Free A Frontier, In Contrast To A Boundary,, The Spaces Between Nations


Lt General H S Panag

Lt Gen H S Panag was General Officer Commanding in Chief (GOC in C) of Army”s Northern Command and Central Command. After retiring in December 2008, the General served as a Member of the Armed Forces Tribunal with the status of a high court judge till December 2013. LESS … MORE

The Spaces Between Nations-Frontier, Border, Boundary and international boundary are terms used to describe the in-between space between contiguous nation states in ascending order of legitimacy and international acceptance. Sir Henry McMahon, Foreign Secretary of British India and negotiator of the McMahon

Line had once said: “A frontier is a wide tract of border land which by virtue of its ruggedness or other difficulty, served as a buffer between two states.

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A boundary is a clearly defined line expressed either as verbal description (delimited), or as a series of physical marks on the ground.”

In between the terms frontier and international boundary rests the term border, which more often than not is created as an interim measure during the transition of a frontier into an international boundary. It can be defined as a mutually-accepted line or zone — more often the latter — established to maintain status quo, pending a final settlement of the erstwhile frontier region in form of delimited international boundary via negotiations or failing which, by conflict.

There is a tendency to use these terms synonymously without understanding their geostrategic implications, which can be traced back to the evolution of the nation states. Political and military control are intrinsically linked to each other and began with the heartland and extended outwards to the frontier regions where population was sparse, terrain difficult, communications poor and little or no economic activity.

Competitive conflict among nations began over control of the frontier regions. With development, better communications, economic opportunities and at times for sheer prestige, contiguous nations jostled to seize control of the frontier regions. This competitive conflict — varying in intensity from flag markingto war — leads to the creation of a border. At times after partition of states, disputed territory without having been a frontier region per se may be treated as a border.

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In recent history, borders (barring minor adjustments) rarely change and eventually get converted into international boundaries through mutual agreements.

Since the root cause is primordial in nature, this process takes a long time. Borders get established, even when claims are very rigid, for trade and passage. Along the borders, nations continue to strive for a position of advantage to reinforce their claims or to cause embarrassment to each other as part of the omnipresent competitive conflict.

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As a result, a border has to be defended at a phenomenal cost. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) with Tibet and Line of Control (LOC) with Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir are classic examples of borders even though the latter was created as a result of partition and three wars. The difference in terminology is that the former came into being based upon the actual positions held by troops after the war in 1962, while the latter was settled along the United Nations- brokered Ceasefire Line of 1949, which was upheld after 1965 and was changed marginally post-1971, when status quo was maintained with respect to gains and losses.


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