What History Teaches Us about Strategic Barriers and International Security
Brent L. Sterling
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.
2. Athens' Long Walls: Lifelines to the Sea
3. Hadrian's Wall: Rome's Foremost Frontier Fortification
4. The Ming Great Wall of China: A Dynasty's Unending Pursuit of Security
5. The Pré Carré: Fortifying France's Northeastern Frontier
6. The Maginot Line: France's Great Folly or Reasoned Response to the German Threat
7. The Bar-Lev Line: Citadels in the Sand
8. Conclusion: Lessons Learned about the Use and Abuse of Strategic Defense
About the Author
"Sterling's analysis is consistently thorough and thought provoking. He devotes ample time to each case study, providing a balanced review of the political, economic, diplomatic, military, cultural, and other factors that influenced the decision to build strategic defenses."—Journal of Homeland Security
"Takes a rather different and refreshing look. . . . Finely crafted and thoroughly enjoyable. . . . Barrier builders and their critics should all take heed."—Political Science Quarterly
"A thoughtful and analytical approach to an often overlooked element of security. . . . Given the uniqueness of the subject and the author's approach, I highly recommend this book for any course on general military history or defense studies and commend it to those focused on border security issues."—Military Review
"The reader is immediately grabbed by the author's uncanny ability to place what is a historical examination of physical barriers squarely in current political debates, both empirical and theoretical. . . . Chapter after chapter, one is transported through fascinating details, from strategic threats (real or imagined) to the leaders' perceptions and motivations (from the simplest to the most complex) to the decision-making processes (bureaucratic, military, and financial) behind the construction of physical barriers."—Perspectives on Politics
"An unusual and long overdue perspective. This will be a welcome addition to any course on defense studies."—Antulio Echevarria, U.S. Army War College
"Brent Sterling restores 'walls', and strategic defenses in general, to their rightful place as an important but often flawed part of nearly every country's security strategy. He exposes the historical stereotypes about strategic defenses to the light of careful examination and demonstrates precisely how and when strategic defenses can contribute or can undermine national security. It is a timely contribution that should inform U.S. policymakers as they consider such diverse questions as fences along the US-Mexican border and Ballistic Missile defenses."—Jeremy Shapiro, research director, Center on the United States and Europe, The Brookings Institution
"Brent Sterling has written an extremely interesting and thoughtful book. In [this book] he compares six major defensive fortification systems from different periods of time and in different contexts. By allowing us to see the intent and results of all of these efforts laid out side-by-side, he provokes the reader to think more deeply about the role of defenses in a nation's strategic design and offers a variety of insights of his own. Anyone interested in military history or current national security matters will find Dr. Sterling's informative and intelligent book to be an important analysis of a critical, but badly neglected, subject."—Kenneth M. Pollack, author of A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East
Brent L. Sterling is an adjunct lecturer at the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. He has spent the past twenty years as a defense analyst, including positions at the Central Intelligence Agency and consulting firms that support the Department of Defense.
368 pp., 6 x 9
10 maps, 2 tables
368 pp., 6 x 9
10 maps, 2 tables
10 maps, 2 tables