Was Robert Frost right in suggesting “Good fences make good neighbours”?

Why is the world pursuing a volte-face of its earlier propagation of a global village? Canadian born thinker Marshall McLuhan stormed the international media in 1962 by popularising his Global Village innovation. He described that the globe has contracted into a village through massive electrical technology and by rapid movement of information from every quarter to every point instantaneously. The tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989 spurred the movement of a global village portrayed by the free movement of people, goods, services and information from all over the world. Conversely, for the last few decades, the world is witnessing global fragmentation and walls are mushrooming on international borders. Every country has its own version of an iron curtain now- concrete wall, iron fences, and barbed wire fences charged with electricity.

President Ronald Reagan roared to dismantle Berlin wall in 1987 and to “promote true openness, to tear down barriers that separate people, to create a safe, free world”. Now president elect Donald Trump has won US presidential election diametrically on the opposite agenda of building walls, rescinding trade agreements and imposing tariffs on Chinese imports. Trump is not alone; in the decade following 9/11, the number of walls being built across the world has doubled, touching to almost 50. This world of walls has materialised in response to the breakup of the Cold War order, the war of terrorism, and the global migration catalysed by the violence, persecution, poverty and hunger. Democrats declared the notion of building wall as useless, uselessly convincing its majority of voters and lost presidential election. The possible demise of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is on the cards. Donald Trump has declared to withdraw from it saying “a potential disaster for our economy”. Though China is pursuing her own TPP version called RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) but the vacuum created by US withdrawal will open the way for China to assume the leadership mantle on trade. The RCEP is more of a traditional; TPP enshrined the chances of opening up economies, labour and environmental standards.

A survey conducted by The Economist (2016) shows that West is increasingly turning its back on globalisation. France, the cradle of liberty is turning towards more pronounced nationalism. The Brexit referendum in the UK and US election victory by Mr Trump show that the public mistrust for global integration is on the rise.

Eminent lawyer and advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan Barrister Zafrullah Khan sees world trapped into more frictions: “The much-trumpeted globalisation has unleashed two conflicting tendencies- universal unification of multiple social and economic processes and, on the other hand, aggressive assertion of local political and cultural identities, and the synthetic equilibrium of these two divergent phenomena may consume time and ensure further frictions”.

Globally, in world politics liberalism is falling out of favour. Politics is moving more fashionably towards raising trade barriers and physical walls on the borders. Native agendas and domestic concerns of the economies are elbowing out liberalism. Joseph Stigltz in his seminal work on globalisation (Globalisation and its Discontents) has cautioned that globalisation has failed to deliver its intended results in many parts of the world for the poor especially.

Alexandra Novosseloff also explicitly says that walls were built in ancient times too and were mainly from defensive perspectives. Alexander the Great built a wall in the Far East between the Caucasus and Caspian Sea in 4th century BC. The construction to the Great Wall of China began in 3rd century BC. The Hardian’s Wall was raised in Northern England in 122 AD. The Nazi Germany during the World War II built the Atlantic Wall along the Western coast of Europe and Scandinavia. More walls followed, the Green Line in Cyprus, the Berm in Western Sahara, the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea and the electrified fencing separating the Indian occupied Kashmir from Pakistan’s administered parts of Kashmir, such walls were built in the second half of the 20th century.

In the short run, walls are justified to some extent and in many cases walls have normalised life among societies. This has happened in the cases of Moroccan’s Berm divide, Spain’s Ceuta and Melilla reinforcements have temporarily stopped illegal sub-Saharan immigration. Walls have eased tensions in Northern Ireland and Cyprus. USA has a 700 miles wall on the border with Mexico. This has reduced the number of border crossings to 400,000 in 2014 from 1600,000 in 2000. President elect Donald Trump has campaigned in favour of building the remaining wall. Time Magazine in 2015 estimated that the remaining wall would cost between $ 1-6 million per kilometer. The data gathered in 2009 suggests that it will need 6.5$ billion to operate over 20 years.

In the long run walls fail to address the origin of tensions and conflicts among the countries deeply beset with mistrust. Walls create a generation of the deprived ones – without papers, status or rights. Weaker segments end up becoming stronger, as already abandoned they have much less to lose. In a classical example, the concrete walls of Berlin failed to kill the desire for freedom. Ultimately, time proves that the movement of people is far more powerful than the construction of walls. Walls end up to live as tourist attractions, like the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall or the Berlin Wall.

FAO’s Director General Mr. Jose Graziano Da Silva criticised the European nations erecting walls and fences to fend off asylum seekers. To him international law gives them protection from life threats. Conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Eritrea, and South Sudan have compelled 800,000 people resorting to OECD countries alone in in 2014 to seek refuge. Despite a homegrown criticism, Germany has placed a welcome mat and adjusted almost one million refugees mainly from Syria. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s support for the war torn people was unambiguous “ If we now have to start apologising for showing a friendly face in an emergency, then this is not my country”. According to a report of The Independent, 17,000 refugees have sued German government for not granting them full refugee status and 90% have won. However unable to manage the influx, Mrs Merkel performed a volte-face which she does rarely though but had to reimpose controls along the border with Austria under Schengen agreement. Scenario is simmering in Western Europe in threatening the viability of the European Union’s passport free Schengen zone.

The erection of border walls mostly has environmental impacts. A study conducted by the University of Peking estimated that Great Wall of China distorted the genetic structure of the same species of plants on the both sides of the wall by blocking the natural flow of genes.

Continued wars, climate change and poverty will lead more migrants to spend their savings and risk their lives in favour of a better future. It is the choice of the aspiring governments either to build costly walls on their borders or purse sustainable solutions with the same heavy amounts they would have otherwise spent on these barren frontiers. The Economist enlists dozens of international economies playing with the corns of nationalism to win national elections. Many like India have won already. USA, UK, Hungary, France, Austria, Sweden, Netherlands, Russia, Egypt and Turkey. Every country is striving to make it new and great again on the bases of nationalism. Admittedly, nationalism is a cheap and a convenient way to breed enthusiasm for the state, and to deflect blame for what is wrong. Mr Gary Domingo my ex co-participant at GCSP Switzerland and now The Philippine’s Ambassador in New Zealand finds that “the story is not so bleak-globalisation and opening of frontiers is very alive in our part of the world, in Asia. ASEAN has just established its economic community, a great leap forward in transnational integration in Southeast Asia”.

With the fall of Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama rolled out his highly ambitious thinking on the future political design of the world in (The End of History and the Last Man) by predicting that the world’s future will gravitate towards liberal democracy as the dominating political philosophy. As the nativist springs are on the rise, future world looks more of a problematic than self-congratulatory Francis Fukuyama had suggested. World Bank’s senior director Anabel Gonzalez is adamant and asserts “no country can deliver long term prosperity to its people on its own. Closer international cooperation and economic integration is the only way forward”. Konard Yakabuzki in 2016 said that if globalisation is bad, just wait for deglobalisation. But if globalisation’s bulldozing wheel is not tackled through the reforms of international institutions as suggested by Stigltz, then who will decide to choose globalisation or deglobalizsation?