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Territorial Integrity, 1815-Present: A Conceptual History


   Department of Politics and International Relations

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

In virtually every recent territorial dispute, the concept of 'territorial integrity' is invoked, from Ukraine's efforts to repel Russia's invasion to China's efforts to exercise influence over Taiwan. The territorial integrity of every sovereign state is enshrined as one of the fundamental principles of the United Nations. But the history of this concept is not well understood. While the territorial integrity of states is widely thought of as a 'norm' that became effective no earlier than the end of the First World War, the term is much older. Within the international order of the nineteenth century, dominated by empires rather than sovereign states, what 'territorial integrity' meant was different but not unrelated. For example, in British political debates of the nineteenth century it was long considered axiomatic that the 'territorial integrity' of the Ottoman Empire should be upheld, particularly against Russia's encroachment, in much the same way that Western commentators today assume the same of Ukraine's territorial integrity. Depending on the circumstances, such a policy could be extended to other polities, such as Siam or China. Moreover, the making of territorial integrity into a principle of international law built on earlier principles, such as 'territorial inviolability', the norm of non-interference in the territory of a friendly or neutral power during peacetime, which amounts to much the same thing as long as a state of war can be avoided.

This PhD project will seek to uncover the origins of today's concept of territorial integrity, and to draw out the consequences of such a conceptual history for contemporary debates in International Relations. How did the idea of protecting another state's territorial integrity emerge in relation to particular polities such as the Ottoman Empire, and how was this transformed into a universal principle in the early twentieth century? How would it change our understanding of the 'territorial integrity norm' to view it in this larger context, and how would it change our understanding of recent 'violations' of that norm?


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