Tag Archives: Russia

Open borders between hostile nations

This blog post is an expanded version of a comment I posted on the Open Borders Action Group. It’s about whether hostile nations can or should have open borders, and how close a world would be to open borders if countries had open borders for all countries except those where they had nation-to-nation hostility.

In principle, one might say that having open borders with all countries except the few that the nation is officially hostile to is almost as good as having complete open borders. In most cases, a given nation is hostile to only one or two other nations, so curtailing the freedom to move to those specific nations is not that big an imposition. After all, if two nations with populations of a hundred million each closed their borders only to each other, that still leaves the residents of each nation access to the remaining ~7 billion of the world’s population and over 90% of the world economy. Isn’t that close enough to open borders?

In practice, though, countries with hostile relations aren’t random pairings — often the hostile relations are linked with shared cultural elements, a common language, family ties across the border, and interest in specific geographic locations. This is partly because hostilities arise from war, secession, or controversial historical reconfigurations of boundaries that failed to account for realities on the ground, often because it’s intrinsically impossible (see here, here, and here for more on how borders have been drawn historically around the world). Thus, cutting off people’s access to the hostile nation is a disproportionately large imposition relative to what the population sizes alone would suggest.

Now, it could still be argued that in some cases, the existential threat of free movement is so severe that, unfortunate as it is, free migration between the hostile nations cannot be permitted. But, as with many arguments to close borders, such arguments should be examined critically and appropriate keyhole solutions worked out wherever possible.

An additional point: looking at the most challenging situations for open borders can help us test the limits of the strength of the case for open borders. It can help explain just how far we believe the right to migrate stretches, and just where people who claim to be open borders advocates draw the line. I carried out a similar exercise earlier when considering denial of migration for people based on their criminal records.

Special dangers

Special benefits

High levels of cultural exchange, family ties, and commercial interaction give people in both countries vested interests in the preservation and safety of members of the other country. Free migration and free trade can facilitate these and make the world safer and more prosperous.

It’s not clear whether government leaders want these benefits. Those who derive their power from aggressive hawkish stances may find their authority undermined by friendly ties with hostile neighbors. But not all politicians fit this category. Further, politicians can sometimes combine hawkish rhetoric with the promotion of cultural interchange, getting the best of both worlds: the economic and cultural benefits and the support of people who care about national pride.

Temporary diplomatic standoffs

In cases where nations have temporary diplomatic standoffs over the actions of national leaders that don’t necessarily have popular support in either country, it doesn’t make sense to curtail migration — it’s highly unlikely that individuals in the country bear each other much ill-will. Ending free movement might turn a temporary standoff into long-term rivalry. Examples of such temporary standoffs arise when a government in one country clandestinely (often without the knowledge or support of its own citizens) supports a rebel faction, or an incumbent who eventually gets deposed, during infighting in the other country. The focus in this post is not on such instances but rather on cases where there seem to be enduring feuds based on long-term grievances. This article on how the West should respond to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine makes a similar point.

Some examples

The following are some examples of hostile nations that may be considered tough cases for the open borders paradigm:

  • North Korea and South Korea: This example is perhaps too unusual, because the main constraint here is not immigration restrictions but emigration restrictions put in place by North Korea. For more on North Korea, see here.
  • India and Pakistan: The countries were created as a result of the 1947 Partition of India, with a lot of bloodshed accompanying the creation. There is considerable mutual hostility over the disputed territory of Kashmir. More on India and Pakistan in a separate blog post. You can also get a good historical primer on the countries here.
  • Israel and Palestine: This is a highly asymmetric situation in many ways. Israel is internationally recognized and has considerably greater military might. Palestine is not internationally recognized and does not have a strong government, but there have been many suicide terrorists from the area attacking locations in Israel. We hope to write more, but for now, you might want to check out this post.
  • Russia and its neighbors (Ukraine, Georgia): There are land disputes between Russia and some of its neighbors, due to inherently contested boundaries. You might want to check out co-blogger Nathan Smith’s post, and we hope to write more about these issues later. This article (also linked from the temporary diplomatic standoffs section of the post) has an interesting relevant quote:

    Georgian policy towards Putin is a good example, I think. The Georgian government abolished visas for Russian tourists in spite of the tough relations between the two countries. Lots of Russians had an opportunity to see with their own eyes what was really happening in Georgia and how the market-oriented anti-corruption reforms affected the society.

  • Armenia and Azerbaijan: There may be more about these countries on our blog later. Some good articles to read are here, here, and here.
  • China and Taiwan: We’ll have more about this pair of countries on our blog later. Some good initial articles to read are here, here, here, here, and here.

There are many other examples of countries that have disputes over specific territories. There are also some examples of intranational borders to keep competing factions within a country from attacking or getting into conflicts with each other. Examples include the peace line in Northern Ireland and the green line in Lebanon.

We hope to explore these situations in greater depth in future blog posts. Any other examples of hostile nations worth discussing? Any historical examples? Any general considerations I missed in my opening remarks above?

Tell Me How Himmler Misapplied Citizenism

This is a guest post by Bryan Caplan. Caplan’s previous guest post, My Path to Open Borders, has been one of the most viewed and most liked blog posts on our website.

Heinrich Himmler delivered his infamous Posen speech on October 4, 1943. The speech, which was actually recorded, is best-known as a smoking gun for the Holocaust. But the three-hour lecture also makes a foray into political philosophy. Himmler’s deep thoughts:

For the SS Man, one principle must apply absolutely: we must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood, and to no one else. What happens to the Russians, the Czechs, is totally indifferent to me. Whatever is available to us in good blood of our type, we will take for ourselves, that is, we will steal their children and bring them up with us, if necessary. Whether other races live well or die of hunger is only of interest to me insofar as we need them as slaves for our culture; otherwise that doesn’t interest me. Whether 10,000 Russian women fall down from exhaustion in building a tank ditch is of interest to me only insofar as the tank ditches are finished for Germany.

We will never be hard and heartless when it is not necessary; that is clear. We Germans, the only ones in the world with a decent attitude towards animals, will also adopt a decent attitude with regards to these human animals; but it is a sin against our own blood to worry about them and give them ideals, so that our sons and grandchildren will have a harder time with them. When somebody comes to me and says, I can’t build tank ditches with children or women. That’s inhumane, they’ll die doing it. Then I must say: You are a murderer of your own blood, since, if the tank ditches are not built, then German soldiers will die, and they are the sons of German mothers. That is our blood. That is how I would like to indoctrinate this SS, and, I believe, have indoctrinated, as one of the holiest laws of the future: our concern, our duty, is to our Folk, and to our blood. That is what we must care for and think about, work for and fight for, and nothing else. Everything else can be indifferent to us.

At least on a superficial reading, Himmler seems to be whole-heartedly embracing what Steve Sailer calls “citizenism.” Sailer’s words:

Personally, I am a citizenist

My starting point in analyzing policies is: “What is in the best overall interests of the current citizens of the United States?”

In contrast, so many others think in terms of: “What is in the best interest of my: identity group / race / ethnicity / religion / bank account / class / ideology / clique / gender / sexual orientation / party / and/or personal feelings of moral superiority?”

Sailer repeatedly appeals to citizenism to reject open borders.  Though I think he’s totally misguided, I would never equate him with Himmler.  I wouldn’t approvingly quote Sailer if I thought otherwise. I mean this in all sincerity, and do not mean to damn with faint praise. To condemn all citizenists because someone kills in the name of citizenism is pure guilt by association. Homicidal maniacs have yet to find a political philosophy they cannot twist into a rationalization for their crimes.

So why bring Himmler’s speech up at all? Because this particular homicidal maniac appears to correctly deduce his criminal actions from citizenism. Himmler embraces absolute devotion to  “the best overall interests of the current citizens of Germany” as the highest morality. In consequence, we can politely but firmly ask mainstream citizenists for clarification. Precisely how does Himmler misapply your political philosophy?

Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Himmler is misapplying citizenism because the actions he defends were ineffective or counter-productive means to advance German interests. This story has the implausible implication that Himmler would have been right if the policies he advocated did in fact tip the scales of victory to Germany, leading in turn to a higher standard of living for Germans than we’ve actually observed.
  2. Himmler is misapplying citizenism because many of the people he wanted to murder were German. This story has the implausible implication that murdering non-Germans was OK. Furthermore, Himmler could reply that any so-called “Germans” he wants to murder lost their German citizenship years earlier.
  3. Himmler is misapplying citizenism because the doctrine only applies to Americans. While Americans should favor fellow Americans, Germans should not favor fellow Germans. This story has the implausible implication that it would have been morally permissible for Americans to work Russians, Czechs, and other foreigners to death if it had promoted American well-being.
  4. Himmler is misapplying citizenism by taking it too literally. As Sailer puts it, “All ethical principles come with endless grown-up qualifications to fantasies hatched by childish minds.” But Himmler could easily retort, “All ethical principles come with endless childish excuses to escape unwelcome duties.” As he explains elsewhere in the Posen speech:

    The Jewish nation will be rooted out, says every Party Comrade, that’s quite clear, it’s in our program: shutting the Jews down and out, rooting them out; that’s what we’re doing. And then they all come along, these 80 million good Germans, and every one of them has his decent Jew.

My best guess is that avowed citizenists will flock to something like #4. I hope they do. But I still have to ask them: Given the horrific actions that people like Himmler have explicitly committed on citizenist grounds, why don’t you calm our fears by fleshing out the crucial qualifications that the Himmlers of the world fail to grasp? Why don’t you go further by naming some actually-existing American policies you oppose even though they’re literal implications of citizenism? If citizenists want their position taken seriously, they should start pre-emptively defending their positions from misinterpretation, even if it does tax their patience.

The photograph of Heinrich Himmler visiting Dachau concentration camp featured at the head of this post originates from the German Bundesarchiv, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike licence.