Territorial issues have been prominent causes of armed conflict and war in the modern era. This observation has led to a rapidly growing body of academic literature on the sources, management, and consequences of such issues. Although territory has gotten most of the scholarly attention, this literature has its roots in research on contentious issues that began in the 1960s. Academic research on contentious issues began with studies on issue areas in foreign policy analysis, focusing on such questions as how the foreign policy process differs from more traditional domestic policy processes. This line of research struggled to find mainstream acceptance until scholars began adopting a more substantive conception of issues, focusing on the nature of the values at stake. General patterns of foreign policy conflict and cooperation have been found to differ substantially across different issues. Importantly, territorial issues are the most frequent and most dangerous issues in armed conflict and war, leading scholars to focus much of their issue-related research on the dynamics of territorial contention. Research on territory has stemmed from the main elements of issues theory that were developed earlier: issue salience, or the importance of the issue under contention; issue context, or recent interactions over the same issue; and institutional context, or the extent to which other actors and institutions are able to influence contention over this type of issue. Armed conflict is much more likely when the issue at stake is more salient, particularly when this salience involves intangible dimensions such as the presence of a state’s ethnic kin in the claimed territory. Greater issue salience also increases the likelihood of peaceful negotiations and nonbinding conflict management techniques like mediation. A recent history of armed conflict or failed negotiations over an issue increases the likelihood of armed conflict, bilateral negotiations, and nonbinding management. The normative and institutional context also appears to affect the likelihood of conflict and peaceful management over issues, although more remains to be done in this area. The issues literature is beginning to make important strides beyond this initial work on territorial claim management. Scholars are beginning to geocode data on international borders, raising important potential benefits for the study of territory and perhaps other issues. International legal arguments appear to affect the management of territorial claims in systematic ways, and ending territorial claims seems to produce substantial improvements in relations between the former adversaries. The same general patterns seem to hold for river and maritime issues, as well as territorial issues, and these other issue types have more promising institutional contexts. Future research could benefit from considering additional issue types (including a recent effort to collect data on identity claims), as well as studying domestic and interstate issues.
Paul R. Hensel
Krista E. Wiegand
Despite the decline in interstate wars, there remain dozens of interstate disputes that could erupt into diplomatic crises and evolve into military escalation. By far the most difficult interstate dispute that exists are territorial disputes, followed by maritime and river boundary disputes. These disputes are not only costly for the states involved, but also potentially dangerous for states in the region and allies of disputant states who could become entrapped in armed conflicts. Fortunately, though many disputes remain unresolved and some disputes endure for decades or more than a century, many other disputes are peacefully resolved through conflict management tools. Understanding the factors that influence conflict management—the means by which governments decide their foreign policy strategies relating to interstate disputes and civil conflicts—is critical to policy makers and scholars interested in the peaceful resolution of such disputes. Though conflict management of territorial and maritime disputes can include a spectrum of management tools, including use of force, most conflict management tools are peaceful, involving direct bilateral negotiations between the disputant states, non-binding third party mediation, or binding legal dispute resolution. Governments most often attempt the most direct dispute resolution method, which is bilateral negotiations, but often, such negotiations break down due to uncompromising positions of the disputing states, leading governments to turn to other resolution methods. There are pros and cons of each of the dispute resolution methods and certain factors will influence the decisions that governments make about the management of their territorial and maritime disputes. Overall, the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes is an important but complicated issue for states both directly involved and indirectly affected by the persistence of such disputes.
Marc L. Hutchison and Daniel G. Starr
The territorial peace theory predicts that neighboring states with stable borders not only avoid conflict but that the removal of territorial threat facilitates the democratization process within those countries. The strongest and most controversial implication of this argument is that the observed peace between democracies (e.g., the democratic peace) is actually epiphenomenal or spurious to the removal of contentious territorial issues between contiguous states. Building on observations within the international conflict literature, the territorial peace theory argues that disagreements over borders and other territorial issues are considerably more likely to lead to conflict than other types of issues because of their salience to both government elites and the domestic public. During crises in involving external territorial threats, opposition parties and the public turn to the government for protection and rally in support allowing the state to further centralize the regime and develop large standing armies which, in turn, can be wielded to repress the citizenry and maintain the status quo. Thus, states sharing unstable borders and experiencing high levels of territorial threat tend to become or remain autocratic as they are constantly defending their borders, centralizing their power, and maintaining their state control by repressing their citizenry. Conversely, in states with settled stable borders, they not only experience less conflict but ameliorating the territorial threat subsequently reduces government incentive to maintain a high level of centralization, thereby facilitating democratization. Thus, it predicts that both democracy and peace should form around stable borders and observe regional and temporal clusters. Empirical support for the theory has been consistently strong across a wide range of studies and researchers increasingly apply its arguments to explain a wide variety of different political phenomena. Critics of the territorial peace cite some methodological and theoretical weaknesses. These critiques highlight difficulties replicating the results of early models of the territorial peace theory, point out empirical inconsistencies related to the effect of joint democracy on conflict onset, and cite several methodological and empirical issues. Defenders of the theory argue the theory has become more nuanced and more effectively operationalized over time and that these critiques may no longer be relevant. Finally, other critics charge that the use of large N statistics rather than comparative case studies detracts from the strength of the argument of the territorial peace. However, rather than framing the theories as competitors in opposition to one another, Andrew Owsiak contends that the disagreements between the democratic peace and territorial peace may be reconciled and demonstrates how the key factors from each theory compliment the other. His approach offers a promising pathway moving forward to further deepen our understanding of conflict onset, peace, and democratization.