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Classification of borders Political borders are nonphysical fiat boundaries imposed on the world through human agency.<ref>Robinson, Edward Heath. Reexamining Fiat, Bona Fide and Force Dynamic Boundaries for Geopolitical Entities and their Placement in DOLCE Applied Ontology 2012 7: pp. 93–108</ref> This means that, although a political border may follow a river or mountain range, such a feature is not itself the border. Nevertheless, borders are often classified by whether or not they follow conspicuous physical features on the earth.

Natural borders

A photograph of the FranceItaly border at night. The southwestern end of the Alps separates the two countries.

Natural borders are geographical features that present natural obstacles to communication and transport. Existing political borders are often a formalization of these historical, natural obstacles.

Some geographical features that often constitute natural borders are:

  • Oceans: oceans create very costly natural borders. Very few nation-states span more than one continent. Only very large and resource-rich states are able to sustain the costs of governance across oceans for longer periods of time.
  • Rivers: some political borders have been formalized along natural borders formed by rivers. Some examples are; the Niagara River border (Canada–USA), the Rio Grande border (Mexico–USA), the Rhine border (France–Germany), and the Mekong border (Thailand–Laos). Where a precise line is desired, it is often drawn along the Thalweg, the deepest line along the river. In the Hebrew Bible, Moses defined the middle of the river Arnon as the border between Moab and the Israelite tribes settling east of the river Jordan (). The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1910 that the boundary between the American states of Maryland and West Virginia is the south bank of the Potomac River.
  • Lakes: larger lakes create natural borders. One example is the natural border created by Lake Tanganyika, with DR Congo and Zambia on its west shore and Tanzania and Burundi on the east.
  • Forests: denser jungles or forests can create strong natural borders. One example of a natural forest border is the Amazon rainforest, separating Brazil and Bolivia from Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and Guyana.
  • Mountain ranges: research on borders suggests that mountains have especially strong effects as natural borders. Many nations in Europe and Asia have had their political borders defined along mountain ranges, often along a drainage divide.

Throughout history, technological advances have reduced the costs of transport and communication across these natural borders. This has reduced the significance of natural borders over time. As a result, political borders that have been formalized more recently — such as those in Africa or Americas — typically conform less to natural borders{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }} than very old borders — such as those in Europe or Asia — do.

Geometric borders

Geometric boundaries are formed by arcs or lines (such as lines of latitude or longitude) regardless of the physical and culture features of the earth. Political boundaries of this kind can often be found around the states that developed out of colonial holdings, such as in Africa and the Middle East.

Relict borders

A relict border is one that no longer functions and there for may no longer be a legal boundary at all. However, the former presence of the boundary can still be seen in the landscape. For instance, the boundary between East and West Germany no longer has any legal existence, but can still be seen because of historical markers on the landscape and continues to be a cultural and economic division in Germany today.


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Intro  Definitions  Classification of borders  Maritime borders  Border economics  Politics  Cross-border regions  Border studies  Image gallery  See also  References  Further reading  External links  

Classification of borders
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