Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The illusion of geopolitical borders

We can once again thank the quaint Europeans for this legacy! As they played Imperialist Edition Monopoly with planet Earth, they felt it only appropriate that no square foot go un-claimed. When they chickened out on colonialism, the borders of their global jigsaw puzzle largely became seamless national borders. They handed over responsibility and ownership to the fledgling national governments, bought themselves a round of beer, and called it a day.

These new national governments also inherited another gift from their previous bosses: a European-structured government, conceptually based on the rule of law and the supremacy of the state. Sometimes democracy, colonial robber-baronist economics, a military command structure, and/or human rights were thrown in as well, but I digress.

And for many many years the world has obligingly acted like these new countries are legitimate.

But let's face it: many of these malfunctioning governments have no more control over their own territory than your average American parents have over their brat kids. And they like it that way. They make 'national' laws which are to be enforced by a 'national' military/police/judiary complex. In fact, most often, that complex stretches no further than the capital city and is applied sparingly even then. The fun is in writing up the rules -- too much trouble and too little money to actually finish the job. Plus, think of all the Birthday presents you get when your citizens know every law is up for negotiation. Accidentally shoot your neighbor in the head? Well, that's nothing a few well-placed yaks and a bottle of Russkaya can't wash away.

Despite the fact that Sudan has laws calling for a national tax, post, police, army, and legal system, no one living in the desolate Northwestern Quarter gets a tax bill. When they do not pay, they are not visited by the tax man, the cops, or even those annoying collection agencies. On the flip side of the coin, why should they pay? Their homes and camels are not made safe from robbers and vandals by this reputed national police. Their mail is not collected and delivered by any national post office. The ownership of their intellectual property is not guaranteed by any legal system. If they decide to create a Sudanese branch of Bin Laden U, they are not stopped by any national army. Their national health system consists of crappy Medecins Sans Frontiers tents.

And yet G7 leaders "call on" these national governments to enact and enforce laws. They negotiate with them about trade and security as if the people they are talking to have any power to follow through. No, these 3rd world clowns are in the game for one reason: to look out for number one. To trade empty promises for dirty aid money (plus a free ride to Harvard for their kids, of course).

We should recognize that there are empty spaces between countries. Maybe not between Switzerland and Germany, but how about Ecuador and Peru? Even THEY can't agree on where to draw the line. This begs the question: if both slash neither country claims the contested territory, whose laws are the inhabitants subject to? The answer, of course, is neither. It's no-man's-land just like the Wild West of my great-great-grandparents. The only security you can count on is the Winchester above the fireplace. Jeez, maybe we should send the Freemen!

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