Human beings’ first instinct is to protect ourselves. For centuries, we built walls in the belief that that this was the best, more effective way of staying safe. When Isaac Newton pronounced the famous words that are the title of this article, borders were basic elements of the nascent Nation-States, and a means for their rulers to assert their power and territorial dominance. Admittedly, at that time, people were willing to relinquish their freedom to the State in exchange for protection. However, in a world devoid of globalisation, why would one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment suggest such an idea? How relevant is it today?
Since those times, the world has become more open, interconnected, and globalised to an extent that few thinkers from centuries gone by could have imagined, and it has all happened extremely quickly. Managing this change has been a challenge to every state and government in the world. Modernising certain traditions, which are manifestations of different degrees of conservatism in different parts of the world, and some mindsets, is a difficult problem.
However, at the beginning of the 21st century, it is clear that walls no longer afford protection. They may be high, strong and supposedly invincible, but you are mistaken if you believe that any border is unbreachable. At best, they are for honest citizens who are affected by all these barriers, but they are an illusion for organised crime groups who, for a long time, have learnt to overcome obstacles, even the most sophisticated ones. New technologies that enables money to go around the world several times in no more than a second and the considerable increase in movements of people and goods have shifted the meaning of borders. Ought we still be looking to be looking to these walls, even as they crumble?
New mechanisms for collaboration against crime
Although building walls to protect us is still a natural human instinct, building bridges is not. There’s no question that in recent years, transnational organised crime has been progressing and we are struggling to keep up, with no hope of succeeding. Organised groups are taking advantage of our mistakes and our inability to build these bridges, long after they have built their own.
The countries of the European Union, in their process of creating a common space but also of taking on this reality, decided some twenty years ago to largely erase their internal borders. In contrast, they saw an absolute need to build new mechanisms for collaboration to deal with the challenges of a more open space, particularly organised crime. By creating permanent police and judicial cooperation structures – EUROPOL and EUROJUST – and by developing new working mechanisms, such as the European arrest warrant, they have built bridges and are slowly adapting justice to the 21st century. Is it a perfect model? No, there is still much to be done. Can it serve as an example for other regions of the world? At EL PAcCTO, we sincerely believe that it can.
Latin America today is in a particularly difficult situation: organised crime is flourishing and, perhaps, there is still a belief in the region that walls, and purely national response, withdrawing into themselves, are the best ways forward, but this is not the case. Quite the contrary. We need more dialogue, more contacts, more systematic and, above all faster information sharing if we want to make up for lost time. We need these bridges to connect the players in the fight against crime, to connect institutions and countries which are still, unfortunately, sadly lacking. There is no alternative, no other more effective way to fight transnational organised crime. Cooperation is the only way. That is the reason for the EL PAcCTO Programme, because we know that together we are stronger and that we can change the situation. Let us stop staring, impotently, at these crumbling walls that represent failure. Let’s join forces to build the bridges that are crucial to creating safer, more stable future for our citizens and for generations to come.
Co-director of EL PAcCTO