Settled Borders and Regime Type: Democratic Transitions as Consequences of Peaceful Territorial Transfers


  • Douglas M. Gibler is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Alabama, Box 870213, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0213 ( Jaroslav Tir is Associate Professor, Department of International Affairs, University of Georgia, Third Floor, Candler Hall, Athens, GA 30602-1492 (

  • Coauthorship of the article is equal, and author names are presented in alphabetical order. An earlier version of this article was presented at the Sixth Pan-European Conference on International Relations, Torino, Italy, 2007. We wish to thank the participants of our panel, especially Margit Bussmann. We would also like to thank Scott Gates, Gary Goertz, Sara Mitchell, three anonymous reviewers, and the journal editors for their comments on our work. Gibler would also like to thank the National Science Foundation (Grant #SES- 0923406) for partial support during completion of the project. Finally, Tir would like to thank the Fulbright Senior Scholar Program for support of field research activities in the former Yugoslavia related to this project. Supplementary materials and replication files can be found at


Research arguing that external threats determine regime type has generally failed to provide systematic evidence in favor of the peace-to-democracy hypothesis. We suspect that the lack of confirmatory findings is likely driven by conflating the concepts of negative (absence of conflict) and positive (mutual trust and cooperation) peace. By focusing on territorial issues and the phenomenon of peaceful state-to-state territorial transfers (i.e., peaceful alteration of borders), we are able to observe the effects of replacing territorial threat stemming from negative territorial peace (or territorial rivalry) with the positive territorial peace associated with legitimate, mutually accepted borders. Our findings support the expectations that peaceful territorial transfers remove active and latent territorial threat and lead to demilitarization and democratization. Importantly, peaceful territorial transfers are not endogenous to regime type. Our study therefore supports an alternative explanation for the democratic peace: both democracy and peace may be a function of settling territorial threats.