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date: 20 November 2017

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: territorial peace, interstate conflict, democratic peace, interstate conflict, border stability, democratization, issue salience, border settlement, state centralization, empirical international relations theory

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