A TERRITORIAL DISPUTE, in simple terms, is a disagreement about “who owns a territory.” Yet, a TERRITORIAL DISPUTE is not that simple. In international relations, this means in principle there is a disagreement between at least two parties in relation to whom the sovereign is over a piece of land. Gibraltar is a TERRITORIAL DISPUTE that includes Gibraltar, Spain and the United Kingdom. The previous posts introduced a brief historical chronology, mentioned some key domestic and international reasons behind this case, included references to other regional and international agents that have played (and in some cases, still do) a central role, and explored an ideal solution called EGALITARIAN SHARED SOVEREIGNTY.
This last post about Gibraltar as a TERRITORIAL DISPUTE centres the attention on why this difference is still ongoing. The answer is as simple as complex. The combination of domestic, regional and international elements make this dispute a stalemate. We have an already complex situation with Gibraltar, Spain and the United Kingdom in terms of geostrategic location, tax evasion, fishing rights, financial situation, only to name very few. If we add the European Union and Brexit the picture is extremely intricate. Although in principle a stalemate may seem negative, the status quo in Gibraltar may continue for now.
Huth explains the dynamics clearly:
“[…] very often political leaders are not willing to take risks and undertake diplomatic initiatives that will break a long-standing stalemate in negotiations. Furthermore, leaders themselves are socialized into viewing the target as an adversary and, as a result, they are not predisposed to view concessions as a legitimate option. Furthermore, […] a history of military conflict with the target can be used by the military to justify larger budgets […]. The combined effect, then, is that the idea of offering concessions and proposing a unilateral initiative to break the stalemate is a policy option quite difficult to get on the policy agenda of political leaders within the challenger. Few voices are advocating such policies within the challenger, and the prevailing climate of opinion (both mass and elite) is opposed to such a change in policy.”
“[…] leaders were typically constrained by domestic political forces to be very cautious in moving toward a compromise settlement, since popular and elite opinion, and often the military, was opposed to such a policy. [...] In most situations the leader’s position of domestic power and authority was better served by continuing confrontation […]”Huth, Paul K. 2001. Standing Your Ground. Territorial Disputes and International Conflict. The University of Michigan Press.
There is always another option: to think about how to solve this dispute. This series TERRITORIAL DISPUTES intends to offer a platform for discussion. With all this in mind, I introduced the overall idea I call EGALITARIAN SHARED SOVEREIGNTY. I develop this approach in full in Núñez, Jorge Emilio. 2017. “Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue.” London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group. Briefly, all parties share sovereignty in equal ideal terms. To get to that, these parties go into negotiations themselves (not UN or any other party alien to the conflict).
Next post will introduce another TERRITORIAL DISPUTE. In the meantime, links to some informative sites and the previous posts about the Falkland/Malvinas islands below.
For an interactive map of TERRITORIAL DISPUTES see
For current information about TERRITORIAL DISPUTES see CIA’s The World Factbook at:
Previous posts of the TERRITORIAL DISPUTE series (only about the Gibraltar below):
Jorge Emilio Nunez
20th April 2018