, Volume 64, Issue 4, pp 275–285 | Cite as

Issue indivisibility and territorial claims*

  • Paul R. Hensel
  • Sara McLaughlin Mitchell


Early research on contentious issues in world politics suggested that there is an important distinction between largely tangible and largely intangible issues. Tangible issues are thought to be easier to resolve, while intangible issues can fester for long periods of time through fruitless negotiations and repeated armed conflict. Research on territorial issues has suggested that many territorial claims are driven by both tangible and intangible concerns, though, which complicates the analysis of issue tangibility. The authors argue that territorial issues with greater intangible salience (e.g. historical possessions, important homelands, sacred sites, identity ties) should be harder to resolve peacefully and should produce more frequent and severe militarized conflict. Empirical analyses of 191 territorial claims in the Americas and Western Europe (1816–2001) provide mixed support for these expectations. Territorial claims with high intangible salience are significantly more likely to experience militarized disputes and wars. Surprisingly, though, states are much more likely to strike peaceful agreements with their adversaries over territories that are valued for intangible reasons.


indivisible intangible issues militarized conflict salience territory 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bercovitch, J., Langley, J. 1993The nature of dispute and the effectiveness of international mediationJournal of Conflict Resolution37670691Google Scholar
  2. Bowman, I. 1946The strategy of territorial decisionsForeign Affairs24177194Google Scholar
  3. Brams, S.J., Taylor, A.D. 1996Fair Division: From Cake-Cutting to Dispute ResolutionCambridge University PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  4. Diehl, P.F. 1992What are they fighting for? The importance of issues in international conflict researchJournal of Peace Research29333344Google Scholar
  5. Fearon, J.D. 1995Rationalist explanations for warInternational Organization49379414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ghosn, F., Palmer, G., Bremer, S. 2004The MID 3 data set, 1993–2001: procedures, coding rules, and descriptionConflict Management and Peace Science21133154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Goertz, G., Diehl, P.F. 1992Territorial Changes and International ConflictRoutledgeLondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Hassner, R.E. 2003To halve and to hold: conflicts over sacred space and the problem of indivisibilitySecurity Studies12133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hastings, M., Jenkins, S. 1983The Battle for the FalklandsW.W. NortonNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Hensel, P.R. 1996Charting a course to conflict: territorial issues and militarized interstate disputes, 1816–1992Conflict Management and Peace Science154373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hensel, P.R. 2000Territory: theory and evidence on geography and conflictVasquez, J.A. eds. What Do We Know about War?Rowman and LittlefieldLanham, MDGoogle Scholar
  12. Hensel, P.R. 2001Contentious issues and world politics: territorial claims in the Americas, 1816–1992International Studies Quarterly4581109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hensel P.R., Allison M. and Tures J., 2005: Credible commitments and negotiations over territory. Working paper, Florida State UniversityGoogle Scholar
  14. Hensel P.R., Mitchell S.M. and Sowers T., 2006: Conflict management of riparian disputes: a regional comparison of dispute resolution. Political Geography, forthcomingGoogle Scholar
  15. Hill, N. 1945Claims to Territory in International Law and RelationsOxford University PressNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  16. Holsti, K.J. 1991Peace and War: Armed Conflicts and International Order, 1648–1989Cambridge University PressNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Huth, P.K. 1996Standing Your Ground: Territorial Disputes and International ConflictUniversity of Michigan PressAnn ArborGoogle Scholar
  18. Keohane, R.O., Nye, J.S. 1977Power and InterdependenceLittle, BrownBostonGoogle Scholar
  19. Kugler, J.Lemke, D. eds. 1996Parity and War: Evaluations and Extensions of The War LedgerUniversity of Michigan PressAnn ArborGoogle Scholar
  20. Luard, E. 1970The International Regulation of Frontier DisputesPraegerNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. Luard, E. 1986War in International SocietyI. B. Tauris and CompanyLondonGoogle Scholar
  22. Mansbach, R., Vasquez, J. 1981In Search of Theory: A New Paradigm for Global PoliticsColumbia University PressNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Marshall M.G. and Jaggers, K., 2000: Polity IV dataset.
  24. Mitchell, S.M., Prins, B.C. 1999Beyond territorial contiguity: issues at stake in democratic militarized interstate disputesInternational Studies Quarterly43169183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Most, B., Starr, H., Siverson, R.M. 1989The logic and study of the diffusion of international conflictMidlarsky, M.I. eds. Handbook of War StudiesThe University of Michigan PressAnn ArborGoogle Scholar
  26. Murphy, A. 1990Historical justifications for territory claimsAnnals of the Association of American Geographers80531648CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pruitt, D.G. 1971Indirect communication and the search for agreement in negotiationJournal of Applied Social Psychology1205239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Randle, R. 1987Issues in the History of International RelationsPraegerNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  29. Reed, W. 2002A unified statistical model of conflict onset and escalationAmerican Journal of Political Science448493Google Scholar
  30. Rosenau, J.N. 1971Pre-theories and theories of foreign policyRosenau, J.N. eds. The Scientific Study of Foreign PolicyFree PressNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Rubin, J.Z., Brown, B.R. 1975The Social Psychology of Bargaining and NegotiationAcademic PressNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Russett, B., Oneal, J.R. 2001Triangulating Peace: Democracy, Interdependence, and International OrganizationsW. W. Norton & CompanyNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  33. Schelling, T.C. 1960The Strategy of ConflictOxford University PressNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  34. Senese, P.D. 1996Geographical proximity and issue salience: their effect on the escalation of militarized interstate conflictConflict Management and Peace Science15133161Google Scholar
  35. Senese, P.D., Vasquez, J.A. 2003A unified explanation of territorial conflict: testing the impact of sampling bias, 1919–1992International Studies Quarterly47275298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Simowitz, R. 1998Evaluating conflict research on the diffusion of warJournal of Peace Research35211230Google Scholar
  37. Singer, J.D., Bremer, S., Stuckey, J. 1972Capability distribution, uncertainty, and major power war, 1820–1965Russett, B. eds. Peace, War, and NumbersSageBeverly Hills, CAGoogle Scholar
  38. Starr, H., Siverson, R.M. 1998Cumulation, evaluation, and the research process: investigating the diffusion of conflictJournal of Peace Research35231237Google Scholar
  39. Starr, H., Thomas, G.D. 2002The ‘nature’ of contiguous borders: ease of interaction, salience, and the analysis of crisisInternational Interactions28213235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tir, J. 2003Averting armed international conflicts through state-to-state territorial transfersJournal of Politics6512351257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Toft, M.D. 2003The Geography of Ethnic ViolencePrinceton University PressPrinceton, NJGoogle Scholar
  42. Vasquez, J.A. 1983The tangibility of issues and global conflict: a test of Rosenau’s issue area typologyJournal of Peace Research20179192Google Scholar
  43. Vasquez, J.A. 1993The War PuzzleCambridge University PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  44. Vasquez, J.A. 1995Why do neighbors fight? Proximity, interaction, or territorialityJournal of Peace Research32277293Google Scholar
  45. Vasquez, J.A., Henehan, M.T. 2001Territorial disputes and the probability of war, 1816–1992Journal of Peace Research38123138Google Scholar
  46. Walter, B.F. 2003Explaining the intractability of territorial conflictInternational Studies Review5137153CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA

Personalised recommendations