Borders in a ‘Borderless’ World

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the world has seen unprecedented levels of interconnectedness. Globalization and transnational flows of people, goods, capital, and information were expected to render borders less and less important. 30 years later, the opposite seems to have happened: Around the world, borders are heavily protected, contested, or even unilaterally redrawn. In this session we explored the (renewed) role of borders in a seemingly borderless world. How should states and international organizations deal with the conflicting demands of open and secure borders? In what ways do we have to change our approach to borders in times of accelerating globalization?

This session was hosted by Körber-Stiftung.

Date : 13 November 2019

Paris, France – Grande Halle de La Villette, Auditorium

Watch the full debate


  • Moderator: Elisabeth Von Hammerstein, Programme Director International Affairs, Körber-Stiftung
  • Benedetta Berti, Head, Policy Planning Unit, Office of the Secretary General, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
  • Pia Fuhrhop, Head of the Berlin Office, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH)
  • Thomas Greminger, Secretary General, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

Key takeaways from the discussion

  • The word “borders” has a negative connotation for most of the Paris Peace Forum participants: in a live poll, 71.2 per cent of participants stated that the word generated negative associations for them, while 28.2 per cent had a positive impression. In line with this, the discussants shared personal impressions about how the removal of physical barriers following the Schengen Agreement in Europe has connected border regions and has contributed to strengthening transnational identities. Speakers reminded the audience, however, that borders also have a protective function. OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger pointed out that “they are a crucial element of statehood.”
  • Migration towards Europe should be framed more positively: “Yes, we need secure borders, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the openness and the ability to attract people has been and continues to be a great asset for us. When we lose it, then we know we’re in decline,” stated Benedetta Berti.
  • The challenge of open and secure borders: achieving open and at the same time secure borders is a continuing challenge for many states, regional and international organizations, not only in Europe. In times when most security challenges are transnational, the “only way forward is dialogue and cooperative security,” according to Thomas Greminger. Here, multilateral arrangements can create an enabling environment for problem-solving by providing platforms for exchange. But it is the states who have to address the underlying governance issues and work on improving regional cooperation, he argued.
  • International law is under siege when borders are unilaterally redrawn: Benedetta Berti emphasized that inviolability of existing borders is a key principle of the rules-based international order. When states violate this rule, the international community has to join forces to uphold international law.
  • Technology fundamentally challenges the traditional notions of borders: ensuring digital rights and duties in a borderless digital sphere is the new challenge for humankind, even more decisive than the management of physical borders. “People are more wired, but they are not necessarily more connected,” cautioned Pia Fuhrhop reminding us of prevalent filter bubbles. Thomas Greminger pointed to the positive aspects of technological innovations, which can also help to address transnational challenges like terrorism.
  • A look into the future: in concluding the discussion, all speakers outlined their vision of borders thirty years from now. According to them, in 2050, borders will be “[realist me] still contested and politically salient or [aspirational me] a source of cooperation rather than friction” (Benedetta Berti), “around, but will not keep people from what they really are – human beings with human rights that everyone deserves and that hopefully everyone can accomplish in their lives” (Pia Fuhrhop), or “secure and open, and states have come to realize that global security challenges can only be tackled successfully by cooperative approaches” (Thomas Greminger).

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