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Politics of the kingdom in the middle

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This is about my post-apocalyptic RPG The ARC Legacy (small demo available at my website) I'm having a little trouble working out the details of the current political situation. The main conflict going on in the story is between two empires, the Vaknuan empire on the western continent and the Pruthian empire on the eastern continent. They've been at war for a long time. But Cagra, one of the kingdoms in the Western continent is independent of both empires. It's located on the eastern coast of the continent, putting it geographically right in between the two. This is where my story writing problem kicks in. I want Cagra to be neutral, trading and doing business with both empires, as well as serving as the only seaport between the two continents. But I'm not sure if that is a feasible situation. How would a kingdom like that actually stay neutral? I would imagine that the citizens would always be in constant fear of one empire or the other taking it by force, or possibly becoming a battleground between the two empire. So basically what I'm wondering is if a neutral kingdom caught in between two empires would have friendly relations wih both, or would it just be isolated and self-contained? Would they occasionally help one side in battle, and the other side on another day or would it be a strict non-involvement policy? Are there any examples from history that are similar to this predicament?

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The neutrality portion doesn't seem like a super big problem to me. At least, so long as the nation isn't totally defenseless and/or the resources of the other empires are strapped enough fighting each other that taking on the third would be fatal. If they're independently minded enough that they don't WANT to join one side or the other (i.e. diplomacy won't work), and they're strong enough that taking them by force would be costly, they could remain independent.

The only thing I see being a problem is them being the ONLY seaport between the other empires. For one, that doesn't seem horribly realistic. How are these empires on different continents fighting each other if they can't get to each other by sea? In real world terms, anyway, aerial warfare is really just a support; ground forces are necessary to truly fight a war, and the sea is usually the best way to get them there. May not be totally realistic, which is fine, but that's really just a minor note ;) If that were to be the only seaport on that continent, the tactical value of that location would be immeasurable and it seems likely that the nation sharing the continent would have expended resources to take it from the middle empire long ago (or would have owned themselves trying).

Just my two cents, hope it helps at all

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The way I see it, a kingdom stuck in the middle would be one of the other countrie's protectorate. (read as bitch.) It should resent both nations equaly. I'd think of it like Texas, sandwiched between USA and Mexico way back when. Or more relivant, Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan want it, and one actualy has rights to it, even though the population is mostly made up of people who have cultural ties with the other nations.

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Historical example : Switzerland in 1870, 1914 and 1940. It doesn't have the 'seaport' feature, but in the Great War at least, it was highly strategically important, because whoeveer seized it could have outflanked the trench lines. And both sides did consider violating Swiss neutrality to find a vulnerable flank, but decided not to because of the sheer nastiness of the Swiss milita and mountains.

So from that example, Cagra needs to be very difficult to invade, unlike, say, Belgium. Perhaps it has an extremely powerful navy? Mountains with no roads surrounding it? A highly militarised social structure like Sparta or Prussia? The mountains, especially, would be useful for the neutrality bit, because it means that it doesn't have anything to gain by going to war. War against the Vaknuan empire means it can only grab territory across the mountains, which would be difficult to administer and impossible to defend; alliance with Vaknu could only give it territory overseas, with much the same objections. Better to sell weapons to both sides. Alternatively, they could be like the Swiss in the early years, and sell mercenaries on a cash-and-carry basis.

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It might also help to think of it this way:

1) In a world of professional soldiers, the best and brightest eventually get to retire.
2) They can't retire to the enemy side, for obvious reasons
3) They won't retire to their own side, because it won't really be retirement
4) That leaves a neutral kingdom, which slowly gets the best old warriors from both sides packed in. Not the place to send your green recruits if you can help it.

That's pretty much pure rationalization, but it's a possible approach to the problem that varies from the Swiss doctrine a little bit. As I understand it, Switzerland always espoused a scorched-earth policy of homeland defence, which is particularly effective but ends up being pretty limiting sometimes.

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Machiavelli said that neutrality is a bad policy. If you choose one side and the other wins, you have an ally in defeat, and one that will trust you. If you choose one side and it wins, you have spoils of war, reputation, and so forth; you also have an ally.

If Cagra is maintaining neutrality, why? If the warring powers are evenly matched, the midland should ally itself with one of the powers to tip the balance, provided that it will emerge strong enough to hold its own against the ally. Otherwise, it should choose the other, on the same condition. If neither alliance is fortuitous, the nation should maintain neutrality.

If the warring powers are unevenly matched but the midland plus the weaker power is stronger than the stronger power, the midland should side with the weaker power.

If the warring powers are unevenly matched but the midland plus the weaker power would be unable to defeat the stronger power, the midland should attempt to take territory, preferably from the weaker power; in so doing, it will become an incidental ally of the stronger power without strengthening that power.

If Cagra doesn't make a difference either way, it'll probably have no choice but to go with the Pruthian Empire. That is, unless either it has a large enough army that the Pruthian Empire can't subsume it without committing enough resources to harm the main war effort, or unless it accepts a role as a Vaknuan protectorate.

On the other hand, unless Cagra is terribly important to one side or the other, the nation would likely be victim of trade sanctions; they'd have to smuggle most things to either empire, which means they couldn't trade anything directly to the respective governments. That reduces profit margins. On the other hand, if the goods being sold are rare, it drives up the overall cost, so the profits could well go up.

What exactly is Cagra selling?

By the way, how'd you get the names? Did you make languages for the various nations?

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Possibilities:

1. Make there be other seaports, unless it's vital to your idea that only Cagra has one. If it is vital, why?

2. Maybe Cagra was the site of one of the bombs or whatever that destroyed the old civilizations, and there's still some radiation floating around. The Cagrans have adjusted to it over time, but it's enough to make any outsiders who go there pretty sick if they stay there for a long period of time. So no one wants to take it over.

3. This idea would require having other seaports, in order for troops to be transported. Maybe there's no radiation floating around now, but the sea critters were mutated and tend to eat ships that come in and out of the harbor. Maybe the Cagrans can control these mutated fishies?

4. Cagra is the place where the survivors of the old civilizations ended up. Cagra is a lot smaller than the other nations, but they still have remnants of the old technology, so they're capable of doing horrible disgusting stuff to anyone who tries to attack them.

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