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This chapter examines the role of international legal approaches to the settlement of territorial disputes. What are the conditions that make resort to negotiations inadequate for the settlement of a territorial dispute? Why do governments make legal commitments that bind their future behavior with respect to how a territorial agreement is to be resolved? That is, what conditions make a formal legal commitment to arbitrate a dispute an attractive alternative? And, finally, why do states sometimes actually go through with such commitments to submit to third–party review of their territorial claims?
Motivating this study is the question of the role that international quasi–judicial processes can play in the resolution of territorial disputes among states. Previous research suggests that international law may play an important role in reducing the incidence of territorial disputes. Paul Huth (1996), for example, has found that clear legal agreements reduce the probability that a dispute will arise in the first place. By his estimate, some 142 border agreements were concluded between 1816 and 1990, and 126 of these were still in force and honored by both states in 1995 (Huth 1996, 92; see also Kocs 1995). If supranational authoritative rulings contribute to such agreements, then there are good reasons to expect them to make a positive contribution to settling the dispute peacefully.