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

Brent L. Sterling
Content Type
Georgetown University Press
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 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.
Defense Policy, War
Political Geography
United States