.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees attempt to enter Europe; the civil wars in the Middle East are redrawing the map of entire countries; the presidential candidate Donald Trump proposes to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border; and, a bit closer to home, Colombia and Venezuela are on the verge of breaking diplomatic relations due to their own border issues.

The Secretary General of the OAS visits the Colombia-Venezuela border amid mass expulsions of Colombians from Venezuela. Photo by: OEA-OAS

The Secretary General of the OAS visits the Colombia-Venezuela border amid mass expulsions of Colombians from Venezuela. Photo by: OEA-OAS

These crises are a manifestation of a much deeper problem that is more difficult to solve: that of a global order founded on sovereign states in an interdependent planet. It’s like trying to govern a country through its mayors. Today it is clear that problems like global warming, tax havens, refugees, the diffusion of nuclear weapons, deforestation, and the extinction of wildlife depend on global variables that no state, no matter how strong, is capable of controlling.

The crisis has brought, paradoxically, the strengthening of nationalism. This is not only occurring in Europe and the United States, with the rise of far right political parties, but also in the Arab world with increasing Islamic fundamentalism. The crisis has also made clear the apathy of the majority of European countries to arriving Syrian refugees, which shows a moral weakening of European leadership.

Syrian refugees flee to Turkey. Photo credit: EC/ECHO

Syrian refugees flee to Turkey. Photo credit: EC/ECHO

The fact is that while the challenges states face have become more global, the institutional mechanisms to solve them have become more local. Instead of evolving towards a concentration of regulatory power, led by efficient international institutions, we are heading towards the dispersion of state power: at the beginning of twentieth century there were less than 80 countries, today we have almost 200. In order to be manageable, the world should only have 10 to 20 state confederations, linked by legitimate and efficient international law. Many international analysts, including many government officials, know that the only possible world order should take this route. However, given the enormous difficulty of achieving this goal, people would rather give up thinking of utopias and prefer to enact small, cosmetic changes to the current system. This combination of pragmatism and fatalism is leading us to the abyss.

Latin America is a good example of this short-sighted attitude incapable of envisaging its future without the mental ties to its past. The dream of a united Spanish-speaking America without borders, founded not only in culture but also in this region’s political and economic interests (today with a population of more than 600 million), has been lost. Moreover, as César Rodríguez shows in his previous post, Latin American government’s, particularly Colombia’s, episodic and convenience-based (not due to conviction or legal reasons) support for the OAS and IACHR shows that we are going in the opposite direction of integration. Not even the idea of saving the Amazon, one of the last hopes for humanity, inspires motivation to discuss (and only discuss) unity. The only great leader that references this is José Mujica, who has become a type of moral conscience for the continent.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, on the Colombian and Venezuelan border. Photo by: Daniele Gidsicki

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, on the Colombian and Venezuelan border. Photo by: Daniele Gidsicki

As such the current border crises is a symptom of growing state incapacity, beginning with Latin American states. We are trying to avoid, in the middle of the twenty-first century, a planetary catatrophe (ecological, humanitarian, military, or all three together) as if we were in the middle of the twentieth century with regulatory institutions from the eighteenth century. We cannot go on like this.

 

* Mauricio García Villegas is a founding member of the Center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) and professor at the National University of Colombia.