Unpacking Territorial Disputes: Domestic Political Influences and War

Thorin Wright, Paul F. Diehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


What distinguishes the militarized territorial disputes that escalate to war from those that do not? Although research has clearly established that territorial conflicts are especially war-prone, the understanding as to why this is the case is less developed when compared to domestic factors such as joint democracy. We explain that territorial conflicts are especially war-prone when democratic and autocratic states are engaged in conflict against one another. Because of domestic concerns, democracies and autocracies value territory differently, generating a smaller bargaining space. Democracies will tend to be more resistant to settlement when territory is of a “public,” symbolic, or intangible value. Autocracies, on the other hand, are more likely to value the tangible qualities of territory, such as its resource value. This disparity in territorial goals makes mixed regime dyads more war-prone when territory is disputed. We further believe that the smaller the winning coalition in autocracies, the more war-prone they are against democracies. We test these propositions among all dyads as well as interstate rivals and find support for our theoretical framework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)645-669
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2014


  • militarized disputes
  • rivalry
  • territory
  • war

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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