Let's say a fictional world is almost evenly split between Revolutionaries and Royalists. The continent on which all this takes place is essentially split in half (North and South). Inconveniently for everyone involved, there are only 3 direct paths (excluding the surrounding ocean) between the two halves. One is through a middle sea, another is a group of nations to the west (also split) and another is one massive superpower to the east. Unfortunately for the last route, that superpower doesn't want to give to either side, in fact, it doesn't want anything to do with them at all and begins to clamp down on foreign relations, etc. No one wants to mess with them since they're big and powerful and because if one side declares war on that superpower, the other side could swoop in and add to their troubles.

What I'd like to know are:

The overall effects (economic, political, etc.) on the superpower blocking Path 3

More details:

  • The time period, by then, is what in our chronology is around less than a century before the Industrial Revolution. Everyone is just about at that point except for the superpower which remains slightly advanced due to years of relative peace

EDIT: A lot was changed to fit the site's standards although all answers below I still consider relevant.

  • $\begingroup$ Depends on whether the "superpower" (scare quotes because a real superpower would not allow a war to rage all around it) is really equidistant or not. Historical practice says that most superpowers, while ostensibly neutral, would have a favored party and would seek to support their favorites while maintaining legal neutrality; for example, the behavior of the Unites States in the first parts of both world wars. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 10, 2017 at 13:25
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    – Frostfyre
    Jul 10, 2017 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ As AlexP points out, I think you need to evaluate why the superpower would permit war to be raging all around it. They can lock their country down all they want, but a raging war all around them will affect them both in the short term (e.g. people sneaking across their borders to flee war, or their own citizens sneaking across to make money off the war or help one side or the other) and the long term (e.g. another superpower stepping in on one side or the other). Therefore, I suggest your premise is wrong - it really cannot isolate itself. $\endgroup$
    – user13483
    Jul 10, 2017 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ I have a hard time imagining neutral empire. Empire implies someone on top (emperor, bunch of oligarchs or combination of both) who benefits from social status quo. Anti-monarchst revolutions are extreme danger to empires. If revolutionary spirit spreads to the people of the empire, it's game over. There's a good reason why post-revolution France found entire continent worth of monarch and emperors allied against it. $\endgroup$
    – M i ech
    Jul 10, 2017 at 14:09
  • $\begingroup$ So if we're a century before he industrial revolution, this puts us right in the middle of the scientific revolution, which would explain a major imbalance of power that would lead to a single superpower surrounded by lesser countries (factors that lead to a knowledge/research gap). While some might argue it's unrealistic, refusing to get involved in foreign wars happened ALL the time in Europe. The US adopted isolationism until as defacto policy until WW2 $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2017 at 14:51

3 Answers 3


In short, possible, but not plausible.

There are reasons for non-interventionism that, while not necessarily politically realistic, are at least tenable. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Maybe the nation has a large population of immigrants from both warring countries and the sovereign ruler is trying to prevent revolution in his/her own country by not showing favoritism. Take your pick.

As for the effects, if the "superpower" nation is limiting commerce, migration, and diplomacy in an effort to stave off being dragged into the conflict, the other countries will turn to whatever means they have available. Control of the sea path will be vital, as will diplomatic relations with the nations surrounding the remaining land path. Fighting will be fierce in both cases.

Ultimately, the neutral power isn't going to be able to stay that way and maintain any level of commerce or diplomacy with the other nations. Diplomacy and commerce with Revolutionaries will be seen as an endorsement of their legitimacy by Royalists. Diplomacy and commerce with Royalists will be seen as taking a side by Revolutionaries. Unless your nation can wall itself off from outside political and economic dealings, they're going to have to step in at some point.

It's possible that they can forestall involvement until the revolutions are settled, and then resume economic and political interactions with the resulting governments. This requires total self-sustenance until the conflict ends and, necessarily, a relatively swift resolution to the conflicts. A prolonged revolution will force their hand eventually.

  • $\begingroup$ Couple issues. 1. Shutting down trade is going to hurt, a lot. Most countries cannot do this. 2. Revolutionary wars tend to be test beds for new technologies. By shutting themselves off from the world, you may begin to fall behind in tech. While they may be able to flex their muscles now, in 5-10 years they may no longer be able to. $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2017 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ "Possible" is not synonymous with "easy" or even "wise" in my book. It is possible. It's not necessarily a good strategy. $\endgroup$
    – Chris M.
    Jul 10, 2017 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ @user2259716 1 if the country is already self sufficient, they can certainly survive a short external war. China cut itself off for centuries, essentially, until technology from the west overturned the old order, so there's historical precedent. 2 might be true now, but it most CERTAINLY was not true a hundred years before the industrial revolution - countries would repeatedly pop in and out of conflict, with others staying on the sidelines for diplomatic purposes or to keep complex webs of alliances intact. $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2017 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ @IsaacKotlicky 1. The nations of note could not have reached China during that time. In this scenario they are already there. 2. That depends. At the very least it would be vital to send military observers, lest you fall behind in military innovation. Even preindustrial revolution, military organization and tactics changed quickly. This time period seems to be the period in which cavalry usage changed, and the usage of combined arms replaced pike armies. $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2017 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ @user2259716 turkey in the 15-1600's was at its height. They also avoided most of the European squabbles. I concur with your second point, which is why it's a conditional in my own response. $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2017 at 14:54

Yes, neutrality in war is a valid strategy if there is enough of a disparity of resources between your superpower and the less civilized warring nations.

Based upon the scenario you've given us, it sounds like we're at the start of the Scientific revolution. Your Superpower probably has not only an advantage in native resources, but also an influx of wealth and a resulting knowledge gap. Such a society would progress far more rapidly than its neighbors, quickly becoming a fearsome presence much like the major empires (Hittite, Assyrian, and Egyptian) of the Bronze Age.

In the real world, Europe was so broken up historically with tribal/royal warfare that no one maintained a monopoly on resources or knowledge long enough to exploit it effectively. Perhaps the best correlate, both geographically and technologically, would be the Ottoman Empire, which was at the height of it's power at the start of the 17th century. Without a Russia on it's northern border or the religio-cultural strife caused by the class distinctions between Christians and Muslims, the empire might well have retained it's full power into the 19th and 20th centuries.

If you've got resource poor North and South separated by a Mediterranean, your resource rich Superpower would want to supply both sides with raw goods to fuel their own economy. Then, when the war dies down, they flex their muscle against the weak winner and expand their territory. The institutions of learning in your progressive Ottoman empire can't be mirrored in your surrounding medieval societies which are basically struggling for everyday sustenance and border squabbles.

Since most people in the warring lands would be illiterate (as historically they were), your advanced empire wouldn't need to worry as much about knowledge leaking across the border - not enough people would have the resources, background, and technical skill to replicate their more advanced technology, especially if there was a linguistic barrier on top of everything else.

The political ramifications? As an important crossroads between north and south, They would be courted for favor by everyone. If there's a threat, it's probably from the more stable Western nations banding together to challenge supremacy of your Superpower, since they share similar advantages for trade and war as the single nation, and it might be easier to play one minor nation against the other rather than dealing with a monolithic superpower.

Ultimately, though, I think your "middle" nation is doomed to fail from the Superpower mopping up after the civil war and the opposing western nations seeking to expand their holdings. The resulting collapse of the middle nation would result in an east-vs-west clash, as your border countries expand toward your superpower and the "inner" western nations (who can't expand into the middle kingdom) will diplomatically plead the superpower into conflict with their neighbors so they can expand themselves. The result of this evolution in conflict is outside the scope of what you're asking, though.


A superpower is a superpower because of its power of intervention. An isolationist superpower is not a superpower de facto and very soon it won't be one at all. While neutrality in this global war could be plausible because of cultural or religious reasons (i.e. a christian nation surrounded by countries engaged in a shiite/sunnite war), neutrality would take the form of supporting both sides at a time - selling supplies and trading with everybody, not cutting trade. War is a bussiness, and a extremely profitable one, specially if you're not involved directly.

  • $\begingroup$ "No agreed definition of what is a 'superpower' exists, and may differ between sources." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superpower $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2017 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @BobTheAverage What is your comment supposed to mean? $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Jul 11, 2017 at 7:03

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