Security or Identity? Narratives of State & Nation in International Territorial Conflict Protraction
My dissertation explores how popular domestic beliefs regarding the meaning and value of disputed lands contribute to the protraction and resolution of international territorial conflict. Using comparative historical analysis and artefactual field experiments, I find in Israel and Serbia that persistent popular unwillingness to relinquish claims to a “United Jerusalem” and “Kosovo and Metohija” have resulted from the extraordinary position of these territories in their respective national homeland narratives. These outcomes stand in stark contrast to Israel’s largely popular withdrawals from the Sinai Peninsula, Southern Lebanon, and Gaza Strip, dominantly valued as strategic rather than cultural assets. They also contrast with Serbia’s acquiescence to the political independence of both Bosnia and Montenegro, spaces of high concern for Serb political self-determination but relatively low territorial-cultural priority. The Golan Heights and the West Bank are also analyzed as disputed spaces wherein strategic and cultural narratives continue to contribute to conflict protraction. In doing so, I demonstrate how particular strategic and cultural narratives come to dominate public discourse over disputed spaces and, in turn, how these narratives constrain the policies states can legitimately pursue in these spaces. Ultimately, I find that popular perceptions of national identity can be as powerful a force in determining government policy as state security prerogatives.