Acquisitive Aggressors or Rational Risk Takers? A Study of Territorial War Aim Expansion

Farrell, Karen, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Copeland, Dale, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Sechser, Todd, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Owen, John, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Stam, Allan, Frank Batten School of Leadership & Public Policy, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the question of why some states involved in conflict choose to expand their territorial war aims when an opportunity to do so arises, while others remain satisfied with their existing war aims. Why do states diverge in their choices when they face similar opportunities to occupy additional territory? I present a new theory of territorial war aim expansion that explains state behavior, and examine the theory empirically.

I argue that territory can have two types of value to states: inherent value, and instrumental value. Inherently valuable territory is territory that the potential occupier values for its own sake: for instance, such territory may be important for strategic reasons, rich in natural resources, or of historic importance to the potential occupier state. Instrumentally valuable territory, by contrast, is territory that the potential opponent does not necessarily desire to possess for its own sake, but because it improves the state’s bargaining position vis-à-vis its opponent or otherwise allows the potential occupier to achieve particular ends. Therefore, states often desire to expand their aims. However, I argue that doing so may present definite risks to the state’s future security, and these risks can be serious enough that states will choose not to expand their aims. I note three key risks. First, potential occupiers can fear that they might anger important allies by their actions, and that they will therefore lose those allies’ support in the future. Second, they can fear that occupying additional territory will increase the risk that their opponent will be dissatisfied with the end of the conflict, and will be more likely to go to war in the future. Finally, they can fear that they will adversely affect their reputation with regards to third-party states in the system. I also note two alternate theories of war aim expansion: offensive realism, and the commitment problem argument.

I present three empirical chapters. The first is an examination of the end of World War II; in particular, I examine the situation in Austria and in the city of Trieste and its surrounding region. I argue that Tito and the Western Allies – namely, Churchill and Truman – both expanded in the case of Trieste. This was because the territory was inherently valuable, and neither side valued their alliance for the long-term. By contrast, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin did not expand their aims in the case of Austria. There was little inherent value in Austria for these states, and they feared damaging their alliance at that time. The second empirical analysis examines nineteenth-century conflicts of German and Italian unification. I contrast the low inherent value of Austrian territory during the Austro-Prussian War to the high inherent value of Alsace-Lorraine and the instrumental value of additional occupation of France during the Franco-Prussian War. I note Bismarck’s desire to avoid increasing Austria’s dissatisfaction after the Austrian conflict, and his belief that France would remain highly dissatisfied regardless of whether he expanded his aims in the French conflict. The Italian conflicts were ones in which Italy continually expanded its war aims in order to go after inherently valuable territory; despite the role of France and Prussia as present allies, Italian politicians did not value these states enough as future partners to refrain from expansion. The final empirical chapter examines twenty-one cases of interstate conflict after World War II. I identify where opportunities for territorial war aim expansion existed, and then examine the value of the territory and the risks the potential occupier state faced. I find ten opportunities for expansion, seven of which were realized. The cases provide support my theory’s assertions regarding territorial value, the role of allies, and the risks from opponents. I conclude by noting opportunities for future research and important policy implications.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
International Relations, Conflict, Territory, War Aims, Alliances, Bargaining
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