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She is his mother. Indivisible territory is all too frequent in international politics. For thousands of years, men have battled over the right to rule the Holy City. On indivisibility and negotiations, see Elster , 67—78; Coleman ; Friedman and Savage ; Hirschman ; Kniss ; Marshall ; Ng Accessed September 1, They would fight again in and and have faced countless crises over the rule of this territory.

As in Jerusalem and Taiwan, claims to Kashmir appear absolutely irreconcilable. See Ross Accessed August 15, Ganguly , 1. See also Bose Quoted in Ganguly , 1.

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See, e. The partition did little to quell the violence. In each of these cases, indivisibility is a central element of violent conflict. In many of these cases, the very presence of indivisible territory has led to negotiation failure. As the site of competing national and religious claims, it may seem little wonder that Jerusalem, Northern Ireland, Kashmir, and Taiwan are indivisible; how could it be any other way?

But the irony is that as intractable as indivisible conflict may seem, it is strangely malleable. Territory that appears divisible in one time period can prove indivisible in another, and vice versa.

Jerusalem was not always treated as indivisible. Although Israeli politicians pledge to maintain Jerusalem as the eternal and undivided capital of Israel, earlier leaders were willing to divide the Holy City. Conflict over Ireland too became indivisible — unable to be ruled by both the British and Irish — only in the twentieth century. Under what conditions are actors unable to divide territory through partition, shared sovereignty, compensation, or other mechanisms of division?

Given the significance of indivisible territory, the lack of attention devoted to this question is surprising. Although economists theorize how indivisibility affects bargaining, their arguments address indivisibility primarily as a distribution problem. They assume that an issue is indivisible and address how equitable distribution might be achieved using mechanisms such as lottery, auction, and compensation.

Although this is an important puzzle, it leaves unanswered why disputes that in theory have room for compromise — and in practice often do — become indivisible, all-or-nothing games. Explanations of indivisibility are also underdeveloped in international relations theory. With rare exceptions, most models of conflict treat contested issues as comparable to currency — perfectly divisible, allowing for a broad range of settlements.

My central argument is that indivisible territory is a social construct. Far from being inevitable or inherent to territory, indivisibility is a contingent outcome, one that is very much the product of human action. When bargaining over territory, politicians engage in a contentious legitimation process.

In making their claims to territory, actors use rationales that explain why their territorial demands are legitimate. Politicians use rhetoric that will build support at home or coerce their opponent into accepting their demands. In most cases, these politicians are not trying to instigate violent, intractable conflict — they are simply using whatever legitimation strategies help them further their own political interests. But once used, legitimation strategies have unintended consequences. When this happens, actors come to negotiations with incompatible claims, constructing the territory as indivisible.

Viewed in this way indivisibility is tragic, but hardly inevitable. How actors choose to legitimate their interests can either create or destroy the possibility of dividing territory.

This chapter will lay out the basics. In the next section, I explain the significance of territorial conflict in world politics. Following this discussion, I turn to definitions of indivisibility, arguing that treating indivisibility as a social fact — neither an objective nor subjective quality of territory — is particularly useful when studying territorial conflict. The Thirty Years War was driven by the indivisibility of religion; neither Protestants nor Catholics were willing to abandon claims to religious authority, even at the cost of destroying a chance at compromise.

Introduction 5 in part, over the Hohenzollern succession and the indivisibility of the Spanish throne.


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In the domestic sphere, debates over ethnic politics and abortion threaten the delicate balance between compromise and contestation that underpins liberal democracies. Actors appear more willing to negotiate over some territory and not others — even territory of comparable economic value. And even the same territory can change in its negotiability. As Ron Hassner argues, some territorial disputes have become more intractable over time.

Why are actors willing to negotiate at one point in time, but not negotiate at another? War after all is an exceedingly costly outcome, one that any rational decision-maker should seek to avoid.


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  • To answer this puzzle, some theorists look to rational mechanisms in the 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Hirschman , See Elster on issues of child custody and indivisibility. The classic example of the distribution problem — where a number of indivisible objects are to be assigned to a set of individuals — is an inheritance settlement. See Samuelson Vasquez , Luard Walter , 1. See also Luard ; Holsti Murphy , Hassner But the idea that some territory is simply indivisible — that there are issues where a division of the issue acceptable to one of the antagonists is unacceptable to the other — has not received much attention.

    It may be that indivisible territory is perceived as a rare phenomenon, too infrequent to theorize. Indivisibility may not always lead to war, but it is one causal pathway to violent conflict. In the two cases studied in this book — Ulster and Jerusalem — thousands have died in the past fifty years alone. For policy makers, indivisible territory in these cases — or in Kosovo, Taiwan, and Kashmir — stand in the way of enduring peace. Infrequency does not mean insignificance. Explaining how territories become indivisible is a critical puzzle for studies of war and peace.

    I define an issue as indivisible if actors represent the issue such as territory in ways that eliminate any possible division, and thus reduce the bargaining range to zero. In technical terms, indivisibility describes a situation in which actors represent the value of the issue as discontinuous, defined only for the values of 0,1. More informally, we can say an issue is indivisible when any division of the issue acceptable to one of the antagonists is unacceptable to the other.

    Under these conditions, actors are locked into single, incompatible claims, effectively constituting the issue as indivisible.

    Although the definition here is not novel, it departs from other definitions of indivisibility in at least three ways. First, indivisibility is not limited to the physical attributes of an issue. Fearon , Introduction 7 intrinsic value or utility. Often the physical indivisibility of an issue is beside the point. Territory is physically divisible — Kashmir, Ireland, and Kosovo can be infinitely divided — but this does not prevent actors from treating territory as indivisible in practice. And territory that is partitioned may not actually be divisible — it may not have resulted from a negotiated settlement.

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    For example, as discussed in Chapter 4, the partition of Ireland did not make the Ulster question any less indivisible. Furthermore, emphasizing physical partition obscures the ways we divide the most physically indivisible of issues in everyday life. We do not need to literally slice an object in half to divide it; we can also divide that issue by sharing ownership or trading off possession.

    Certainly other mechanisms — commitment problems, domestic politics, or misperception, for example — can lead to bargaining failure and violent conflict.

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    Third, I define indivisibility as a social fact. Indivisibility is a construction, it is neither an objective, inherent property of territory, nor subjective and reducible to individual consciousness. See also Galvin and Lockhart Time is not always divisible. Elster , Toft Elster , 36— Walter and Toft equate indivisibility with intractable territorial conflict.

    See Walter ; Toft , For this critique, see Powell See Fearon ; and Jervis See Durkheim , 52; and Searle Similarly, Hassner views indivisibility as a subjective belief, determined by the sacred history of the territory.

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    What we are interested in is not whether one side viewed an issue as indivisible, but whether all of the actors reject mechanisms of division. A return to the child custody example is illustrative. Most divorcing parents view their children as indivisible beings, but this does not mean child custody disputes will necessarily become indivisible.

    To capture the latter, we need a concept that sees indivisibility as a relational value, captured here as a discontinuous bargaining set among actors. Indivisibility is malleable. Although Kosovo may have appeared indivisible in , for instance, this was not the case in This malleability has led some to conclude that indivisibility is not a real characteristic. If everything can be divided in theory, and if an indivisible issue can be shown to have at one point been divisible, then it is not a real phenomenon.

    In a sense these theorists are correct. But things need not be objective to have a concrete social presence. It is a social fact. Yes, we divide children through the mechanism of time, but not every parent sees that as an acceptable settlement. Territory, ideally, is divisible, but claims to Jerusalem, Kashmir, and Alsace-Lorraine appear irreconcilable both to observers and antagonists.

    Rather than dismiss the problem of indivisibility, we should ask how actors come to treat issues as if they are indivisible. The puzzle, in essence, is one of construction: How do actors come to represent territory in ways that its indivisibility becomes a social fact? Introduction 9 indivisible territory: the state of the field Although indivisibility has remained largely understudied, there is recent scholarship — particularly in the literature on ethnic and religious conflict — that considers why some territory seems nonnegotiable.

    The literature falls into two broad categories.

    Pdf Indivisible Territory And The Politics Of Legitimacy: Jerusalem And Northern Ireland

    Rationalist approaches to conflict argue indivisibility results from dynamics within the bargaining process. Ideally these actors would avoid bargaining failure and the costly outcome of war. In practice, however, structural constraints undermine the negotiation process and lead to indivisible territory. A second approach posits that it is not interests but identities that provoke violence. This constructivist school argues that identities are not inherent, but rather socially constructed.

    There are two ways in which identities are constructed. First, the boundaries between actors are more fluid than the language of ancient hatreds would suggest. However natural the division between Serb and Croat, British and Irish might seem they are actually the outcome of identifiable historical processes. If boundaries harden between groups — if there are clear impermeable boundaries between societies — violence may be more likely.

    Strategic interests and identity both play a 29 30 31 32 33 Fearon ; Powell ; Walter On the social construction of ethnic boundaries see Sahlins ; Brubaker ; Tilly ; Smith Smith , ; Kaufman , See Varshney Kaufman , However, both theories also struggle to explain the key puzzle of how is it that the same territory might be divisible at one point in time and indivisible in another.