Date of Award

Summer 8-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Jesse Richman

Committee Member

Regina Karp

Committee Member

Cathy Wu

Committee Member

Andrew Collins


The military fait accompli is so understudied a phenomenon in the international relations literature that even its definition is not widely known. A fait accompli is a unilateral revision to the status quo in an ongoing dispute over some distribution of benefits. Though recent work has demonstrated that faits accomplis are relatively common events in international history and current international relations, the subject remains undertheorized and empirically underexplored. This dissertation seeks to open up the conversation about faits accomplis in two complementary ways. First, it advances an original formal model of faits accomplis in the shadow of power shifts, interacting the effects of dynamic power on a rising state’s decision to use faits accomplis to revise the status quo in an ongoing territorial dispute. Second, it tests the predictions of the theoretical model against the evidence amassed in two cases of territorial disputes, China’s maritime territorial disputes with its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea, and those with Japan in the East China Sea.

The dissertation aims contribute to the international relations literature at three levels of generality: China’s security strategies, the security dynamics of East and Southeast Asia, and the growing body of work on faits accomplis in security studies. I offer and apply a coherent structural explanation of China’s behavior in the South China Sea while also providing insight into when and where we might expect faits accomplis in other contexts, and under what conditions such faits accomplis may give rise to war.


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