No need for a tunnel

Bolivia (from the CIA World Factbook)

A truly insane news report caught my eye in the Financial Times today, proposing a tunnel from Bolivia to an artificial island in the Pacific. (Read the story here.)

Bolivia is a landlocked country, and this tunnel plus island combination would restore access to the sea lost in 1884. The land under which the tunnel would go was lost to Chile in a war and relations between the two countries on this issue are still sensitive to this day.

(The 19th century history of South America is littered with wars over territory on the European model, and North America might have gone the same way had it not been for the success of the constitutional settlement agreed in 1787.)

It is absurd, though, if the dictates of national sovereignty, understood as it still is in this 19th century sense, lead to such a ludicrous waste as this Bolivian tunnel. It would be a much simpler matter to conclude a treaty with supranational enforcement to provide for trading and transport links: in fact, it was the revocation of such trading privileges that led to the outbreak of war in 1879.

It makes more sense for the different nations of the earth to learn to share it, rather than to dig expensively and wastefully underneath it.

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We have been here before. W B Curry, in a memorable passage in “The case for federal union”, wrote this (he was writing in 1939 at the time of the dispute between Germany and Poland over Danzig and the so-called “Polish corridor”):

“Do Northumberland and Durham squabble about who shall control the mouth of the Tyne? Does Wiltshire want a corridor through Hampshire to Southampton in order to have free access to the sea? Do we hear of the sad fate of such inland States as Illinois, Kentucky, and Kansas, depending as they must for access to the sea upon routes assign through other States? How is it possible that Connecticut and New Jersey tolerate the fact that New York dominates the mouth of the Hudson? Surely the States of Missouri, Tennessee, and Mississippi find it altogether intolerable that Louisiana should control the delta of their great river? All these are situations that would give rise to “tension” (diplomatic language for intention to provoke a quarrel) if the areas concerned were sovereign States. When they are not sovereign States, and do not therefore menace each other, either immediately or potentially, the problem simply does not arise.”

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