Views from the bar: Lands without borders

Kanisa George -
Kanisa George -


In her book titled Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road, travel writer Kate Harris examined the complexities of inter-country travel against the backdrop of passports, visas and the mystery surrounding geopolitical boundaries. As an explorer she sought to understand the nature of limits and how an invisible line allows us to toe the line. Some, if not most of us, are left baffled when trying to understand boundaries. Consider this, why do we have boundaries, and whose responsibility is it to define them?

Since the obliteration of the supercontinent Pangea, the earth and its inhabitants have drifted in varying directions, leaving oceans and seas between us. But how do we determine where Trinidad and Tobago stop and where it begins? And in large continents like Europe, who decides where France begins, and Spain ends?

The world is divided by borders and boundaries that tell us where to go, whether we need permission to enter and how long we are allowed to stay. Several factors influence its creation, but the earth's natural features are usually the starting point. Physical boundaries are naturally occurring barriers between two areas and account for a considerable chunk of the earth's boundaries. Mountain ranges, surface water, and deserts can all serve as physical boundaries and often influence political borders between countries or states.

Other features affecting the creation of the many invisible lines that separate us has a lot to do with human interference. Wars and conquests, treaties and mutual agreements have solidified the many boundaries that exist today and the laws governing immigration that followed. The impact of World War I essentially reshaped the world map and permanently changed the landscape of mainland Europe.

During Britain's 1947 partition of India, a line separating the Muslim from the Hindu areas was devised, which became the borders between India, Pakistan, and today Bangladesh. The Radcliffe line displaced millions of people and led to three wars and years of disputes. Agreements like the feudal charter signed in September 1278 that fixed Andorra's mountain border between France and Spain, and the 1783 Treaty of Paris that defined the United States' borders are both legal instruments used to separate one state or country from the other.

Even in the Caribbean, there is a 15 km border between Saint Martin (France) and Sint Maarten (Netherlands). The island of Hispaniola was split in two by the Treaty of Ryswick, resulting in the creation of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Borders separating one country from another might be a lot easier to fathom, but how are maritime borders defined? Ocean and sea borders are an area of contention for many reasons, namely, because of the wealth of resources that exist many depths below. Not only does the ocean provide a steady food supply, but oil and natural gas could very quickly change the financial landscape of any country.

Boundaries of maritime zones between countries are established through international agreements. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in which TT is a signatory, prescribes how ocean borders are determined. It establishes what is known as the "12-mile limit" and dictates that a maritime country extends outward by a 12-mile distance from its shoreline. Article three states that each state has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with the convention. Within this 12-mile perimeter, all laws of the country apply, and the resources that fall within this range belong to that state. In this vein, the government can extract natural resources and control sea passage through it and flights over it.

Under the heading territorial sea and contiguous, Article two states that the sovereignty of a coastal state extends, beyond its land territory and internal waters and, in the case of an archipelagic state, its archipelagic waters, to an adjacent belt of sea, described as the territorial sea. Interestingly, maritime countries are also entitled to an exclusive economic zone made up of the water column and the sea bed out to a distance of 200 miles, according to Article 56 of the convention. By virtue of this article countries can claim exclusive rights for fishing, drilling, and other economic activities.

Whether by agreement, a peace treaty from war, colonial acquisition, or political power, borders and the individual laws that govern same are impacted by history, nature and in some cases greed. But with all of this in mind, one question continues to bother me; what would the world look like if lands were without borders?


"Views from the bar: Lands without borders"

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