Good Neighbors: The effect of economy and culture on the settlement of territorial disputes

Hello! Welcome to a new set of blog posts for a new summer and a new research topic. My name is Dylan Kolhoff. I am a rising Senior who will be conducting this thesis research during the latter part of the summer after returning from study abroad in China. My thesis research topic is closely related to both current events in China and my experiences over my past year in China.

One afternoon while discussing the dispute between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, a Chinese friend told me that if China fought with Japan over the islands, he would join the army to defend China’s claim. Moreover, he wanted China to go to war over the five uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. I was speechless. A smart, affable young man was willing for himself and his country to suffer the economic, political, and human life costs of war over five hunks of rock in the middle of nowhere. What was stopping his government from doing so?

I will spend the next year studying this question. I will research how factors like trade, economic power, and common languages, forms of government, and religious beliefs affect a government’s choice to settle territorial disputes peacefully or violently. By examining how these factors affect a country’s likelihood to peacefully settle a territorial dispute, which have throughout history been a primary cause of war, I hope to illuminate a piece of the answer to the greater question of why wars occur as well as uncover techniques the international community can implement to pressure disputant nations to settle territorial disputes peacefully.

I will do so by looking at territorial disputes since World War II and examing how they were settled (or failed to be settled). Once coded, these cases will serve as quantitative data in measuring the effect of trade and cultural similarities in the resolution of territorial disputes. I will face many difficult decisions in coding, such as how to code recurring disputes and how to code unsettled disputes. With the guidance of past research and the support of TJ Cheng, my thesis advisor, I will overcome these obstacles as I do real research with real world consequences.