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In my world, there are three distinct races with each their own country in a corner of the world, adjacent to one another and a central country. Simplified layout would be like the google chrome logo: enter image description here

This central country would not be inhabited by a majority of any race, but rather a mix of all three races. It would be self-governing, separate from any of the race-specific countries. As for the other countries, they would be almost constantly at each others throat on the borders due to the aggressiveness of one of the races.

Magic exists in this world, but is mostly contact (hands on) object manipulation and real-time directional clairvoyance (sensing what happens around you or at a distance). No destructive spells or ranged attacks (by magic at least, bows etc. still exist). It is not very common as a reasonably strong affinity for it is needed genetically (everyone has the affinity, in varying levels), and even then a large amount of training is necessary to use it effectively. Time/technology setting would be similar to around year 0 of the Gregorian calendar.

One of my races would be proud and slightly selfish, but otherwise neutral/pacifist. They commonly have a moderate affinity for magic, mostly towards object manipulation. Another one would be fairly aggressive and lawless, aimed towards anarchy and expansion of their territory. Commonly low affinity for magic, but large physical strength and size. The last one would be smart and sophisticated, but completely pacifistic. They have a strong affinity for magic, especially the clairvoyance kind.

How could a balance between these races in a central country work, without constant internal feuding? Why would any members of any of the races chose to live there, rather than in their own country? How would they prevent any of the races trying to take over completely, adding (part of) the central country to their own territory?

It being a democracy for example would already help, but it doesn't completely cover all questions.

Bonus question: The reason this centralised country exists in the first place is a secret revealed much later on. How would the races themselves explain or justify the existence of this central country in the meantime?

I haven't decided on any geographical details yet, so feel free to use terrain layout in your answer if necessary/helpful.

Please let me know if clarification is needed anywhere, or anything needs to be more specific.

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    $\begingroup$ Switzerland actually exists, it has been independent for many centuries, and it works quite well. A bit complicated, and a bit quite unlike any other country in the world, but it does work. And it is indeed populated by German-speaking, French-speaking and Italian-speaking people, while being surrounded by Germany, France and Italy. The history of Switzerland is fascinating... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 14 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I hadn't considered Switzerland only works because of its neutrality. I always assumed they were a sort of stuck-up people trying to keep to themselves. Definitely a good share, will look into. $\endgroup$ – Plutian Feb 14 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ Switzerland used to be a great regional power once upon a time, and even today it would be a formidable opponent if anybody tried to conquer it. Try to find out what is it that Switzerland offered and still offers which the surrounding country didn't and don't. (The history of Swiss neutrality is also very interesting. Basically, after the Napoleonic wars, the Congress of Vienna agreed that everybody will recognize permanent Swiss neutrality exactly because having Switzerland become an ally of any power would give that power a large advantage.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 14 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Sounds like it would work well as an answer, instead of just a comment... $\endgroup$ – MJ713 Feb 14 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ The U.K. is another example; it's composed of the Irish, Welsh, English, and Scots, and people choose to live in the central area (London) because there are more jobs there $\endgroup$ – alexgbelov Feb 14 at 22:13

14 Answers 14

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The central nation is a kingmaker in the conflict between the nations. It is not as powerful, but it can deal enough damage to ensure any country that attacks would fall to its rivals.

Perhaps magic is stronger in the location, there is a dragon / council of powerful mages defending the place, or they've got a single use WMD.

Sure, two nations could work together to take them out, but that would require cooperation, something your three nations won't do. And your middle nation engages in espionage to keep it that way.

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    $\begingroup$ A middle ground only stable because of the instability of its rivals. This is actually a very nice answer. It would explain why people would move there, trying to get away from the constant feuding around them. They would not take kindly to anyone trying to disturb their peace. $\endgroup$ – Plutian Feb 14 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Plutian - Here, look into the history of the Papal States. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Feb 14 at 20:38
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The central territory can be hosting an important religious item, which is worshipped by all the 3 nations.

As such whoever tries to take over the central region, will

  1. openly violate the sacrality of the territory
  2. be sure to face the combined reaction of the 2 others, being in evident inferiority

The above is enough to ensure an equilibrium in that region.

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  • $\begingroup$ I hadn't considered religion, as I have mostly tried to avoid it in my world. Not sure if I like this solution, but it is definitely a good possibility. $\endgroup$ – Plutian Feb 14 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ Because this has always worked well in Jerusalem... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Feb 14 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ Btw: that’s not a negative, more of point about ‘when this goes wrong you get Stories’ $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Feb 14 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Plutian It doesn't necessarily need to be of religious importance. A place of magical or cultural significance would work, just not as well. $\endgroup$ – Hink Feb 14 at 12:30
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How do Switzerland and Belgium exist as stable countries? The answer is a mixture of:

(a) they have their own identity separate from their linguistic community identities

(b) geographic governmental subdivisions that break roughly along linguistic lines

(c) in Belgium, non-geographic linguistic-based governments co-exist with geographical governments

(d) all governmental subdivisions have very high levels of autonomy (which prevents tensions from rising too high)

(e) strong, democratic institutions that maintain a sense of overall fairness

(f) In Belgium, which spends long periods without a federal government (due to inter-community tensions over fiscal matters) the high levels of autonomy and rules that allow tax and spending policy to continue without interruption (entirely unlike the US federal debt limit).

(g) Invading Switzerland is a dumb move, a bit like invading Afghanistan; security treaties came into existence to guarantee the independence of Belgium as part of the post-Napoleonic european settlement.

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It’s a fourth, more liberal country.

It governs itself. It has its own borders. Clearly it values immigration from its neighbours while they don’t seem to. It looks a lot like this place is a much more liberal ‘live and let live’ place to be than the more nationalistic triad that surrounds it.

Bill it as such. People who want a multicultural society will go there. People who don’t will stay home. It can get support and/or angry vitriol from each of its neighbours foreign offices depending on the ebb and flow of politics, and as long as it’s a reasonably strong country in its own right (or has the right alliances/trade deals/various reasons for not getting crushed) it will remain a sovereign place for the more open-minded citizens of all three countries to meet and live together.

Until Politics happens, of course. Then the knives come out...

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  • $\begingroup$ I suppose this would work for a far-off country filled with runaways and rejects. Its centralised position as prime expansion territory would make this problematic. Especially if internal strive happens due to some people not being as "liberal" as others. I don't suppose it would be easy to build a reasonably strong country based on an unstable population. $\endgroup$ – Plutian Feb 14 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ It absolutely could. Central location doesn't make it prime expansion territory - empires expand along a path of least resistance. Why would the aggressive nation expand that way when it could push against these two other, pacifistic nations? The central nation can have a proud military tradition that venerates those aggressive beings who fight for its independence, and whose soldiers know how the aggressive empire's people think. Those who leave the other countries might be disillusioned or disappointed with their people, rather than exiles or runaways. $\endgroup$ – SinisterFellow Feb 14 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ A multicultural nation is naturally more powerful because it can use the strengths of three diverse populations to overcome each single nation's weaknesses. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Feb 14 at 20:02
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"How could a balance between these races in a central country work, without constant internal feuding?" ... "How would they prevent any of the races trying to take over completely, adding (part of) the central country to their own territory?"

Well, only one race is aggressive - let's call them "orcs". If they attack the pacifistic clairvoyants ("elves"), these will just make sure never to be there when the "orc" attack and move in where the "orcs" have left. The "elves" may also use object manipulation to harass the "orcs" - suddenly, there are walls all around them, and their possessions (including clothes) tend to disappear at night. Eventually they give up and choose to attack the proud, neural race ("dwarves"). These are well able to defend themselves, and meanwhile, the "elves" take possession of "orc" territories through non-violent means similar to how they defended themselves. Finally, the "orcs" throw up their hands in disgust and stick to their own territories. The same pattern is reflected at the local or even personal level.

"Why would any members of any of the races chose to live there, rather than in their own country?"

Maybe they want more variety than they get at home, or they are rebels against tradition and authority. Or they might be poor people (or descendants thereof) looking for opportunity in a place where their low birth doesn't mean anything.

"Bonus question: The reason this centralised country exists in the first place is a secret revealed much later on. How would the races themselves explain or justify the existence of this central country in the meantime?"

I take this to mean that something prevents the three countries from attacking the central country, and they rationalize their lack of ambition in some way or other. Again, only the "orcs" sound like they are really interested in conquest. It may be that they simply fear that the two other peripheral countries will move into their territory while they are away on conquest. Or there are geographical reasons why conquest may seem not worth the hassle: inaccessability due to e.g. mountains or no obvious values in the shape of resources, good farmland, or rich trade.

Conversely, the central country may have originated as a neutral trade station. Perhaps sailing around is difficult or dangerous, e.g. because of reefs or aquatic monsters? Perhaps navigable rivers from a central plateau make travel easy - except from the last stretch, where goods or ships have to be lifted onto and down from the plateau, e.g. through a series of sluices? Whatever the reason, this country succeeds in maintaining its neutrality because everybody benefits from the trade. The plateau may even hold certain unique trade goods, but it is too hard to conquer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good answer. The races are completely different from the ones you chose, but the base dynamic is surprisingly similar. Good shout on the trade hub, this (combined with some of the other answers) is actually fairly possible. $\endgroup$ – Plutian Feb 14 at 15:15
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The first question is why was this fourth country settled and/or created in the first place?

If this was a place where the three countries meet geographically, then this fourth country could have started as border outposts and lookout towers close together in order to watch their borders. Perhaps after a particular part in the land's history it was decided that this would be a neutral ground for whatever reasons that the races decide officially.

That alone, would not make it a more homogenized country. But eventually people will either be forced to coexist, or willingly consort with the other races for their own reasons. From there, it will only be a matter of time before the mixing creates a fourth distinct cultural identity, and a fourth country is truly born.

As for the bonus question: Officially, this fourth country exists as a matter of mutual agreement and benefits. After all, a neutral country is a good place to hold negotiations between countries, and the knowledge that comes from all three races putting their heads together has value. It is also a good home for a noble that needs to be exiled, but remain alive and close enough to watch.

Unofficially, the secret is why this agreement was ever made in the first place. It is just that this secret reason was forgotten. One theory was that all three races watch over this area because something happened that forced them to work together to handle it. Once handled the alliance ended, and the official agreements were made to ensure that it remained handled.

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The reason this centralised country exists in the first place is a secret revealed much later on. How would the races themselves explain or justify the existence of this central country in the meantime?

I take this to imply that the reason this communal country exists is a secret, and should be amenable to a Big Reveal.

One option would be that the situation is artificial. For example, perhaps your three species are the artificial organisms that were sent to tereform a planet. The central area is the original landing zone/operating area, an aura of peacefulness exudes from it (maybe they've expanded past the natural operating zone because the colonists never showed up or whatever). The inhabitants of the planet just think of this as a natural trade and diplomacy hub.

This is a scifi-centric setup of course, but it could easily be reskinned for fantasy, just replace bio-engineers with wizards of course!

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The land is barren and worthless, vast deserts with few oases and little in the way of valuable goods.

None of the surrounding countries want it; it's not worth the trouble to conquer, and even if you do then you end up with an over-extended border in contact with both rivals and no return on that investment.

Inevitably anyone taking it ends up withdrawing eventually, and giving it up as a lost cause whereupon it collapses into anarchy again.

The locals are too busy trying to survive to fight each other. They don't care about what species you are, just whether you have anything to trade or are coming to attack them.

No-one chooses to live there. Instead a penalty for mid-level crimes is banishment to the desert either itself or in combination with other penalties. Depending on the severity of your crime when banished, you are given anything from a set of clothes and a waterskin to nothing at all and kicked out into the barrens.

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Apologies in advance for the fact that this answer wanders into some really ugly bits of Terran history.

Borders are naturally porous. Show me a border almost anywhere, and I'll be able to find a bunch of people who've settled on the 'wrong' side of it. People wander, they fall in love, they seek employment. They come out on the wrong side of a civil war; they join religious or philosophical movements that one or another leader bans; they flee localized famines; they seek seasonal work in places where the seasons are different; they set out to walk around the globe for no good reason; the border moves across you as a result of a stupid war or a monarch desperate for cash. The fact that your races actually differ greatly in ability means that each race's special skills are much more valuable among the others than they are among their own.

So... the first question to consider is what makes the racial nations racial nations in the first place (which may differ from nation to nation, of course). Are they ethnic supremacists? Does some magic force cause people to gradually shift towards the majority race? Are they ethnic separatists, for whom any war of expansion is necessarily a prelude to some form of genocide? Are they multiethnic states where the nobility just happen to be of one race? What is the role of other races in the three racial nations?

The cultural infrastructure necessary to enforce ethnic supremacy and separatism winds up also oppressing members of the favoured race(s), even if they don't have it quite as bad as the unfavoured races do. Consider the Interahamwe treatment of moderate Hutus, the Third Reich's treatment of Aryans who sided with the occupied countries, the Khmer Rouge treatment of Khmer. More recently, neo-fascists keep killing leftist Whites, and I personally have met people who've been beaten up for being the wrong race because they came from a village 30 kilometers away.

Other questions worth burrowing into to help shape this: Would anarchists even have a single nation? It seems like if they were actually anarchists they'd schism just as much as the debating society anarchists we currently know do, and for most of them "steal the neighbour's cows while he's off raiding the pacifists" is a much easier task than "march twenty days to the border so we can steal cows from the pacifists". (Which also provides a pretty good motive for anarchists to go live in the central nation - maybe they don't actually see anything WRONG with stealing cows, but it's less WORK to live in a country where you can't steal the neighbour's cows BUT you also don't have to worry about the neighbour stealing YOURS.)

How do the pacifists maintain independence? Vastly different habitat requirements? A complicated system of rationalizations such that they consider releasing rabid smeerps in an enemy warband's camp nonviolent? If it's Complicated Philosophical Rationalizations, it's not hard to imagine some pacifists deciding that it's slightly less immoral to kill someone directly than to make them die slowly through smeerp-rabies, so they'd rather live among people who are slightly more honest about their violence.

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The example I put forward is Canada. We have "the French" and "the English" and "the Natives." And many other people who have joined in the fray, and who are learning the game.

The primary way we get along is to have certain methods of relieving the pressure. These means are sometimes officially illegal but in practice they are tolerated. To some extent. And sometimes they are officially legal, but discouraged from happening very often.

Example: As I type this, there is a protest being carried out by Natives over much of the country. They are opposed to the construction of a pipeline. This is being joined in by sympathetic persons from non-Native communities. They are blocking train tracks. The result has been significant disruption of both passenger and freight traffic over large parts of the country. This is officially very illegal. But, it being a political protest, it is tolerated to some extent. The federal and provincial transportation ministers have agreed to meet with their leaders.

The result is, much of the energy and excitement and anger surrounding relations between the Natives and everybody else is drawn to these protests. It gets used up. And then a new acceptable compromise is reached. Hopefully it can be resolved without bloodshed, and without too lengthy a disruption of train travel.

Example: Periodically separatist movements gain some traction. This happens at least relating to Quebec, and to the Prairie provinces. And to an extent for the Native regions. They join, make political groups, give statements to the press, hold rallies, and such. Sometimes they go so far as to get some kind of referendum together.

The usual result is that politicians join together to look at the situation. They decide that they are Men of Principle and that the Principle they want to be most associated with is COMPROMISE. And we get a new agreement on a new acceptable compromise. We get such things as the "not withstanding" clause in the constitution that lets governments do things for the stated purpose of "national unity" even if they violate the constitution. And all they have to do is renew it every few years and say "not withstanding" and then go on.

There are lots of other examples. For example, there is a national pension plan. But individual provinces can opt out and have their own plan. There is supposedly free trade between the provinces, with no customs or border patrol. But provinces are free to insist on things like "domestic content" and quotas on imports from other provinces and provincial sales tax being paid on imported items and so on.

I recall a story about an enterprising young lad who noticed that the sales tax on beer in Newfoundland was much higher than in neighboring Quebec. So he arranged to bring a series of transport trucks full of cases of beer to just on the Quebec side of the border, and sell out the back of the truck. This was something like a 25% difference. So people were bringing their vans and pickup trucks and buying dozens of cases and taking them home. He got shut down pretty quick.

The result is, people who ordinarily would have very much difficulty living together can manage it. There are disruptions and hiccups and sometimes drastic bad things. For example, The October Crisis involved a group of Quebec separatists who got way over on the terrorist side of things. And we found out what The War Measures Act looks like in action.

But most of the time we deal with it by making jokes about each other's accents. And jokes about "how can you eat that?" And jokes about hockey. And jokes about how glad we are not to be Americans.

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The central state is a technocracy or a magocracy. It is populated by enlightened elites who see the folly of the ways of the eternal conflict of the external states. Immigration to the central country is strictly prohibited by superior technology or magic. Invasion is unthinkable due to military superiority.

The central country actively seeks and abducts citizens of the other countries that show potential in engineering, research, or magic.

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The groups in the central country have a common cultural ideology that unites them and distinguishes them from the other three

Multicultural nations generally work by having a common cultural ideology anyone can be a part of regardless of social class or ethnic group. Having a common group identity that anyone can be a part of encourages social cohesion and prevents “us versus them” tribalism reminiscent of The Sneetches. That’s how the Achaemenid Persian Empire did it, that’s how the Romans did it (Romanization), that’s how ancient China did it (and to some degree still does today), that’s how the Soviet Union did it, that's how India kind of does it ever since they fought for independence from the British Raj, and that’s how many Western nations do it today (most notably but not restricted to the U.S.). Exactly how well these countries live up to the ideals set is something that literal volumes have been written over, but in bare essentials that's the idea of how it's supposed to work. It doesn't have to replace the parent culture, but has to at least complement it (as an example, look at immigrant communities in many nations across the world today).

What this would look like in your case is while members of these races across the four countries might look like they belong to the same culture, they wouldn't consider themselves as such. Lets say these are elves, orcs, and humans for sake of example, since that's the general analogy previous answers have gone with. Elves in the central country would consider themselves to be a separate people from elves in the elven country, and there would likely be cultural differences between them. The elves of the central country would consider themselves more culturally similar to orcs and humans from the central country than to the other elves (and likely vice versa), and their subculture within the broader central country culture would likely be a mixture between elven traditions from their own background, cultural ideas they picked up from diffusion with the orcs and humans, stuff they came up with on their own after immigrating from elf land, and the general central culture background ideals that hold the country together. If these groups cannot interbreed or rarely do so as your question seems to suggest, cultural barriers would remain up longer compared to all-human countries where intermarriage is possible.

Switzerland, as mentioned in another answer, is a good example of this. Despite having people of Italian, French, and German descent, people in Switzerland don't consider themselves Italian, French, or German. They consider themselves Swiss.

The people in the central country, at least as a majority, have to want to be together based on cultural unity to some degree for the country to work. Iraq, Rwanda, and many other countries in Africa and the Middle East shows what happens when this doesn't occur. In these cases various groups that didn't have a common cultural identity were divided up together into a single country by European imperialism (or just arbitrarily assigned one in the case of Rwanda) and the various groups butted heads. This has even been mentioned as one downside to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein when talking about the long-term stability of Iraq, the Iraqi military was creating a common Iraqi identity that was keeping the various factions together and allowing the country to function to some degree.

A good example of this in fiction is the United Republic of Nations in the Avatar series. Despite being descended from Fire Nation colonies set up in Earth Kingdom territory, the United Republic of Nations are clearly a distinct cultural entity from either country and this only becomes more emphasized as time passes in-series.

When the Fire Nation tried to give the colonies back to the Earth Kingdom after the Hundred Year War, the colonies rioted because a significant portion of the population had mixed ancestry and they were threatened with deportation, and the population did not see themselves as culturally identical as the Earth Kingdom. This is even more emphasized in The Legend of Korra, where the United Nation of Republics is a technologically advanced metropolis with its own methods of government different from the monarchial Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom, its own unique styles of the various bending arts, and even differences in fashion, whereas the Earth Kingdom is largely technologically backwards and impoverished and culturally very different (though mostly unchanged from The Last Airbender-era due to government mismanagement with the exception of Zaofu). What happened to the Fire Nation is never shown.

Religion can be another way to achieve this (I mean, religion is basically a form of ideology anyway). The Abbasid Caliphate ruled over a lot of different cultural groups, including Arabs, Egyptians, Persians, Seljuk Turks, and various Christian and Jewish groups, among others. One major factor holding the caliphate together was the fact that most of them practiced a common religion, Islam, and the government put in policies to try to convert people who weren’t Muslim through incentive of tax writeoffs and other means.

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  • $\begingroup$ Great answer. Thank you for the Avatar reference, the dynamic does seem to fit quite nicely. And it's always a good rewatch. $\endgroup$ – Plutian Feb 15 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ Speaking language X != Of X descent. AFAIK Switzerland was inhabited before those languages even evolved, it's not like it was empty and got filled in from the surrounding countries. $\endgroup$ – Bloke Down The Pub Feb 15 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ @BlokeDownThePub That's kind of the point. People have been moving back and forth across the borders of these countries for millenia. The exact national identity they identify with is not based on ancestry or the language they speak. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Feb 16 at 0:20
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Sounds a little bit like Antarctica. A lot of countries have laid claim to various parts of the continent, but IIRC, following an international treaty they have all put the claims “on ice” and agreed to only use Antarctica for scientific research purposes.

So you have countries like Argentina, South Africa and Australia which would be equivalent to your outer coloured areas and the southern ocean would be the white bit.

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  • $\begingroup$ You beat me to Antarctica by a day :-). | Add Kashmir as a "country" shared by two that doesn't work at all. $\endgroup$ – Russell McMahon Feb 16 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ Ah well it happens to us all, even Roald Amundsen was beaten to the pole (by his dog team) $\endgroup$ – Slarty Feb 17 at 8:57
  • $\begingroup$ and the first man to circumnavigate the globe died on the way, the Borneoeans were in Madagascar long before da Gama sailed past, Scott got delayed by (amongst other things) having his Ponies float off on ice floes with Orcas making waves to try and wash them off, and, if the supply dump had been where it was planned and not slightly short Scott and co almost certainly wouldn't have died. | The times they had! $\endgroup$ – Russell McMahon Feb 17 at 11:24
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In the case of Spain, centuries of forced “unity” have weakened the strength/size of the separatist groups. Even the basques are assimilating to the point that most of the young can’t speak the language.

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