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The Historical Origins of Territorial Disputes

  • SCOTT F. ABRAMSON (a1) and DAVID B. CARTER (a2)
Abstract

Given the abundance of evidence that disputed territory matters, we know remarkably little about the origins of territorial claims. We argue that the presence of competing historical border precedents is central to the emergence of territorial claims. We outline why precedents provide opportunity to make claims and provide two possible explanations for why leaders have incentive to claim along precedents. One possibility is consistent with the conventional wisdom that incentive derives from territorial characteristics such as natural resources or strategic significance. A second and more novel explanation is that the persistent coordination effects of historical boundaries provide the incentive to draw claims along them. We use new data on the location of historical boundaries from the peace of Westphalia until the start of the French Revolution to show that historical border precedents drive the emergence of territorial claims after the Congress of Vienna and that persistent coordination effects provide incentive to dispute historical precedents.

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Corresponding author
Scott F Abramson is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627-0146 (sabramso@ur.rochester.edu).
David B. Carter is Assistant Professor, Corwin Hall 33, Department of Politics, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544 (dbcarter@princeton.edu).
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