ISA Completed, Paper Done, "Vacation" Over

The title means exactly what it says.  I have just returned from the annual ISA conference, this year held in lovely San Francisco, California

My panel was a bit of a bust.  I could have been talking about yellow elephants with pink nail polish and their impact on quantum physics and no one in the room would have batted an eyelid.  Lesson learned: either don’t change the topic of the paper you are presenting or switch panels if you are feeling so fickle.  :-/

I was fortunate however to meet a number of very interesting folks who I have no doubt will be helpful to me as I continue on with my research.  Also kudos to my colleagues Jacqueline McAllister, Rachel Ricci, and Natacha Lemasle for their excellent presentations and panels!

The big Second Year Paper is also finally written although I acknowledge it remains a work in progress.  As always, I appreciate feedback from any and all interested parties.  Please find the introduction to the paper after the jump.  The rest is available upon request.

Now that it is Monday, I am already back to classes and TAing.  Somehow the last week did not feel like much of a “Spring Break.”  I remember once having vacations… I miss them.

Disputed Territoriality and Ethnohistorical Claims: Understanding Intractable Territorial Conflict in Israel, Serbia, and Armenia

Ariel Zellman, M.A.
Second Year Paper
Advisor: Dr. William Reno
Second Reader: Dr. Edward Gibson
Submitted: 31 March 2008

Borders are central to the study and conduct of international politics. Within their borders states are normatively assumed to exercise a monopoly over the legitimate use of force to the exclusion of domestic competitors. In a stable international system, borders are seen as clearly demarcated, mutually recognized, and mutually exclusive to each state such that no other entity may legitimately interfere in its internal affairs. The former element often referred to as Weberian sovereignty and the latter as Westphalian sovereignty contribute to the defining principle of the contemporary international system: sovereign territoriality. These conceptions of sovereignty may be further disaggregated into four constitutive elements: domestic sovereignty referring to control of the internal affairs of state, interdependence sovereignty referring to control of transborder movement, international legal sovereignty referring to mutual recognition of the state by others, and Westphalian sovereignty referring to the exclusion of external actors from domestic authority (Krasner 1999, 9).

All four are critical to upholding sovereign territoriality, if only insofar as states act on the whole “as if” they respect each other’s sovereignty. Even as the international community claims to be upholding sovereign rights, boundaries, and responsibilities, it often violates them in the name of upholding those conditions. The international embrace of sovereignty, argues Stephen Krasner, is thus characterized by a pervasive “organized hypocrisy.” In his view norms of sovereignty are far from deeply embedded making them both susceptible to subversion by asymmetrically powerful players and flexible in the face of systemic challenges. He writes, “At times rulers adhere to conventional norms or rules because it provides them with resources and support (both material and ideational). At other times, rulers have violated the norms, and for the same reasons” (Krasner 1999, 24). Emphasizing a logic of consequences over a logic of appropriateness, his point is not so much that institutionalized norms do not matter but that they are often highly elastic in response to material interests when faced with an uncertain international environment (Krasner 1999, 220). Indeed, the international system has persisted and in even flourished in the face of these regular, conscious violations.

One can reasonably conjecture that this is because an increasingly immutable component of the international system has become the existing division of territory between states. International legal sovereignty once extended is rarely coercively violated and almost never withdrawn. Territorial conquest and border revision, relatively commonplace up until the end of the Second World War, has been in sharp decline in the latter half of the twentieth century. In its place has grown an almost unequivocal delegitimization of territorial aggression. Writers across the political-theoretic spectrum have attributed this outcome to a variety of factors from realist power politics to global normative development (Holsti 2004; Keohane 1984; Morgenthau and Thompson 1985; Mueller 2004; Zacher 2001). Despite disagreement as to the specific source of this significant change, nearly everyone including Krasner recognizes that blatant territorial conquest has been replaced by status quo sovereign territorial integrity as the norm in international affairs.

Yet international legal sovereignty too is weakening under the burden of organized hypocrisy. As the realm of appropriate state action is increasingly delimited by human rights norms, great power imposition of liberal values, and the threat of varying degrees of international intervention in response to violations of these standards, state domestic opponents are finding new methods and rediscovering old tactics of compromising state sovereignty and territorial integrity. The challenge most often identified is minority self-determination.

Ethnic groups are usually seen as rejecting status quo territoriality on the basis of largely material or instrumental considerations, namely inequitable access to political or economic resources or collective repression seemingly irresolvable in the framework of the existing state. Where mutually acceptable compensation or ethnofederal reform cannot be achieved, the prescription is often for borders to be redrawn and states subdivided to reflect existing population distributions. While the international community has yielded to revision in limited instances, it has almost always broken states apart along provincial borders or old colonial boundaries “as if” the territorial integrity norm still applies. These developments may be seen as unproblematic or even positive insofar as they accommodate fringe challengers to sovereign territoriality without fundamentally compromising the principle itself. However, they also highlight the new (and old) reality that territorial political entities may be successfully constituted with reference to values and ideas contrary to those underpinning sovereign territoriality. With some ethnic groups having successfully forced revisions of the territorial status quo utilizing self-determination claims, the prospect is raised that states too might employ comparable normative justifications for control of territory outside of their internationally recognized boundaries.

This inquiry is particularly pertinent to the analysis of internationally disputed territories. Broadly defined, a disputed territory is one claimed by at least two contending parties and is controlled by a state on ambiguous or problematic international legal grounds. Such territories include those deemed occupied, annexed, conquered, or illegitimately controlled potentially inhibiting the self-determination claims of its majority residents. Given that the international system poses strong disincentives to perpetuating such disputes, revisionists face rather enormous obstacles in shifting international conceptions of the legitimate territorial status quo. The end result appears preordained; withdrawal should be the norm. However, claims by states exercising control over such territories often persist lacking external military intervention even as material costs accrue and the balance of world opinion tilts against them. Why does this occur?

Conventional approaches focus most strongly on the material incentives, cognitive biases, and immediate political capital derived (or at the very least not lost) by states and elite political actors from territorial aggrandizement or persistent occupation (Snyder 1991; Liberman 1993; Lustick 1993; Mearsheimer 1994-1995; van Evera 1998; Spruyt 2005). Whether examining the outward looking politics of controlling a disputed territory in the face of international opposition or the domestic processes by which debate over control is either sparked or muted, the grounding assumption of these theories is largely that the value of territory is constructed by and derived from the conditions under which it was captured or became disputed. If domestic debate over the rightful expanse of the state are drawn from these conditions it should logically follow that favorable shifts in relevant factors should lead to the resolution of outstanding disputes by way of relinquishing state claims to the territory. Often this is not the case.

Rather disputed territories are frequently laden with historical and cultural meanings that assign value exogenous to the terms of the original dispute. These ethnohistorical claims tie the territory itself to the perceived identity of the nation. Once instrumentalized by political actors and reflected by popular opinion, retrenchment may become exceptionally difficult regardless of the externally imposed political, diplomatic, and strategic costs. Accounting for these perceptions is critical not only because they substantially contribute to domestic understandings of the “rightful” national space, but because they condition the willingness of the state in question to engage in compromise. Failure to address these concerns, just as with those drawn from immediate political calculations, can only be detrimental to efforts to find sustainable solutions to territorial conflict.

To test this proposition, this paper will engage the literature on disputed territories particularly with reference to questions of nationalism and ethnic conflict. It will also draw from my provisional work in the field and primary and secondary sources examining domestic political discourses regarding appropriate territoriality in each case particularly on the elite level. Focusing on the cases of Israel, Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia), and Armenia and their respective claims to the territories of Jerusalem and the West Bank (Yehudah and Shomron), Kosovo, and Nagorno Karabakh, I find that although each state’s efforts to control and incorporate these territories are informed by immediate political and security concerns, it is the activation of ethnohistorical claims which best explains persistent resistance to withdrawal. This analysis is further bolstered by the examination of two negative cases where ethnohistorical claims were either weak or absent: the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and isolated settlements in northern Shomron in 2005 and the Serbian government’s agreement to the Dayton Accords in 1995 thus relinquishing its formal sovereign claim to any part of Bosnia. The immediate objectives of this paper are to broaden conventional understandings of appropriate territoriality by examining the role of culturally informed historical discourses in constituting competing claims. It more broadly suggests that these claims are responsive to a larger systemic breakdown of status quo territoriality catalyzed by increasing tacit international endorsement of sovereign redefinition along ethnodemographic lines.

2 Responses to ISA Completed, Paper Done, "Vacation" Over

  1. Patrick says:

    Looks interesting.

    In addition to Hassner’s work, check out Stacie Goddard’s work on territory and indivisibility (if you haven’t already). I haven’t read it, but it looks promising.


  2. arielzellman says:

    Thanks Patrick! Checking it all out now… Correct me if I’m wrong but both Hassner and Goddard seem very much in the “Monica Duffy Toft” tradition at first glance… I think she gets a lot of things right but makes a bit of an error in differentiating between the territorial claims of states and ethnic groups. Check out my earlier review for more on this…

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