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Unequal Ground: Homelands and Conflict

  • Nadav G. Shelef

Although there is a deep and wide consensus that international conflict over territory is especially common and destructive, there is less agreement over what it is about territory that leads to these outcomes. Understanding the role of territory in international conflict requires complementing realist and materialist understandings of the value of territory with one grounded in the constructivist theories that dominate studies of nationalism and geography. Doing so recognizes that homeland territoriality, because it raises the value of a specific territory and provides an imperative to establish sovereignty over it, plays a distinctive role in driving international conflict. This article presents a systematic, replicable operationalization of the homeland status of territory that, because it is consistent with constructivist theories of nationalism, can be used to integrate constructivist understandings of the role of territory into quantitative studies of territorial conflict. This measure is then used to test the implication that the loss of subjectively defined homeland territory increases the likelihood of international conflict relative to the loss of nonhomeland territory. The findings that dividing homelands is especially likely to lead to conflict are corroborated by a second novel measure of the homeland status of territory that is based on the identification of co-ethnics in a territory before the border was drawn.

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