Continuing from the previous article in which we looked at different regions of a single polity, and what relationships and history they might share, we now turn our attention to our fictional place’s relationships with those outside its own borders. With news that the Conservative government are keen to have an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, and in the continuing news that the front-runners in the Labour leadership election also support such a referendum, this topic is still high up on Britain’s national agenda (and I’ve just marked a stack of essays about global governance, which is helpful).

With our fictional society’s allies, the first thing we should think about is physical geography. How close our nation’s neighbours are is bound to have some effect on the kinds of interactions they have had over the years. Do the two share a land border? In which case, there are probably big chunks of land which have repeatedly changed hands over the centuries. Is there something separating the two (a sea, an impassable mountain range, an expanse of space)? How far away are they (whether in actual distance or in simple ease of getting there)? These concerns will speak to how the societies get along; is the treaty between them entirely amicable? Is it uneasy? Is it merely a practical necessity?

Example: The twin colonies of Atrea and Zantis were both founded on the same planet two centuries ago. Both ships were heavily damaged on the millennia-long journey in cryosleep, and as a result each colony evolved complete societies, social structures, and opposing moralities on opposite sides of the remote planet before ever knowing of the other’s existence. After a few protracted wars between the two superpowers, their rapidly advancing technology caught the attention of alien marauders and it was soon realised that in order to protect themselves, they must call a truce and work together.

We can see here that neighbouring allies with a long shared history are going to have their problems – the land on their borders may have changed hands on many occasions over the years, leading to disputed territories, one nation building a dam or polluting the atmosphere may cause havoc for the other, contributing to escalating tensions – but nonetheless they are forced to cooperate. How might this dynamic affect how the two colonies work together?

Now let’s place a little distance between them – Atrea and Zantis are now on neighbouring planets of the same system. While they may still have opposing ideologies, the barrier between them has meant that there haven’t been the same territorial struggles or inadvertent side-effects. How might this change the dynamic of their alliance during, or after the marauder invasion?

Another major thing to consider at this level is how these agreements are structured. Are they merely loose agreements of allies pledging defensive support (as in the military alliances in the years preceding the First World War), a multi-lateral inter-government agreement where governments agree to pool certain resources and offer favourable terms in certain areas (as in the modern European Union), or a full federal/confederal system where the sovereign decision-making power is split in a specific way between individual polities’ governments and an umbrella federal one (as in the United States, or various proposals for the future of the EU). Knowing in advance what kind of system these allegiances use can greatly inform what kind of power specific leaders can wield, and what might happen if they abuse it.

In the Atrea and Zantis example above it seems fairly obviously a military alliance. Beyond a cessation of hostilities towards one another and pledges to supply military support, neither government is legally bound – and indeed, once the marauders have been dealt with, they are free and likely to go right back to killing one another again.

Lets see another example;

Example: The Kingdoms of Bental, Canib and Yild share the continent of Xias. When the seas began to rise, the mages of the Three Kingdoms bean to harness their power in earnest, burning the trees to fuel their power. Faced with impending natural disaster, the kingdoms united – none of them could spare the trees to cast the necessary protection spells on their own each year, and it was obvious that unless coordinated between the three kingdoms, either the seas or the deforestation would lead to all of their doom. Bental had the most fertile lands where the Fyregroves grew fastest and strongest, but Yild had the most powerful mages, their connection with the land honed from decades of mountain hermitages. Finally, the Kingdom of Canib, its island chains and coral reefs requiring constant upkeep to protect from the elements, but were an invaluable place to cast the most powerful and effective magic on the rampaging seas.

So we can see here that this alliance is more than a military alliance – for the benefit of all of their citizens the Three Kingdoms must do more than merely not attack one another. They must coordinate certain aspects of their economy for mutual advantage. Perhaps the mages of the Bental and Canib must study with those of Yild to strengthen them. Perhaps conscripted forces from Bental and Yild must help relieve some of the burden from Canib’s conservation efforts, and perhaps skilled foresters and alternative supplies of lumber were sent to Bental, so that as many Fyregroves might thrive as possible. What might happen if one of these kingdoms decides that they don’t want to obey these rules – if Yild decides it no longer wishes to send volunteers to aid the upkeep of Canib’s coastlines? How might this affect the relations between the kingdoms?

We might also ask at this point, what bodies were created in this alliance? Are those who refuse to aid this system tried and sentenced by their home kingdom (who might go leniently on them), or through some independent tripartite court? Are the knights assigned to protect the vital trees, coasts and hermitages drawn from the local militia, or a dedicated order shared between the three? Are the three Royal Families the sole powers of their respective realms, or must they check their actions against the agreements with the other kingdoms?

Finally, it is useful to ask how the alliance came about. What preceded it? Why did such a system become necessary in the first place? The European Union was originally brought into being to shackle the European economies together following the two World Wars – ensuring that any EU member state trying to start a war with its neighbours would undoubtedly cripple its own economy as a result. The UN (and its forerunner, the League of Nations) were also created to attempt to prevent another World War. NATO was founded as a defence measure against the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War.

Is the history of your fictional world (/universe/galaxy/forest) one of warfare? Of empire and colonisation? Of peaceful cooperation? The agreements which your fictional governments are part of will be informed greatly by these historical concerns. We can see that Atrea and Zantis were forced into their alliance due to warfare, the past wars between them leaving the alliance uneasy and the participants untrustworthy of one another – the Three Kingdoms, however, undertook their alliance through necessary, yet peaceful means in order to achieve a common, peaceful aim. What other historical events might lead to such cooperation between different governments?