Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty
International Law and Politics
Chapter One: Aims/Rationale
A territorial dispute, in simple terms, is a disagreement about “who owns a territory.” Yet it is not that simple. In international relations, “territorial dispute” describes a disagreement between at least two parties about which is the sovereign over a territory. Currently, the most well-known territorial disputes are over the control of Jerusalem, Kashmir, Gibraltar, Catalonia, and the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. Yet there are many more.
The traditional academic literature in legal and political sciences focuses on one element to define such disputes: territory. The phrase “territorial dispute” does not do justice to the multi-level and highly-complex nature of these differences. Instead, the phrase reveals the narrow analysis in these sciences in relation to territorial disputes. There are two basic components for this partial view and the incomplete analysis it generates: the claims, assumptions or beliefs behind these studies; and the lack of an inter-disciplinary and comprehensive evaluation.
Some have gone beyond territory and attempted to include other elements. There are claims that the usual reasons most governments use to support territorial disputes have to do with their domestic agenda (for example, human rights, leader’s prestige, distracting from internal issues by identifying an external foe). Others assume that most of these disputes center on natural resources. Yet others believe they have to do with religious, cultural and/or ethnic elements. Because of these narrow claims, assumptions or beliefs, many territorial disputes spend years or decades in legal and political limbo with many negative consequences domestically, regionally and internationally (for example, arms trafficking, terrorism, violations of human rights, tax evasion, and war). Territorial disputes are multi-level and multi-faceted.
The literature pertaining to territorial disputes is prolific in at least two ways. There are scholars in legal and political sciences who explore to different depths the same differences. There are also publications around the globe that focus on a particular conflict or region, geographically, historically or sociologically defined. Interestingly (and surprisingly), there is not a single scholarly publication that tackles analysis of regional conflicts using a global and inter-disciplinary approach. The current literature about territorial disputes is fragmented. An immediate and evident outcome is that sciences do not work collaboratively and, in consequence, their results are limited by their own methodology (lack of inter-disciplinary evaluation). Furthermore, when there is an attempt to assess disputes in an inter-disciplinary manner, participants limit themselves to a particular conflict or a particular region.
This monograph brings together a global view of territorial disputes and an inter-disciplinary assessment. The global view examines some of the most controversial territorial disputes to work outward from their particularities toward generalizing the issues at stake behind the conflicts. The inter-disciplinary assessment combines legal and political sciences under a basic rule of communication: clarity, cohesiveness, and conciseness. If participants agree on the key conceptual elements, the same methodology can apply to different territorial disputes with the aim of allowing better understanding of these differences, the reasons they began, and why they continue. The monograph offers a set of guidelines for dispute settlement and conflict resolution that current remedies fail to provide.
The rationale is simple yet potentially of very high impact. Many territorial disputes remain unresolved around the world. Current solutions in law, political science, and international relations always prove to be problematic to at least one of the participants in these conflicts and are, consequently, not viable.
The key aims in this book are:
- To establish key conceptual elements related to territorial disputes that are central to the legal and political sciences: state, sovereignty and self-determination.
- To compare and contrast the many issues at stake in territorial disputes and the potential remedies currently available.
- To assess why some territorial disputes remain unresolved.
- To identify in theory the elements all territorial disputes have in common when they start and as they continue, and why a party may seek and comply with a settlement.
- To establish some guidelines for policymaking in dispute settlement and conflict resolution.