Unnatural boundaries between states

Other Names:
Arbitrary national boundaries
Artificial nation boundaries
Boundaries between states are determined as a result of a variety of political, historical and administrative compromises. In the absence of readily available geographical features, such as rivers, some boundaries run through towns, across farms and even across the middle of the rooms of individual houses. This gives rise to considerable difficulties in observing the usual frontier formalities and in handling the administration and taxation of economic units divided in this way. Boundaries may also divide a minority linguistic or ethnic community, threatening its viability. Some unnatural boundaries arise due to peace treaties and agreements after armed conflict. This is aggravated in proportion to the number of nations which are involved.
The critique of boundaries rests on two negative aspects: their arbitrariness and their exclusiveness. The first is an ecological critique of political borders. The second is an ethical critique of all borders. The two are often linked or confused. The liberal critique of boundaries suggests that they are inherently negative not only because they are often arbitrary, and stand in the way of the efficient management of resources, but also because they imply a kind of jealous exclusivity which inevitably leads to conflict.
During the colonial period, Western powers designated boundaries to their own satisfaction and without much reference to the social and cultural situation in the areas through which the boundaries cut. Having split up a continent in this way, there was little further attempt to regroup the territories into larger political or administrative units.

Many states which have only recently achieved independence have boundaries which cut across language, tribal and cultural groupings. The arbitrary and illogical position of the boundaries produces states which lack natural unity and are subject to the divisiveness resulting from the assertion by the component peoples of their right to their particular cultures and languages. It also sets the stage for the difficulties in producing larger regional groupings, which the colonial powers were unable or unwilling to pass to their successors. This problem occurs mainly in Africa and to a lesser extent in Southeast Asia as a heritage of Western colonialism.

It was expected in 1994 that the negotiated settlement of the dispute over Bosnia would lead to extremely artificial boundaries that would set the stage for subsequent disputes.

Related Problems:
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update
10.02.1997 – 00:00 CET