International Organization

Research Article

The Making of the Territorial Order: New Borders and the Emergence of Interstate Conflict

David B. Cartera1 and H. E. Goemansa2

a1 Pennsylvania State University, University Park. E-mail:

a2 University of Rochester. E-mail:


We argue that new international borders are rarely new. We propose that when states choose new borders they use previous administrative frontiers to solve a difficult short-term bargaining problem and a long-term coordination problem. With a unique new set of data collected specifically for this project, we systematically examine the new international borders of the twentieth century resulting from secession, partition, and the use of force. New international borders, we find, are drawn not according to principles of “nationalism” or defensible borders, but rather according to previous administrative frontiers. How borders are drawn has important consequences for international stability: borders drawn along previously existing internal or external administrative frontiers experience fewer future territorial disputes and have a much lower risk of militarized confrontation if a dispute emerges.

David B. Carter is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Pennsylvania State University, University Park. E-mail:

H. E. Goemans is Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Rochester. E-mail:


Authors' names are in alphabetical order. For helpful comments the authors would like to thank Deniz Aksoy, Andrew Boutton, Nisha Fazal, Patrick James, David Lake, Jeff Legro, Steve Saideman, Beth Simmons, Subhashish Ray, and especially the anonymous reviewers for their clear and constructive suggestions. Mistakes, omissions, and other assorted infelicities remain our own responsibility. We gratefully acknowledge assistance from PEPR and Lanni grants from the Wallis Institute and the Political Science Department at the University of Rochester, respectively.