The Influence of Geopolitical Factors on National Boundaries

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

Why do some countries' borders have almost no controls while others are protected by military forces and look like fortresses? In this lesson, you'll learn about national boundaries and explore how geopolitical factors can affect them.

National Boundaries

Some countries have boundaries defined by nature, others are arbitrarily established lines. Some governments have little or no restrictions on going to or coming from a neighbor, while others have built walls to protect their borders. Geopolitics have a lot of influence on how a country deals with its boundaries.

A boundary is a physical or imaginary barrier that separates two things. National boundaries refer to different borders that outline the territory of a country.

While national boundaries are basically a political denomination, they can be defined by geographical barriers, cultural differences or arbitrary political decisions. That is why we find some boundaries that are straight lines, some boundaries that are very sinuous curves and some boundaries that follow rivers, mountains and coastlines.

Let's take a look at a few examples:

  • United States and Canada share the longest common border in the world, spanning over 5,500 miles, from Alaska all the way to the Atlantic coast. A large part of the boundary is a straight line set at the 49th parallel, which was defined in 1818 between the United States and Great Britain at a time when both nations were expanding west.
  • In South America, the national boundaries of Chile are the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, Bolivia and Peru to the north and Argentina to the east. With Argentina, the border is defined by the peaks of the Andean mountains.
  • After World War II, Germany's boundaries were redefined and the eastern border, shared with Poland was set by the course of the Oder River. West of this river is Germany and east is Poland.
  • When a country is formed by islands, like Micronesia in the Pacific, boundaries are defined by water. However, national boundaries go beyond the coastline and this nation has sovereignty over ocean waters that limit with those under the control of other nations, like the United States' Mariana and Marshall Islands.

The Oder River, boundary between Germany and Poland
Oder River

Geopolitical Factors Affecting National Boundaries

Geopolitics refer to the different geographic (either physical or human) influences on political and international relations. The term was first used in the early 20th century by the Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellen.

Different geographic influences, or geopolitical factors, can impact the way a country handles or even defines its national boundaries.

Geopolitical Factors and Border Policies

When neighboring nations share similar political, economic and social conditions, integration is often an important geopolitical factor. Gradually, national boundaries become virtual lines for mere demarcation, visible but with almost no impact on markets and the lives of people on both sides.

The best example is probably the European Union. These nations have gone through a long process of regional integration and now enjoy many commercial agreements and share open borders. The lines are sometimes physically indicated but transit is not restricted in any way. If you happen to be in a border town and don't pay attention, you might end up in another country.

Bridge at the border between Portugal and Spain
Bridge crossing from Portugal into Spain

Sometimes, integration might not be as deep but there are still many common grounds. The socioeconomic similarities are a factor that tend to make boundaries work as porous lines. They allow trade and traffic under some controls but without strong restrictions.

For example, the Argentinian boundaries. Borders are indicated and there are checkpoints for crossing. However, trade with neighboring Brazil and Chile moves easily, requiring only simple customs paperwork. Similarly, people can move freely from one country into the other with nothing more than an identity document.

Strong economic, cultural or political differences are all factors that cause boundaries to become physical dividing lines. Borders are often a priority for national security and sovereignty and are usually guarded by military or other special armed forces.

There have been political tensions between Israel and Palestine since Israel was established. Palestine is not officially recognized as a country, but both parties claim sovereignty over several territories. The conflict has escalated to war several times. To protect the territory, Israel has militarized its borders and has built walls at sections of the Palestinian borderline.

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