Scholars and observers of the international system often comment on the decreasing importance of international boundaries as a result of the growth of international economic and social exchanges, economic liberalization, and international regimes. They generally fail to note, however, that coercive territorial revisionism has markedly declined over the past half century—a phenomenon that indicates that in certain ways states attach greater importance to boundaries in our present era. In this article I first trace states' beliefs and practices concerning the use of force to alter boundaries from the birth of the Westphalian order in the seventeenth century through the end of World War II. I then focus on the increasing acceptance of the norm against coercive territorial revisionism since 1945. Finally, I analyze those instrumental and ideational factors that have influenced the strengthening of the norm among both Western and developing countries.
Mark W. Zacher is Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Institute of International Relations at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. He can be reached at email@example.com.