The Strategy of Territorial Conflict


  • David B. Carter, Department of Political Science, The Pennsylvania State University, Pond Laboratory 211, University Park, PA 16802 (

  • For their helpful comments on this project, I am very grateful to Deniz Aksoy, Kevin Clarke, Mark Fey, Hein Goemans, Patrick James, Jeremy Kedziora, Jacek Kugler, Doug Lemke, Eduardo Leoni, Daniel Morey, Dick Niemi, Arnd Plagge, Matthew Platt, Shawn Ramirez, Yoji Sekiya, Curt Signorino, Arthur Spirling, Randy Stone, five anonymous reviewers, and all participants of the Watson Center for Conflict and Cooperation Seminar Series at the University of Rochester. I thank Paul Huth and Todd Allee for providing me with the data used in this analysis. Any problems in the article remain my responsibility. Replication materials are available at


Many empirical studies have found that disputes over territory are central to the outbreak and intensity of the majority of interstate military conflict. However, the existing literature lacks an explicit theoretical link between the role territory plays in disputes and the outbreak of violence as well as an exploration of how the control of territory is related to conventional military capabilities. This article demonstrates that the targets of territorial claims can consolidate their control over disputed territory to improve their ability to fight effectively on it. The empirical analysis suggests that when territory is strategically located, target states are more likely to consolidate their position, while challenger states are less likely to escalate militarily. Furthermore, when the presence of territorial characteristics such as strategic location makes consolidation an effective strategy, target states are increasingly likely to consolidate as they face stronger opponents.