Historical Ownership and Territorial Disputes

Abstract: Some of the most enduring and dangerous territorial disputes often involve claims of historical ownership by at least one side of a dispute. Why does historical ownership lead to more hardened bargaining stances than in other territorial disputes? Do such uncompromising positions lead to more military conflict? We investigate these questions in this study. After developing a theoretical argument for how historical ownership may lead to a perception of territorial indivisibility, we test the hypotheses derived from the theory with a survey experiment implemented in China. We find that a historical ownership treatment increases the number of respondents who view the indivisible outcome of a hypothetical dispute as the only acceptable outcome. Furthermore, those who perceive a territory to be indivisible are more likely to favor economic sanctions and military solutions to the dispute and are much less likely to support bilateral negotiation or arbitration by an international organization.

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License CC BY-NC
DOI https://doi.org/10.1086/706047
Type Journal Articles
C-ID POLS 140 - IR
Pedagogical Note Not Yet


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