Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

Brandon C. Prins

Committee Members

Matthew N. Murray, Gary J. Uzonyi, Krista E. Wiegand


It is now almost an empirical law that territory is the most important and fatal issue states fight over. Study after study finds that territorial as opposed to maritime and river claims are more likely to lead to interstate conflict (Hensel et al. 2008, Vasquez 2009). When states choose to engage in conflict by revising the status quo, scholars find that territorial as opposed to policy, regime, and other revisions are the most fatal (Ghosen, Palmer, and Bremer 2004, Senese and Vasquez 2008). However, while territorial conflict is the most fatal, the average number of claims is down significantly since the increases around WWI and the post-WWII, decolonization period (Frederick, Hensel, and Macaulay 2017). There is also evidence that territorial revisionism declined in the post-WWII era (Zacher 2001, Holsti 1991) and is declining even more in the post-Cold War. In contrast, according to the Corrleates of War, foreign policy disputes are the most common revision type overall and the most common fatal revision type in the post-Cold War era (Palmer et al. 2015). This dissertation explores interstate conflict based on another state’s foreign policy, an important, yet understudied phenomenon. Jones, Bremer, and Singer (1996, 178) define policy revisions as: “Policy denotes an effort by the revisionist state to change the foreign policy behavior of another state.” The first chapter introduces the topic of foreign policy disputes and outlines the dissertation. The second chapter examines the big picture, what foreign policy disputes are and what causes them. In chapter three, I investigate the largest subcategory, interstate conflict over nonstate actors. Chapter four investigates how this new issues type leads to conflict by examining interstate conflict when it occurs through nonstate actors after external support is given. My dissertation contributes to the literature in two ways. First, it explores a new issue space. Interstate conflict increasingly occurs because of secondary, often less fatal issues called foreign policy disputes. Second, it speaks to an increasing way interstate conflict occurs, through third parties. States often engage each other at a low cost using nonstate actors instead of having to face them directly.

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