Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?: What History Teaches Us about Strategic Barriers and International Security

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?
    Book Description:

    A number of nations, conspicuously Israel and the United States, have been increasingly attracted to the use of strategic barriers to promote national defense. In Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?, defense analyst Brent Sterling examines the historical use of strategic defenses such as walls or fortifications to evaluate their effectiveness and consider their implications for modern security. Sterling studies six famous defenses spanning 2,500 years, representing both democratic and authoritarian regimes: the Long Walls of Athens, Hadrian's Wall in Roman Britain, the Ming Great Wall of China, Louis XIV's Pré Carré, France's Maginot Line, and Israel's Bar Lev Line. Although many of these barriers were effective in the short term, they also affected the states that created them in terms of cost, strategic outlook, military readiness, and relations with neighbors. Sterling assesses how modern barriers against ground and air threats could influence threat perceptions, alter the military balance, and influence the builder's subsequent policy choices. Advocates and critics of strategic defenses often bolster their arguments by selectively distorting history. Sterling emphasizes the need for an impartial examination of what past experience can teach us. His study yields nuanced lessons about strategic barriers and international security and yields findings that are relevant for security scholars and compelling to general readers.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-727-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    WHILE THE ABOVE BIBLICAL QUOTE reflects a prodefense sentiment often evident since man established boundaries, by the second half of the twentieth century a general disdain emerged for the continuing utility of walls, fortresses, and other barriers. The improved precision and destructiveness of weapons as well as the enhanced mobility of militaries appeared to render physical works obsolete. In the late 1950s, Yigal Allon, one of Israel’s early military heroes and strategic thinkers, captured the prevailing view by observing that “no modern country can surround itself with a wall.”¹ Fifty years later, however, a range of nations including Afghanistan, Botswana,...

  7. 2 Athens’ Long Walls: Lifelines to the Sea
    (pp. 13-63)

    During the fifth century BCE, the miles of open, low-lying land between the upper city of Athens and its key ports on the Saronic Gulf represented the city-state’s primary vulnerability. Desiring to emphasize naval power despite this intervening gap, the Athenians constructed a set of walls down to the coastline. Athens’ adversaries, led by Sparta, quickly learned about the unwelcome Long Walls, but how did they react to its challenge? The barriers eliminated the vulnerability, but what was the general effect of the barriers on the military balance given the contrasting military approaches pursued by Athens and Sparta? Most importantly,...

  8. 3 Hadrian’s Wall: Rome’s Foremost Frontier Fortification
    (pp. 64-105)

    Whereas fifth century BCE Athens offered a rising power looking to eliminate its primary vulnerability, Rome in the early 120s CE presents a somewhat different context and challenge. Although it was among the strongest powers in history, the Hadrianic government strained to manage and secure its domain following the expansionist Trajan era. In one corner of the empire, northern Britain stood as a remote place of instability and violence. The adversary was not a finely honed army like the Sparta hoplites but rather a range of British-Scottish tribes given to raiding and skirmishing. Rome’s decision to erect what became known...

  9. 4 The Ming Great Wall of China: A Dynasty’s Unending Pursuit of Security
    (pp. 106-156)

    Whereas Athens’ Long Walls and Hadrian’s Wall involved strategic defenses covering limited distances, the Ming Great Wall of China extended across the dynasty’s massive northern frontier. Although vastly larger and richer than its Mongol adversaries, the Ming Dynasty possessed an insular, status quo perspective that the wall was intended to support. How did the Mongols, whose well-being depended on some level of interaction with China, react to the emergence of this impediment between the steppe and Ming territory? A central consideration both for influencing the adversary and the wall’s impact on the military balance was its gradual expansion over a...

  10. 5 The Pré Carré: Fortifying France’s Northeastern Frontier
    (pp. 157-203)

    While the Ming Great Wall of China stands as the preeminent example of a strategic defense system, the other early modern case involves a rising power with great ambition yet suffering from a chronic sense of insecurity. The seventeenth-century French Pré Carré also marks a technologically driven transition from the first three cases, essentially continuous walls, to the last three efforts of discontinuous lines of fortified strongpoints. Whereas in all the examples the strategic defense systems affect the adversary by reducing their leverage, the potential of the frontier fortifications in this case to enhance the formidable French army’s offensive potential...

  11. 6 The Maginot Line: France’s Great Folly or Reasoned Response to the German Threat
    (pp. 204-256)

    By the twentieth century, advances in technology had produced a quantum leap in the mobility and destructiveness of military power; nevertheless, strategic defenses continued to be constructed, most notably the maligned Maginot Line. This largely subterranean French fortification system, while lacking the grandeur of Hadrian’s Wall or the Great Wall of China, ranks among the strongest defense barriers in history. It is also often cited as a badly misguided policy that critically contributed to France’s rapid defeat in 1940. Facing a stronger adversary, could the strategic defense system productively shape German behavior? Given the perception of Berlin’s revisionist commitment, the...

  12. 7 The Bar-Lev Line: Citadels in the Sand
    (pp. 257-307)

    Israel’s Bar-Lev Line provides an excellent opportunity to examine the dynamics of strategic defenses erected on recently seized foreign soil, in contrast to the preceding cases, which generally protected established national territory or long-held possessions. Israeli leaders decided to fortify the east bank of the Suez Canal little over a year after gaining control of the Sinai Peninsula. Although not wanting to retain the area permanently, the Israelis aimed to trade it for a peace treaty with Egypt. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had demonstrated a vast superiority over the Egyptian military in the Six-Day War, but holding this forward...

  13. 8 Conclusion: Lessons Learned about the Use and Abuse of Strategic Defenses
    (pp. 308-330)

    WHEN HEARING ABOUT THE BOOK TOPIC, people often ask whether a particular barrier was effective. While this is an understandable query, it is not a particularly constructive one. It is striking that for each of the six cases, plausible arguments could be generated for the strategic defenses being both failures and successes. Although more difficult for some cases than others, this situation highlights the problematic nature of rendering absolute verdicts. Rather than selectively employing facts and developments to construct such an overall judgment, this concluding chapter presents some common findings from the cases concerning when and how strategic defenses contributed...

  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 331-336)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 337-338)
  16. Index
    (pp. 339-354)