Territorial dispute

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{law, state, case}
{country, population, people}
{area, part, region}
{government, party, election}
{war, force, army}
{island, water, area}
{line, north, south}

A territorial dispute is a disagreement over the possession/control of land between two or more states, or over the possession or control of land by a new state and occupying power after it has conquered the land from a former state no longer currently recognized by the new state.


Context and definitions

These disputes are often related to the possession of natural resources such as rivers, fertile farmland, mineral or oil resources, although the disputes can also be driven by culture, religion and ethnic nationalism. In many cases territorial disputes result from vague and unclear language in a treaty that set up the original boundary.

Territorial disputes are a major cause of wars and terrorism, as states often try to assert their sovereignty over a territory through invasion, and non-state entities try to influence the actions of politicians through terrorism. International law does not support the use of force by one state to annex the territory of another state. The UN Charter says: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."

In some cases where the boundary is not demarcated, such as Ladakh plateau, the Taiwan Strait, and Jammu and Kashmir, both sides define a line of control that serves as international border de facto; but in the case of Kashmir it is a temporary solution to the ongoing strife. Although these lines are often clearly demarcated, they do not have the legitimacy of an agreed international boundary.

  • The term border dispute applies only to the many cases where a limit territory bordering more than one state (including an enclave in one state, e.g. Nagorno Karabakh) is claimed by two or more, not the very existence of a whole state challenged (e.g. the Republic of China, which the People's Republic of China regards as a defunct and illegitimate entity, with its current jurisdiction of Taiwan claimed by the PRC as its 23rd province).
  • The term occupied territories (see that article) in general refers to regions distinct from the recognized territory of a sovereign state but which it controls, especially with military forces. Even though a long-term occupation is generally maintained as a means to act upon a territorial claim, this is not a prerequisite, as occupation may also be strategic (such as creating a buffer zone or a preventive move to prevent a rival power obtaining control) or a means of coercion (as a punishment, to impose some internal measures or for use as a bargaining chip).
    • Since the latter part of the 20th century, the term "occupied territories" has, in some contexts, come to refer specifically to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, whose status is hotly disputed. It is also used for the case of the occupied North of the Republic of Cyprus.
  • The term irredentism (see that article) applies to those border disputes and other territorial claims that one party justifies on the basis of former cultural or ethnic attachment.

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