So there are two countries, A and B. And A completely surrounds B. Now, these countries are not necessarily... friends. In fact, one nation is run by a religious dictatorship and the other nation has a dysfunctional atheist parliament, and they enjoy criticizing the other's failures. And, oh yeah, every now and then the religious dictatorship launches on crusades to "convert the infidels". However, I want the nations to keep at least a marginal peace with each other. I've come up with a couple solutions, but they aren't very convincing to me.

  1. Superior weaponry vs. more manpower

One nation has higher-powered weaponry than the other nation. The other nation, however, has many more men to attack. However, this would require an exceedingly delicate balance (my nation has at least WWII level militaries, with CB weaponry but not nukes) to prevent it from having one nation conquer the other.

  1. Money

This is the funnest most fun example. Country A has country B surrounded, but country B holds all of country A's money. Therefore, due to the risk of losing money, country A doesn't invade country B's territory. However, this would be highly implausible, because why would Country A put money in Country B's hands?

  1. Terrain

Country A has country B surrounded, but country B has excellent terrain for guerrilla warfare, therefore causing country A to have no strategic advantage to conquer country B. However, this one doesn't hold up, because both countries hate each other, and why wouldn't country B conquer country A then?

  1. Spies

Country A can take over Country B, and Country B knows Country A can take over Country B. However, Country B infiltrates Country A's legislative system, so that their civilians are deadlocked over whether to unleash the army. However, army planners who want to invade would certainly ouster the spies and, in a military coup, seize power.

What would be a plausible solution to this problem? How could I maintain a balance between these two enemies?

  • $\begingroup$ Please make clearer -- like in the first paragraph -- which is the theocracy and which is the secular nation. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ There are multiple ways to read "dysfunctional atheist parliament". Please clarify. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn I think you can choose... would it really make that big of a difference? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Of course it matters whether the theists are infiltrated by the atheists, or vice versa. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 13:47
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ A country which is literally surrounded by another country is in a very very very bad position. For example, they cannot trade with the world unless the surrounding country feels like allowing them to. The situation is extremely unstable. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 13:51

3 Answers 3


In addition to the ones in the OP, some other ideas that can be used alone or together to form your back story...

Friends in High Places

If country B has friends in counties C, D, E,.., then perhaps they can form a mutual defense pact, like NATO. This could happen for a number of reasons, including inter-marriage between B's nobility and those other nations' noble families, a shared religion, active diplomacy on B's part...

Technological superiority

Maybe B has some huge technological advantage. This might provide them with superior weapons, as you mention. Or maybe it just means they have all the cool [your world's equivalent of the next iPhone] that everyone wants. If A invades B, then those industries are at risk and might be destroyed. Therefore the citizens of A are not in favor of invasion.

Hearts and Minds

Maybe B has a great many artists who export great works of art (writers, painters, musicians, etc.) or maybe they're just good at public relations. Either way, they've tapped into something in the hearts of A's citizens. Because of this, A would find a war with B to be very unpopular with those citizens.

Raw materials or Goods

Maybe B is the only place where you can find some valuable resource everyone else wants. This could be a manufactured good, an expensive wine, gold, silver, jewels. Or it could be a combination. But whatever "it" is, B is the place to get it. B exports it. B therefore can threaten to cut off supplies to A and anyone else, should war break out. This makes war a risky endeavor.

Friends in Low Places

Maybe B is the base territory for major crime syndicate(s). The mafia who are the crime bosses in A are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants from B. Therefore, they've let it be known that if war breaks out, they'll make things hard. Riots, crime waves, publicly exposing the dirty little secrets of the ruling class, or cutting off drug supplies. These are the kinds of things that can trigger social unrest or revolution if they get bad enough. So maybe the threat is so severe that the ruling class of A takes it seriously.


B flat out bribes enough of A's ruling class to prevent outright war. It's expensive. It's risky. But it works. Oh, sure. They're called "loans." But when the loan keeps being forgiven, it's a bribe in all but name.


Maybe B started out bribing or blackmailing A or loaning money to A (your Money example) or whatever. But over the years the power dynamic has shifted to the point that A has, quietly, patiently, covertly, supplanted some percentage of A's ruling class with either outright puppets or with sympathetic rulers. This is the long game. It's also highly risky. But if they can slowly get people "on the inside" then over a few generations, they can try to take over enough of the ruling class to stall any vote for war. Maybe not a majority (yet) of the A's Senate is owned, but enough that a vote for war will fail. And maybe the plan is to turn A into an outright puppet in a few more generations.


Europe's history is filled with alliances and partnerships made through marriages. B works diligently to marry their noble children with A's noble children until any war would mean a war with family. (This can also be the opening moves to "puppet" above.)

The enemy of my enemy

Maybe B works ever so quietly to convince A to instead hate on C. Or convinces C that they need to go to war with A. Working to push the countries in either direction -- or pushing both in that direction at the same time -- means that now A has a reason to hate someone else more than they hate B. As long as A doesn't suspect B's involvement, then they will probably ignore B for the duration of their hostilities with C and maybe beyond.

Quid pro quo

Maybe B offers to help A with some problem they face. This can work in tandem with "enemy of my enemy." But by helping A, they defuse their hate towards B. And/or make A indebted to B either literally with war loans or figuratively with "hey, you owe me a favor since I helped you out with that thing that time...")

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Dang didn’t think of that $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ Didn't think of what? $\endgroup$
    – CaM
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ all those ideas... lots of ways to keep the peace $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 15:09

A similar question: The Galactic Cold War

Your countries exist in a non-shooting state of simmering hostilities because this state strengthens the internal position of governments on both sides.

Your countries are not exactly allies at peace if the one periodically launches crusades. But they might be in a "cold war" type scenario. Nothing unites like a common enemy. As Saddam Hussein did in Iraq, cultivation of outside enemies (Iran, US) could be used to compel fractious internal groups to cooperate. The looming threat of an outside enemy can be used to divert government spending into (lucrative) munitions and armaments instead of internal societal improvements - as arguably took place in the Cold War US and USSR.

My answer to the linked Galactic Cold War question puts out some similar cold war type scenarios.


One other relationship that exists on Earth is the socio-economic impact of conquering B. If you look at North Korea as an example, while it would cause a large number of casualties, there is little question that South Korea, with Japan and the US, could defeat the DPRK. However, doing so would mean that they would have to then deal with the poverty and indoctrinated population of that country. In short, they don't because they don't want to deal with what governance would mean.


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