A buffer state is a country lying between two rival or potentially hostile great powers. Its existence can sometimes be thought to prevent conflict between them. A buffer state is sometimes a mutually agreed upon area lying between two greater powers, which is demilitarized in the sense of not hosting the military of either power (though it will usually have its own military forces). The invasion of a buffer state by one of the powers surrounding it will often result in war between the powers.
Research shows that buffer states are significantly more likely to be conquered and occupied than are nonbuffer states. This is because "states that great powers have an interest in preserving—buffer states—are in fact in a high-risk group for death. Regional or great powers surrounding buffer states face a strategic imperative to take over buffer states: if these powers fail to act against the buffer, they fear that their opponent will take it over in their stead. By contrast, these concerns do not apply to nonbuffer states, where powers face no competition for influence or control."
Buffer states, when authentically independent, typically pursue a neutralist foreign policy, which distinguishes them from satellite states. The concept of buffer states is part of a theory of the balance of power that entered European strategic and diplomatic thinking in the 18th century.
- Multiple buffer states played major roles during Roman–Persian Wars (66 BC – 628 AD).
- North Korea during and after the Cold War, seen by some analysts as a buffer state between the military forces of China and U.S. forces in South Korea, Japan and U.S. fleet in Taiwan.
- Manchuria was a pro-Japanese buffer state between the Empire of Japan, the Soviet Union, and Republic of China during World War II.
- Siam, whose king had to surrender his country's hegemony over Laos and Cambodia and to grant commercial concessions to France but managed to retain independence as a buffer state between British Raj, British Malaya, and the French Indochina.
- Korea was acting a buffer zone between the growing superpower, Empire of Japan and the northern mainland neighbor, Russian Empire.
- The Far Eastern Republic was a formally independent state created to act as a buffer between Bolshevik Russia and the Empire of Japan.
- Afghanistan was a buffer state between the British Empire (which ruled much of South Asia) and the Russian Empire (which ruled much of Central Asia) during the Anglo–Russian conflicts in Asia during the 19th century, with the Wakhan Corridor later extending the buffer eastwards to the Chinese border.
- The Himalayan nations of Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim were buffer-states between the British Empire and China, later between China and India, which in 1962 fought the Sino-Indian War in places where the two regional powers bordered each other.
- Mongolia, acted as a buffer between the Soviet Union and China until 1991 and currently serves as a buffer between Russia and China.
- Armenia was a frequently contested buffer between the Roman Empire (as well as the later Byzantine Empire) and the various Persian and Muslim states.
- Lebanon is a buffer state between Israel and Syria.
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Chapter 25: Destruction of the Buffer States between Germany and the Soviet Union.
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Moscow's German Problem before Detente - The Federal Republic - In 1945, the major Soviet preoccupation was to prevent any future German attack; hence the imposition of Soviet-controlled governments in a ring of buffer states between Germany and the USSR.
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Washington has a deep-seated interest in ending this conflict and maintaining Ukraine as a sovereign buffer state between Russia and NATO.
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Instead of rushing to back the demonstrators who ousted the former president, Viktor Yanukovych, the United States and its European allies should have worked cooperatively with Moscow to craft a deal that would have preserved Ukraine’s status as an independent but neutral buffer state.