chapter  3
Borderline strategies: Calibrated territorial expansionism in the game theory searchlight
Pages 19

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has pursued a broad range of border policies – diplomatic defence of territorial status quo vis-à-vis Japan, marginal concessions to China, benign neglect vis-à-vis Mongolia and Kazakhstan, and militarized territorial revisionism in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. Whereas Moscow’s territorial status quo stance in the Far East and the non-advancement of territorial claims against the NATO-bound Baltic States can be easily framed in academic discourses as classic Realpolitik, other cases confound the dominant theories of International Relations. In particular, Russia’s militarized expansion into Crimea and East Ukraine – contrasted with the absence of such expansion into other lucrative, contestable, irredentist, poorly defended, and internationally isolated regions along its post-Soviet borders in the Caucasus and Asia – raises a theoretically significant puzzle: Why do revisionist powers militarily challenge some international borders but not others, often regardless of the economic and geopolitical value of the claimed territories or the extent of legal territorial dispute settlement? The existing studies offer important insights, yet they fall short of a consistent explanation. On the one hand, upholding the tenets of political realism, empirical studies

have established that shared interstate borders in their own right facilitate armed conflict – chiefly because they increase the probability of disputes through interaction,1 opportunity for military power projection,2 and contagion.3

Territory has also been theorized as a source of military conflict and war in general due to its intrinsic value (natural resources, population size, or other opportunities from possession) and relational importance (geographic location, ethnic composition of the population, historical significance).4 More recent research – based on statistical analysis of the Militarized Interstate Disputes (MID) data of the Correlates of War project – refined these findings showing that border geography accounts for a significant amount of clustering and spread of violent conflict.5 An extensive analysis of the MID data covering conflicts from 1816 through 1992 found that recurring territorial disputes entice states to enter into competing alliances, to buildup their military power and to ritualize war-threatening behaviour.6 It has also been shown that territorial incentives enhance interstate military conflict proclivity when states disintegrate or gain independence.7