The Economist graph lists ‘immigration, territorial, smuggling, trafficking, security, other’ as reasons for current border fence building. Historically, types of border fortification are not new. They have been built throughout history:
From the 19th to the 21st century we witness the increased frequency of border fortification . Which is not suprising, as the emergence of nation states falls into this intense period, I would call Modernity or the Modern Project. Nation state building lead to many bloody episodes in history, such as large scale exploratory colonial projects world wide and two world wars fought between nation states or allies.
The nation state still plays a major role in the 21st century and its wall building endeavours. The world situation has drastically changed in the last two centuries. There have been manifold economic and political tensions and threaties between nations. Entire populations move freely within most European countries. Multinational corporations nowadays operate outside narrow national concepts (and taxation). Institutions such as universities provide exchange opportunities for students and researchers, creating a transnational network of scientists working or competing together. The Internet distributes content regardless of national delimitations to those who have access, still a minority on a global scale.
Despite these changes ceaselessly shaping world structures and behaviour, the world, as a whole, has not yet taken the next step, which is to move beyond nation states to the governing of the world as one single body in space. A transition to a world government type of system sounds ridiculous, especially in the current environnment of hardening borders.
Yet despite the countless arguments against it, a world goverment is unavoidable in the long run at least. There are preconceptions about a world government. We may think of it as if a massive national body, which it will never be. It will be something else. It will be highly federal and decentralised. It will be imperfect. There will still be wars and human tragedies.
The major challenges humanity faces, such as climate change, are global in scale. These challenges can only be tackled from a global governance point of view. A particular branch of industry follows a set of regulations designed for the particular area in question. Yet a disaster such as the Fukushima nuclear meltdown drastically shows the limits of regional regulation or solution finding. Nuclear waste spilling into the oceans does obviously not care about border limitations. Water as a borderless transportion medium, in this example, has shifted from a symbol of life to a bringer of death. We can learn from the waste we produce as it holds painful answers.
Like environmental disasters, fence building is a global phenomenon. The elephant in the room really are the nation states themselves.
While critising the idea of nation states, there is a long series of issues coupled to the adoption of a global system of governance. At the moment, nations have military and intelligence agencies suspicious of one another. Some share information, but even allies tend to spy on each other. The current world structure does not provide a basis of deep mutual trust. Nuclear weapons in the hand of currently nine nations reinforce states of general suspicion.
If earth takes the next step towards world government, and idea hard to sell yet already tested by a union of nations such the EU, its citizens would need to, at least to some degree, believe in the new union. The question of belief appears when the EU faces another crises of confidence. Do EU citizens care being in the EU? What difference does it make, really? It certainly does make a difference, for millions on a daily basis, but also, daily life can feel, strangely, how it always was. One can too easily forget the historically unique project that is the EU. Maybe the EU could do better at branding themselves more favourably, perhaps they could work together with artists to create EU uniforms or a something, or they could give free EU wide train tickets to some teenagers etc. Otherwise there is a danger that one only thinks about easyjet or grey Brussels bureaucrats when thinking about the EU, which it is a misrepresentation. Britain is definitively better at branding their nation, that’s for sure. The EU sucks in branding (here a new project, DIS?).
If one considers the images of border fortification projects below, the world emerges as a fractured body. I want to avoid a naive or romatising view of a ‘one world system’ where everything is in harmony. It won’t happen. But a fractured body is, essentially, unhealthy and needs treatment. The treatment will be painful, not in the sense of armed conflicts, but in terms of emotional changes attached to a shift from national to earth government. There is national, religious, other personal baggage each and everyone has to cede in the process. The world government in its charter will have foundations in the history and development of succesful governments, combining and adapting elements of ‘Western’ governmental bodies, some of the most succesful governments ever in history, with Chinese, Indian and other governmental approaches. It will have unshakable elements such as the secular basis, but also some local features and governing sensibilities, yet will need to be solid in its core as not to be fractured easily.
The statement about ‘Western’ governments may be seen, in connection to designing a basis for a world govermental system as just another Western type colonial project under the banner ‘world government’. Yet it was the ‘West’ that effectively kickstarted globalisation. Then everyone took part in it. The movements set in motion are irreversible. Globalisation can either be denied, resulting in current states of fractures, or thought through, to its logical conclusions, arriving at overarching, yet smart earth governmental structure. With ‘conclusion’ I don’t mean it to be a final entity. A project such as a world government needs to be constantly revised in order to evolve.
Regarding ‘The West’, it is true that many conflicts emerged from national borders drawn on European tables and imposed on foreign lands, affecting entire regions and introducing ethnic divisions. But every single corner on the planet enaged in war activities throughout history. Humans before and deep into the modern period killed each other without mercy. There is no use in endlessly stigmatising the ‘West’. Such tired labeling does not hold up anymore in a world that has, as a whole, subscribed to the project of modernity and its accompanying technological and societal progress, whatever ‘progress’ may be. Because everyone on planet earth, sooner or later, will be captivated, to his or her core, by modernity. There is no turning back, ever. Mecca, with its massive hotels looks like surprisingly similar to Time Square. There is no essential difference between the two places. Every single square meter is designed and optimised to welcome and wave through as many subjects/believers/customers/tourists as possible.
The ‘West’, or parts of it can of course be critiqued and deeply questioned. But more often than not, the ‘West’ is taken as a simplistic catchword by deniers of progress or modernity itself. The Arab Spring was an attempt to officially subscribe to the Modern Project with its secular worldview. It didn’t fail in itself, but the non-secular political environment failed the protesters. Compared to the look of hundreds of Chinese or other Asian cities, European or American ‘Western’ cities look quaint. A critique of the ‘West’ needs to entail a broad discussion on the general, world wide nation state system. The world nowadays, beyond East-West-South is deeply interconnected and interdependent. The world , again, as a whole subscribed to the Modern Project. There is no non-reactionary alternative. Again, Western nations in the past and present have commited attrocities. Colonialisation, for example, or the large scale abduction of African people forced into slavery or the genocide of indigenous people by Europeans are horrible historical facts. Yet the notion of the ‘West’ one can find in current discourse about ‘The West versus the rest’ tales is not helpful, whether they come from a Samuel Huntingtion type of ‘Clash of Civilisation’ or from a Pankaj Mishra ‘Age of Anger’ perspective. These texts are angry and polemical, yet they underestimate the common core humans share beyond national or religious framing. They underestimate the sheer power of Modernity and the human will to coexist peacefully despite the differences.
What is needed, instead, is a road map for the Modern Project, that shows us, beyond right or leftwing ideologies, how to navigate Modernity and a world without nations. A road map that explains and insist on secular values and the possibilites to travel to other planets and working together towards a solar and interstellar civilisation. A road map such as Cixin Liu’s science fiction novel trilogy The Three Body Problem or Seveneves by Neal Stephenson or The Expanse James S. A. Corey that entertain but also propose future scenarios of types of world governments and systems of governing beyond the current situation. Or shall we all resign and subscribe to a general anger and drown at modernity? That cannot be a road map.
However liberal or decentralised the coming world government may be, it will have one single global armed force engaging in executive military and peacekeeping missions. The World Guards.
The coming world government will be a mess, a patchwork system with voices and opinions constantly clashing and arguing. Yet is it will be resilient, because it proposes, for the first time in human history, a unified vision for a common human future soon inhabiting other planets in the solar system.