Enduring Territorial Disputes: Strategies of Bargaining, Coercive Diplomacy, and Settlement

Enduring Territorial Disputes: Strategies of Bargaining, Coercive Diplomacy, and Settlement

Enduring Territorial Disputes: Strategies of Bargaining, Coercive Diplomacy, and Settlement

Enduring Territorial Disputes: Strategies of Bargaining, Coercive Diplomacy, and Settlement


Of all the issues in international relations, disputes over territory are the most salient and most likely to lead to armed conflict. Understanding their endurance is of paramount importance. Although many states have settled their disagreements over territory, seventy-one disputes involving nearly 40 percent of all sovereign states remain unresolved.

In this study, Krista E. Wiegand examines why some states are willing and able to settle territorial disputes while others are not. She argues that states may purposely maintain disputes over territory in order to use them as bargaining leverage in negotiations over other important unresolved issues. This dual strategy of issue linkage and coercive diplomacy allows the challenger state to benefit from its territorial claim. Under such conditions, it has strong incentive to pursue diplomatic and militarized threats and very little incentive to settle the dispute over territory.

Wiegand tests her theory in four case studies, three representing the major types of territorial disputes: uninhabited islands and territorial waters, as seen in tensions between China and Japan over the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands; inhabited tracts of territory, such as the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla affecting Morocco and Spain; and border areas, like the Shebaa Farms dispute between Lebanon and Israel. A fourth case study of a dispute between China and Russia represents a combination of all three types; settled in 2008, it serves as a negative example. All these disputes involve areas that have key strategic and economic importance both regionally and globally.


Territory—it is the backbone of our lives on this planet. Without territory, a homeland, a place to put down our roots, we would be lost, wandering like the tribes of Israel so long ago. Territory is highly valued on many different levels, ranging from material, economic value to symbolic, intangible value. The fact that so many countries have been involved in disputes over territory for centuries should not therefore be surprising. What is surprising is why so many disputes continue to endure for decades and sometimes more than a century, when the resolution of such disputes seems to be in everyone’s best interest. The persistence of territorial disputes makes it difficult for states to cooperate on simple bilateral issues like immigration, trade, fishing rights, and joint security.

This book is about the endurance of territorial disputes, and why they last for years and years, while others are resolved over time. This puzzle is a critical question for policy makers and scholars alike because multiple past studies of international conflict have demonstrated that the presence of territorial disputes is the most important factor in explaining armed conflict compared to all other issues about which states can potentially disagree. Therefore, territory is important not only to the citizens of the countries where territory is disputed, but also to the international community of states. Understanding the strategies used by governments involved in territorial disputes is critical to working toward peace. This book is an attempt to broaden our knowledge of this important topic and to answer some of the important questions of our time.

My study of territory started not as an academic exercise but from an early fascination with maps. From the age of eight I had a map of the world hung in my room, where I would study the countries, with their pink, green, blue, and yellow colorings, and wonder why some countries were so big and others so tiny they could hardly be seen on the map. I decided early on that one of my life goals would be to visit as many of those countries as possible. Over time, some of the countries that I visited, such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, eventually disappeared, only to reappear as new countries. So far, I have visited sixtyone countries, many of which have at some point been involved in territorial . . .

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