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Good Fences, Bad Neighbors

Border Fixity and International Conflict

Border fixity—the proscription of foreign conquest and the annexation of homeland territory—has, since World War II, become a powerful norm in world politics. This development has been said to increase stability and peace in international relations. Yet, in a world in which it is unacceptable to challenge international borders by force, sociopolitically weak states remain a significant source of widespread conflict, war, and instability.

In this book, Boaz Atzili argues that the process of state building has long been influenced by external territorial pressures and competition, with the absence of border fixity contributing to the evolution of strong states—and its presence to the survival of weak ones. What results from this norm, he argues, are conditions that make internal conflict and the spillover of interstate war more likely. Using a comparison of historical and contemporary case studies, Atzili sheds light on the relationship between state weakness and conflict. His argument that under some circumstances an international norm that was established to preserve the peace may actually create conditions that are ripe for war is sure to generate debate and shed light on the dynamics of continuing conflict in the twenty-first century.

296 pages | 2 halftones, 5 line drawings, 5 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Political Science: Comparative Politics, Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, and International Relations

Sociology: General Sociology


“Atzili sheds powerful light on the roots of current international and civil conflicts. His arguments are novel and convincing. This book is essential reading for students of international politics and policy.”

Stephen Van Evera, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Boaz Atzili presents a very interesting, well-researched, and counterintuitive argument that carries important policy implications and should be emphasized in the literature about international security.”

Idean Salehyan, University of North Texas

Good Fences, Bad Neighbors addresses in a very illuminating and novel way one of the key paradoxes in post–World War II international security: how and why an international norm designed to encourage peace increased, rather than decreased, the level of warfare in at least some parts of the world. Boaz Atzili provides an original and insightful analysis of why in the current international system the weakest states generate the most instances of war.”

Benjamin Miller, University of Haifa

"The international norm of border fixity (or the idea that the forcible annexation of territory is taboo) is thought to contribute to international stability, but Boaz Atzili argues that in some cases it contributes to the survival of weak states, thus creating conditions that make war more likely."


Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Tables
Preface and Acknowledgments


1 ∙ The Theory and Practice of Borders
2 ∙ Which Wars Make the State and Which States Make War
3 ∙ Preconditions to State Building: Making the Case for Comparison
4 ∙ State Building and State Weakness before Border Fixity: Brandenburg-Prussia, Argentina, and Poland-Lithuania
5 ∙ State Building and State Failure in a Fixed-Borders World: Lebanon, Congo, and Israel
6 ∙ State Weakness and International Conflict in a Fixed-Borders World
7 ∙ Conclusions



Mershon Center, Ohio State University: Edgar S. Furniss Book Award

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