Coding Disputes

As a large portion of my honors thesis, I will be using a large n database to conduct quantitative comparisons across different territorial disputes. Before I am able to do the tests, however, I must first complete my database and code every dispute (since 1949) to test my hypotheses. As I have done so, I have run up against a number of difficult coding decisions that could potentially change the face of my dataset and, through that, my results. Here are some of the questions that I face:

  • How do I deal with disputes that involve colonies that then become independent? Are there two separate disputes, for example, between Tunisia and France and Tunisia and Algeria?
  • I would like to include the effect of differences in government institutions in my comparisons, so how should I deal with changes in governments? For example, should there be a separate dispute between Iran and Iraq after the Shah was overthrown?
  • How do you define a dispute that is solved through military action? The truth is while many disputes reached their current status quo through war, they are only considered solved after a peace treaty or the like is signed, thus, in some ways, ending “peacefully”.
  • In comparing the cultures of disputing countries, should I consider the culture of the majority or of the governing people. For instance, Iraq was ruled by Sunnis under Saddam Hussein for decades, but the majority of the population is Shia.
  • Since disputes drag on for years and even decades, how should I measure the effect of trade on the solution to territorial disputes? Should I just look at the trade amount before a change in status quo, or should I take the average over a period of time (as a percent of total trade)?
  • At an existential level, what constitutes a dispute? Does it take official disagreement or just different views of their border (for example, China and North Korea have different territory markers, but they don’t publicly argue over them)?
  • Finally, should disputes over ocean territory be included? While they are certainly disputes, they do not carry the weight of disputes over land or islands. Also, scholars have not included them in databases in past research.

In the end, following advice from my research advisor, I plan to make the most specific, smallest bits of database that I am able to find information for. Then, depending on the variable I am measuring, I will decide whether to combine or separate disputes. For instance, if I am looking at the effect of government institutions on territorial disputes, I will separate disputes by changes in government like the change of South and North Vietnam into Vietnam. However, if I am examining the effect of culture, I will treat it as one continuous dispute. At this point, I will just have to wait and see what challenges pop up as I conduct tests and continue to research.