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At one point in the history of the galaxy, all planets belonged to one of four powerful human alliances, each of which controls a quadrant of the galaxy.What these alliances were or how they formed or disappeared is wholly irrelevant, and nor are other species. Each solid planet has been inhabited by humans, with any other life being exterminated. Each was equally matched with the others, and war was seemingly inevitable. By joining with an alliance, a planet would benefit from its trade systems. It would also offer the planet protection from assaults by other planets.

Obviously, with war on the horizon, each alliance is trying to 'recruit' as many planets as they can. Whilst the planets benefit in the short term, their citizens will be conscripted for their alliance if and when war breaks. All the planets know this, but they still choose to side with an alliance. On the surface, they say the benefits outweigh the possible negatives in the future. However with each alliance being so powerful, most planets are surrounded on all sides by an alliance, and feel threatened into joining.

One planet, located roughly around the centre of the galaxy and hence at the intersection between the alliances, refuses to ally with any side. With war looming, they insist their policy is and always be neutrality. Perhaps most crucially, none of the alliances are particularly interested in recuiting the planet. To me, this seems unusual, as it would be in a key strategic location. It remains the only central planet, the only planet even, that is unaligned. In the crucial intersection, the alligience of planets is heavily contested.

It is fairly average, not abundant in resources but not lacking in them. It is a similar size to Earth, but has a population of less than 5 billion. It is, overall, not a particularly hostile environment. For sake of environment, imagine it like Earth, but if Earth had originally been inhabited by other species, all of whch are now extinct. The plant life is similar to the oversized life of the mesazoic era. In the galaxy as a whole, technology is roughly comparable to today's, except with superior spacecraft. Traditional weaponry (guns that fire metal bullets) is still the most favoured, although certain elements of the alliance have shifted their preference to heaver armour and hammers (this is because they can be used to break objects and terrain as well as injure people).

What political or other situation would cause such a planet to remain neutral, and for none of the alliances to want to control it? I begun by considering historical or religious reasons, but I didn't get very far.

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    $\begingroup$ None of this needs to be about planets. Switzerland remained neutral in WW2 even though it probably would be strategically significant for both sides. The same reasons would hold here. $\endgroup$ – A. C. A. C. Nov 8 '17 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ Compulsory reading: Foundation $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Nov 8 '17 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Sirama, A.C.A.C. talks about Switzerland, not Sweden. Switzerland maintains officially recognised by other governments neutrality since 1815. Swiss military did not participate in wars since 1860. $\endgroup$ – Olga Nov 9 '17 at 3:41
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    $\begingroup$ I always thought people confusing Switzerland and Sweden weren't real $\endgroup$ – Nico Nov 9 '17 at 7:57
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    $\begingroup$ Jesus Christ I'm dumb. $\endgroup$ – Sirama Nov 9 '17 at 11:17
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This planet does not offer any military value

A space war is far more like a naval campaign than land warfare. In the latter, you do usually try to grab any centrally located land*. But in the former, things get more complicated.

Suppose a war between two naval powers located on others sides of an ocean, with some islands in between. Will both sides try to conquer any island they can? Not really.

Suppose an island that:

  • Lacks a major dock (or a natural harbor to build one).
  • Has no resources to host a large force.
  • Doesn't have much population to recruit to your army.
  • Has no industrial complex or any valuable raw-materials.
  • Surrounded by a few great bases nearby.

Such place will offer nothing to the invader, so why bother? You have plenty of alternatives. Look at WW2 in the Pacific, Japan and the US did not fight for every island, just for the interesting ones (usually the larger and/or those with a good port/airfield).

It seems that your planet fits this criteria perfectly - small population, no large army/industry. Add that it does not have a modern spaceport or natural resources, and the alliances will stay away. Plus, being located near the center of the galaxy means that there are many planets around, surely some will prove a better base.

Another aspect that you might consider - possibly space travel in this world isn't linear, but rather works with jumps/wormholes. In such case, the military fleets won't be 'passing by' the planet (even if it's in the very center of the galaxy), and visiting it will require quite a lot of resources invested.

*Unless it has a rough/mountainous/otherwise impassible territory, like Switzerland.

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    $\begingroup$ Also maybe the inhabitants of this neutral planet are insufferable jerks, and talking to them makes you pull your hair out in clumps. $\endgroup$ – Willk Nov 8 '17 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Will Thus you try to trick the enemy alliance into forcibly joining it. The leader lands... goes bald... gets a concussion from head-desk... $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Nov 9 '17 at 7:32
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Diplomacy. The fact that it's the only unaligned planet may just enough reason for both sides to keep it that way. With tensions rising, and war just around the corner, there will be a need for a neutral ground. Or at least, to keep the option open the (secretly) meet on neutral grounds.

As long as both sides believe there's more value in having a neutral place than the planet would be if it joined their side, neutrality may work out.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this. It would make sense for there to be some place of neutral land, preferably easily accessable for all factions without having to delve deep into enemy territory, so that if negotiations were to take place there would be an easy location for it. Good idea. $\endgroup$ – Sirama Nov 8 '17 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ This was exactly my thought too: this planet seems to add more value as a DMZ to all 4 alliances than it would as a military stronghold to any single alliance. Given also that the alliances seem more inclined to domination than elimination, a neutral ground for diplomatic actions is very necessary. $\endgroup$ – Xenocacia Nov 9 '17 at 5:43
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Balance of terror possibly. None of the alliances wants it as annexing it would be the tipping point for the other three alliances and they would likely ally against the annexer.

Being in a central location the planet undoubtedly enjoys some trade relations with its neighbours anyways and as none of the alliances dare to attack it then what would the inhabitants gain from siding with one alliance over another ?

If it's in such a central location then maybe you can make it a transportation / trading hub ? Build something into the interstellar travel mechanisms that means most local galactic traffic would have to be routed through that system. So the locals have their niche as the major refuelling/maintenance hub and as a lot of ships are docked there anyways, why not trade while they're there ? The planet is equally valuable to all alliances as-is, simply put no one wants to rock the boat.

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    $\begingroup$ Transportation / trading hub can hold neutrality for a longer time, but when the war starts, it will be a primary target for all sides. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Nov 8 '17 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ Balance of terror is unstable, and the collapse may be quick and spectacular. A transport hub would be strategically valuable, and an early target. A money-laundering or corrupt-money-hiding center would be worth 'ignoring'...but empires may already have one or more internally (Delaware). $\endgroup$ – user535733 Nov 8 '17 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ I imagine that if one side reckons they can survive without the hub, the first thing they'd do is attack it. That way, all the other factions lose out on the benefits it was providing whilst they carry on by themselves. $\endgroup$ – Sirama Nov 8 '17 at 23:22
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Some thoughts...

Bluff

It's fortunate for Planet X that they are more or less bordering all the other polities. They are able to threaten each alliance, "pressure us and we'll immediately join [the alliance you hate most]".

Trade and Diplomacy

Again, location helps. The X-ians can offer their planet as a place where trade (licit or ... otherwise) can happen without all those annoying embargoes, restrictions, and taxes. Likewise, it's great neutral ground for diplomatic meetings between 2 or more factions, where the representatives don't have to besmirch themselves to go into the unholy [rival alliance] space. A little quiet diplomacy between Planet X and the four alliances might make them see the value of such a safety valve between the groups.

Discretion

Planet X might be where the "swiss bank accounts" of the galaxy are kept, as are stolen art, dissidents, and (koff koff) "playmates". Basically, this is where the elites from each alliance can stash their dirty laundry. If such a system gets started, it gets easier and easier for Planet X to maintain independence, as they now have possible blackmail material, as well as physical custody of these valuable items.

Fanatical Resistance

To back up those other options, Planet X might have a loudly announced policy that they will resist annexation ... bitterly. They might make it clear that they will never join any alliance without being invaded and fought house-to-house, and the victor will possess nothing but a smoking, radioactive wasteland. In other words, it's possible to overcome the X-ites, but it's just not worth it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah, neutral ground. Perfectly makes sense! How Swiss-esque! $\endgroup$ – Vylix Nov 9 '17 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ Having physical custody of valuables also makes all the elites want to prevent the planet from being invaded by their own alliance and the others - after all, no one wants their priceless autobiography master tapes to get bombed or looted. $\endgroup$ – IllusiveBrian Nov 9 '17 at 15:23
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Do it the Swiss way (and then go a bit crazier :) )

Switzerland has managed to maintain armed neutrality for centuries despite its important strategic position. Switzerland started as a highly militarised nation. At some point, they were considered invincible. They also supplied highly effective mercenaries to all neighbouring countries.

In modern times, Switzerland became an international banker that gave her a lot of leverage. The country maintains its military despite neutrality. The service is mandatory for all males. Women can join voluntarily. All people who went through military training can opt for buying military issued guns (modifications will be made to convert them to non-assault weapons). The general population is relatively well-armed (about 30% owns guns; 0.5 gun per person; data from 2011) and trained.


Supplemental: It seems that the information about current gun ownership is incomplete since different sources report different numbers. The last decade also saw a strong demilitarisation trend. However, you can completely disregard this. Just base your planet on pre-WWII Switzerland and disregard pacifistic trends of today.


Your planet (poor in natural resources and not really a paradise climate-wise) could've started as a mercenaries/pirates/outcasts hub. Something like a space version of Tortuga (let's use it as a name for this planet). As years go by the motley crew of Tortugans bring their families and riches. They also tend to retire on Tortuga since its the only place where the warrants and bounties on their heads result in nothing but healthy bragging and a bit of competition. Bounty hunters also retire here, since its the only place in the galaxy where no one will mind their past.

The Tortugans might enjoy this lifestyle for a while (a century or two). But eventually, there comes a time when it is more profitable to go legal. So, they keep their legendary military and go into 'security' business. They also create a very independent and militarised culture. Every single citizen (planetizen?) must serve in the military in one capacity or another. Every household has weapons and trains children from a young age to use them.

The Tortuga now is a good place for business. It is the most secure planet in the sector which prides itself on its ability to defend itself with word or steel as necessary. The big money comes. Tortuga bankers and merchants start to finance other planets and even planetary alliances. The Bank Council makes sure that the economy is diversified and Tortuga does not depend on trade and banking with any alliance or planet too much.

At the same time, they keep working on their military. They offer nice accommodations, top-notch salaries, and lifetime protection guarantees to all scientists and military experts. But of course, they can never have the military strong enough to defend their beloved Tortuga from a massive attack by one of the Alliances.

So, during one of the galactic wars (they sold weapons to all parties, financed all parties, and provided sanctuary to spies of all parties... but it is just a rumour, nothing more) they invited all the involved parties to sign a ceasefire agreement. Oh, and one of the clauses (in a very fine print) mentioned Tortuga's armed neutrality and sanctions for its violation.

Some Alliances thought about annexing or occupying Tortuga. However, that almost unnoticeable clause can be used as a casus belli to declare a war against the offender by very much anyone in the galaxy. And they will most likely band together and do it.

So, at present times, the warring Alliances try to trick each other into hostilities against Tortuga. And Tortuga does her best to provide the best possible intelligence to avoid this unfortunate course of events. In addition to its own highly advanced military, the planet also has a protection of every major military force in the galaxy stationed somewhere next to its borders. And all of them watch each other. And no one wants to be the first to attack.

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  • $\begingroup$ Fact check: No, the general population is Switzerland is not well armed. Upon completion of the term of service, most gear must be returned. Yes, one may apply for a civilian weapon permit and keep the gun, but its capability for automatic firing will be removed first. We are smart when it comes to gun control :-) $\endgroup$ – meriton - on strike Nov 9 '17 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ @meriton, thank you for the correction. My info was outdated and apparently incorrect. I changed the answer. But I still think that 1 gun for every 2 people (including children and seniors) is well-armed. I have one question, though. I read that all people who complete the military service are considered to be a part of the militia. Is it still true? And how does it work? (just a link to some article with the correct and up-to-date info will work) $\endgroup$ – Olga Nov 9 '17 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @meriton - fully automatic weapons have been illegal in the US (except for a few highly regulated exceptions) since the 1930s. $\endgroup$ – Mayo Nov 9 '17 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ Where do get the one gun for two people from? Via quick googling, I only found this news article, which estimates a total of 800000 guns, or 1 gun for 10 inhabitants. Just to be clear: One may apply for a permit, but many don't, because they have no civilian use for a gun. And yes, upon completion of military service one is part of the militia, but only for a few years. Unless military service is delayed, or you are an officer, all obligations are discharged by the age of 30. The "nation in arms" myth hasn't been true since WW II. $\endgroup$ – meriton - on strike Nov 9 '17 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Mayo: Semi-automatic firing is removed, too. $\endgroup$ – meriton - on strike Nov 9 '17 at 23:43
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they could learn from Sweden, Switzerland and Thailand's experience in World war 2, most important is to be OUT of the way and to be EVERYONE's friend.

  1. Out of the way
    Simply put, don't block their fleet's way. Your main reason to be invaded is your strategic location, so just offer it to any passer-by. Sweden let German pass, so they were cool. Thailand and Belgium (in WW1) didn't, so they got invaded. Simple.

  2. Everyone's friend
    Again, look at Sweden and Thailand. While they let the Axis force pass, they also harboured Allies spies, so everyone just cool with them. Your planet could act like an espionage hub for everyone, a neutral ground for some secret diplomacy, a safe haven for refugees from all sides. You could also create some small organizations that align with different faction, but secretly be control by the goverment.

  3. Summary
    To put it simple, make they understand that your value as an independent planet is much higher than as someone's pawn. Give them what they want the most, then give some unique bonus that allow them to look over you.

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Suspicion

You can't be sure if any of the other three has secretly allied with this planet. If they have allied themselves secretly to faction A, recruiting this planet to other factions will cause leak of information to faction A.

If this secret alliance happens in a planet between the border of faction A and B, you can guess to whom the information leaks to, but not in this particular planet. You can only guess right 1 out of 3 possibilities.

Thus, it's better to stay away from allying with this planet to prevent information leak.

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Be the planet where the most powerful people in all four alliances own holiday homes.

So, still Switzerland, but think Davos, not Zurich.

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