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Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

What History Teaches Us about Strategic Barriers and International Security

Brent L. Sterling

Publication Year: 2009

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, HadrianÆs Wall in Roman Britain, the Ming Great Wall of China, Louis XIVÆs PrT CarrT, FranceÆs Maginot Line, and IsraelÆs 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 builderÆs 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.

Published by: Georgetown University Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. x-xii

THE RESEARCH AND COMPOSITION of this work has been a long journey that would not have been completed without the assistance of family, friends, and colleagues. Above all, I want to express my appreciation to Dan Byman and Dan Chiu for their contributions to the project from its conceptual origins to the final manuscript. They never failed to provide cogent, constructive commentary ...

List of Acronyms

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pp. xiii-xiv

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1 Introduction

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pp. 1-12

WHILE THE ABOVE BIBLICAL QUOTE reflects a prodefense sentiment oft en 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 ...

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2 Athens’ Long Walls: Lifelines to the Sea

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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 ...

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3 Hadrian’s Wall: Rome’s Foremost Frontier Fortification

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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 ...

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4 The Ming Great Wall of China: A Dynasty’s Unending Pursuit of Security

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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 ...

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5 The Pré Carré: Fortifying France’s Northeastern Frontier

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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 Pr

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6 The Maginot Line: France’s Great Folly or Reasoned Response to the German Threat

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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 Magi not 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 ...

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7 The Bar-Lev Line: Citadels in the Sand

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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 aft er gaining control of the Sinai Peninsula. Although ...

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8 Conclusion: Lessons Learned about the Use and Abuse of Strategic Defenses

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pp. 308-330

WHEN HEARING ABOUT THE BOOK TOPIC, people oft en 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 ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 331-336

About the Author

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pp. 337-338


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pp. 339-354

E-ISBN-13: 9781589017276
E-ISBN-10: 1589017277
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589015715
Print-ISBN-10: 1589015711

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 10 maps, 2 tables
Publication Year: 2009