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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

Thou shalt call thy walls Salvation and thy gates Praise.
—Isaiah 60:18

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.” Fifty years later, however, a range of nations including Afghanistan, Botswana, India, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and the United States have increasingly been attracted to such barriers, none more than Allon's Israel. Walls stand guard along its frontiers with Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, increasingly the West Bank, and possibly soon Egypt. the relative effectiveness of these ground-based works at controlling cross-border traffic has encouraged adversary attack from the sky. Whether it be the frequent homemade Qassam rockets shot from the Gaza Strip (about three thousand through January 2008), the mixture of rockets and missiles launched by Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War (more than four thousand total), or the longer-range, potentially nuclear-armed ballistic missiles potentially possessed by hostile Middle East states, a high threat perception has arisen. in response, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has pursued multiple missile defense systems, some with colorful names such as Iron Dome and David's Sling, to be part of a multilayer network. Although the West Bank “separation barrier” has controversially deviated from the Green Line (the 1967 Israel–West Bank border) in some areas, defense efforts overall have been met with approval across the political spectrum.

A growing sense of vulnerability has also prompted considerable interest in strategic defenses in the United States, albeit with far less agreement than . . .

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