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Journal of Conflict

Transformation & Security

Douglas M. Gibler
The Territorial Peace: Borders, State Development, and International Conflict
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 2012 ISBN: 978 1 107 01621 7, p. 189., 55.00.
The recent border problems between India and China drew global attention, as Beijing and
Delhi were trying to resolve the issue through dialogue and peaceful means. A three-week
border stand-off between the two countries after an estimated 30 Chinese troops slipped
across the de facto Himalayan border they share and 19km into Indian territory created much
apprehension in India, despite the fact that China is its largest trading partner. This episode
reminds us the importance of territory in international affairs. Territory is perhaps one of the
most common, if not oldest, sources of earthly conflict. The book under review traces the
complex and dynamic relationship between territorial disputes, domestic political
centralization, democratic regimes, and international conflict. Douglas M. Gibler makes a
compelling argument for the crucial role of territorial issues in world politics.

Book Review

Gibler develops a fascinating explanation of why territorial issues are so different from other
types of international issues, and accords utmost importance to territorial issues. He
examines how these issues affect public opinion and political bargaining within the state, with
a focus on the domestic salience of territory and the opportunities and constraints this
provides leaders involved in domestic and international bargaining. The centralization of
institutions and domestic public opinion depends heavily on the regional threat environment
of the state. Domestic political centralization is likely to occur as a by-product of the state
being targeted by territorial issues. The author clearly illustrates that the issues of contention
do indeed matter, and makes domestic political behaviour and institutions more prominent
parts of general international relations theories.


The book, divided into three parts, begins with a description of territorial issues and
international conflicts. Firstly, the author explains theoretical underpinnings of territorial
conflicts and state development using empirical evidence as well as examining the salience of
territorial issues for the individual. Earlier studies have dealt the salience of territorial issues
at great length, but fall short of how these issues impact the domestic political bargaining
within the state. Gibler attempts to develop better understanding of this complex subject
through broadening argument on the effects of territorial issues. He suggests that state
centralization, the size of the electorate, and the rise of authoritarianism are likely
consequences for states targeted by dangerous territorial issues. These issues are a likely
source of national pride, and thus, the initiation of territorial dispute will often occur during
political transitions, he adds. Existing literature demonstrates the importance of territory.
Gibler goes further to explain that territorial issues change the nature of domestic political
bargaining and the institutions of the state. He argues that the militarized territorial disputes
between neighbours lead to centralization of public opinion, of the party system, and of
political institutions. This political centralization then controls the development of the state,
its regime type, and also how it fights current and future conflicts.
The second part of the book focuses on the effects of territorial threat on the individual and
the state. He explains that territorial threats concern citizens and foment insecurity over their
lives and livelihoods. Threatened individuals are more likely to support policies that promote
security, and this makes the state more likely to aggressively defend against rival with a

Journal of Conflict
Transformation & Security

strengthened military. Territorial threats not only build large standing armies but also
influence group political bargaining within the state. It also helps the executive to consolidate
power in a centralized government during crisis. In addition, Gibler suggests a strong
correlation between authoritarianism and territorial threat, democracy and territorial peace.
He underlines that the removal of territorial issues may be a condition necessary for long
term economic growth. The resources diverted to the military can be better spent on
productive assets. In fact, behaviour in territorial disputes is a fundamental indicator of
whether a state is pursuing status quo or revisionist foreign policies. If we take the case of
China, since 1949, it has offered substantial compromises in most of its settlements, usually
receiving less than 50 percent of the contested land.
Finally, in the third part, Gibler makes a case for territorial peace and its relations with
democracies. He explains that removing territorial threats also removes serious impediments
to decentralization. Further, with territorial threats removed, peace and democracy follows.
Gibler opines that links between democracy and peace, negotiation, and victory are also part
of a broader, territorial peace. States with territorial issues are more likely to have recurrent
conflicts with their neighbours since these disputes are difficult to resolve. Gibler explains
how peaceful periphery affects foreign policy decisions abroad. According to him, a stable
border peace implies that democratic states are more peaceful with their neighbours,
because the development path necessary for democratization selects democracies into a
group of states that have settled borders, few territorial issues, and thus, little reason for war
against neighbours. Thus, the proposition that democracies do not fight each other is largely
a function of a stable border peace.

Based on these explanation, Gibler proposes that people put a greater emphasis on peace in
territorial dispute. Making territorial dispute resolution a greater priority than democracy
promotion should be on the agenda of global diplomacy. Although many issues may be
salient enough to lead to war, the territorial perspective suggests that territorial issues are
especially salient and especially likely to lead to conflict and war. Its importance underlies
why territory is perhaps one of the most common sources of earthly conflict. If we consider
the case of Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, the United States and coalition forces are
fighting the Global War Against Terrorism under a desire to bring freedom and a better
standard of living to Afghanistan. Afghanis, however, sincerely believed that by infiltrating
their territory, international forces were attacking them and not freeing them, and seeking to
hurt their Taliban brethren for no reason discernible to them. Thus, it is of utmost
importance to better understand the dynamics of territory, while formulating policies.

Book Review

Challenging the democratic selection argument of conflict, Gibler introduces territorial peace
argument and outlines a theory of dispute selection that is based on the development paths
of states. Leaders in states that face few territorial threats from neighbours have an
advantage in foreign policy because their actions are less constrained. In fact, the selection
effect forces a strong correlation between lack of territorial threats to the homeland and
victories in conflict abroad. Moreover, the author uses territorial peace theory to explain
important changes in domestic institutions, its influence on the power of the leader. He also
examines how domestic political behaviour becomes centralised when a state is threatened
and how these attitudes aid the centralization process.


Journal of Conflict
Transformation & Security

Although the book is a remarkable achievement, it should be mentioned that this publication
overlooks the geopolitics of access, which is an essential element in understanding global and
regional political dynamics. When the global interests of great powers intersect with the
interests of regional powers, their exchanges have nearly always involved access. Further, in
peripheries, the impetus for progress is different, here insecurity fosters development. When
internal/external threat (real or perceived) exists, the need for access becomes important in
the peripheries. Chinas concern for the security of its borderland created accessibility in the
most remote peripheries of Pakistan and India. Moreover, the author underlines that
territorial dispute resolution should come first; however, the current phase of India-China
relations is based on a different model, where both countries are working together despite
complex territorial dispute. Indeed, commercial interests are playing a central role in
improving relations between these two Asian countries.
In fact, the authors assertion - territorial threats lead to centralized public opinion, a
centralized party system, centralized institutions, and subsequently, an increasingly
repressive state - does not augur well in Indian case. In fact, India is experiencing the
emergence of more regional parties, divergent opinions on engaging neighbours including
Pakistan and China, and so on. Similarly, despite territorial peace, military is required to
address new security threats emerging from non-state actors. Thus, some assumptions in this
book need further examination.
Nonetheless, this insightful and rigorously researched book is essential reading for all
interested to understand international conflict processes and its correlation with domestic
politics. This will certainly very useful for students as well policy makers, and I would strongly
recommend this book.

Book Review

Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy

National University of Singapore


ISSN: 2041-1944
ISSN: 2041-1944
Peer-reviewed | Academic Journal

(Centre for Strategic Research and Analysis)






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