Security vs Stability

In the post-Soviet world we live in, borders are largely static. The borders of the United States, for example, have been set since World War II; The borders of the United Kingdom have been consistent since then, Britain for longer. Since the second world war, the borders of all Western Europe have been stable. In the last 20 years much of the rest of the world has had the same happen. Sure, Kosovo has demanded independence, Russia is claiming Georgian provinces, Chechnya and Tibet would like to be independent and there are some other border and sovereignty disputes, but there is no concept that the only way to maintain stability for a nation is to dominate the world around. Static borders are considered important for sovereignty and to demarcate boundaries for defense, not a sign of weakness.

In antiquity static defense was weakness. If a state had to react instead of forcing others to react, then it was weak. Lycurgus knew this when he made his third law: to make war on all neighbors, but none too frequently. Sparta was a pristine land that was almost never violated for hundreds of years, but more than intrinsic fear of the unbeatable warriors, Sparta was largely inviolate because they spent all of their time attacking others instead.

Such was the case with Athens, a paradox, wherein it was routinely invaded by land and considered weak because of it, but strong because it could go on the offensive via sea. Such was the case in Macedonia where the strength of the state was reckoned by the ability to expand into its neighbors, culminating with Alexander’s sweep across Asia. And such was the case with Rome where Hadrian received derision because of his decision to cease expansion and lay down firm, physical borders (including the wall that bears his name).

Perhaps today the equivalent to this physical domination of others being the route to safety is the mobilization of economic power to subdue troublesome nations in the form of sanctions and by the maxim of Lycurgus as applied to US foreign policy post World Wars.

2 thoughts on “Security vs Stability

  1. I think there’s some other forces at play here: the ability to precisely measure boundaries of all sorts. The increased sense of defined territory (Look at the conversion from the open field system in England and Europe to the private ownership of farm land). The reduced need to enforce borders with people thanks to fighter jets, missiles, and more treaties. The global redefinition of war and war crimes, the idea of just cause and proportional response. The greater likelihood of people to define their country of origin. (The definition of Roman, for instance, was kind of fuzzy at times depending on who you were asking. Or Greek.)

    I suppose the fighting over Gaza and the west bank is the best example of a modern protracted border dispute, complete with populations that are near indistinguishable and have non-residency national identities.


    1. To be quite honest I lost my train of thought halfway through this piece, so I am having trouble coherently replying here. There are a lot of factors in play and you hit a lot of them, but for the Greek example territory was relatively stable, yet still the idea of defense at home was a sign of weakness; once up to Macedonia this was a bit different, but it was also much more rustic.

      Rome again was expanding for security, or in large part because it could, not because it needed to. Remember Ann’s pictures of the senate house with marbles from all across the Roman world to signify that Rome strode over it all. Military expansion was a sign of strength; settling borders was a sign of weakness.

      Israel is an interesting example, though, because it is largely a border dispute over contested land amongst peoples who both claim the same city for their capitol (let aside that the diplomatically recognized capitol of Israel is Tel Aviv). Ever since the Yom Kippur war, the main border disputes are over whether Israel has the right to settle in the West Bank and Gaza, and then between Israel and Syria over the Golan heights.


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