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In one world that I am building, I have a country in one corner of a continent, which is located in a side of a mountain chain, and always in winter. 90% of the country is covered in snow. That country economy isn't what can be called prosperous. The country is pacific. And let's say it like this, it is just there. For the sake of clarity, let's just call this country A.

Meanwhile, their neighbour country, B, is both economically and military successful. Its economy is based on trade, as they are situated at a cross-road of important commercial flux: two main roads and a long river. From their money they have built a rather strong army (to make sure they do collect the taxes).

Now A is not allied with anyone. My problem is I have trouble to find out which economy could A base its resources on. If they have too little resources, I would imagine that people would, after a few centuries, just leave. And if they have too much, B would certainly have considered invading them.

The context is, say Western-Europe early 16th Century.

I thought of a few mines and maybe animal husbandry (just learned that expression as English isn't my native language), which allows to pay for the import of most of food and other goods required for their living.

Furthermore I was thinking that because of the landscape (essentially cold mountains), the trouble could be too much for B to actually start annexation. A la Switzerland (though they almost always had a sizeable army to defend themselves).

Do you think that could work? Does it require to be very small? Or on the contrary at least a certain size?

Has anyone already face some similar situation?

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  • $\begingroup$ This could work for a number of reasons, including the possibility that B has no interest in becoming militarily dominant, but just economically dominant. Not every country thought colonization was a great idea in the 16th century. $\endgroup$ – Neil May 20 '15 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ Look at Norway for a real-world example. Note - the inhabitants weren't always peaceful. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat May 20 '15 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ Well as you say, they weren't always peaceful (rather famous for being bloody at some point). And when they stopped, they came under the control of Denmark and/or Sweden. With their economy essentially based on the Hanseatic League. They only got independent in 1905. But in any case it is an interesting example, thanks. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin May 20 '15 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ look like Tibet vs China $\endgroup$ – Vincent May 20 '15 at 23:32
  • $\begingroup$ Actually yes. Nepal is also probably a good example. And people still live there. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin May 21 '15 at 6:56
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TL;DR: Yes, what you have is reasonable.

If you're looking for a way to ensure Country B doesn't invade Country A, there are few things you can do.

  • Lack of resource need. If A and B have the exact same set of resources (e.g., iron mines, arable land, oil reserves), then B will only look to conquer A if its own resources are insufficient to meet its demand. If B can support itself, ship its resources to other nations, and still have excess for lean years, the country is unlikely to invade its neighbor.
  • Lack of trade need. Countries that are isolated from the outside world offer little in the way of trade. If A lacks land routes to other parts of the continent, then it doesn't serve as a economically-feasible acquisition for the purpose of trade. If A has no sea access, or the coastline is extremely inhospitable, then B doesn't even gain a viable sea-based trade center were it to invade.
  • Lack of military need. If A lacks easy access, or access at all, to other countries, especially ones B is at odds with, then B is unlikely to invade. Acquiring a new territory for military need must convey some strategic advantage. Conquering a country for the sake of getting more soldiers is a bad plan: you run the risk of insurgency in the ranks. A would need to provide a strategic location or a critical resource (e.g., the world's best weaponsmiths).
  • Lack of allies. On occasion, countries will go to war by proxy. If A were allied to Country C, and B is at odds with C, then B might invade A to deprive C of whatever resource C was using A for. If A has no allies to be leverage against or to be drawn into wars by, then other countries are less likely to invade.
  • Aligned societies. Take a look at the Middle East today. You'll find Jews, Shiites, and Sunnis at odds with each other and constantly threatening/invading/warring with each other. However, it's extremely rare to find Shiite-Shiite, Sunni-Sunni, or Jew-Jew conflicts. If A and B share a common society, then one is unlikely to invade the other. The aggressor risks angering its own citizens were it to do so.

If you combine all these, then Country A could be arbitrarily large or small and other countries would be unlikely to invade. You've addressed several of these points already, which is a good start.

With a Medieval-style setting, structures in the world are going to be made mostly of brick, stone, or wood. A is going to need access to wood if you want a lightweight building material. This can be acquired by mining common ores and trading them away. Mountains aren't particularly well-known for dense forests, but those that do exist should be harvested selectively. Stone would probably be an easier material to acquire, though harder to transport and shape. Animal husbandry is a common resource; what changes is the type of animal. Since A is mountainous, I imagine it will have sheep, goats, and donkeys as its dominant members.

So, yes, what you have is a reasonable setup. Between the dismal climate, rough terrain, and lack of strategic strengths, Country A is pretty safe from being invaded, though it is in danger of being ignored to its own demise.

Also, keep in mind that some people leave prosperous countries and stay in poor countries. Moving your family and livelihood is a major undertaking, especially between countries. You have to forge new trade partners, establish your name in the new area, and give up everyone and everything you know. Changing societies can be one of the most stressful things in a person's life and not something to be taken lightly.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your detailed answer. Your last paragraph adresses one of my point: do you think that it could stand like that for a few hundreds of years? $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin May 20 '15 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ @bilbo_pingouin Certainly. People tend to stick to what they know and don't take risks. "Because that's the way my father did it, and his father before him!" People also defend what they have. "Because it's mine, just as it was my father's and his father's!" $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre May 20 '15 at 14:16
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Country A will be poor and inhospitable and will have little population. It looks like it will be hard to survive there especially for non-natives and in winter. Food and safety will be a problem.

Invasion? Very expensive, you need to carry all you food. Toes will freeze off, avalanches will kill you expensive soldiers. And for what? No power to win and the profits can be gathered using trade or taxes along the border.

Resources? The few people there are will be largely self-sufficient. Trade goods would have to be rare and expensive. Think of Siberia and Alaska, only more mountainous. Gold, gems, pelts. Anything that can be gathered and traded by one or a few persons.

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