Territorial disputes: State and its elements. Population [Post 3]

We started this series of posts by defining territorial disputes. In relation to this point, Merrills tells us that a “dispute may be defined as a specific disagreement concerning a matter of fact, law or policy in which the claim or assertion of one party is met with refusal, counter-claim or denial by another.”

Merrills, J.G. 2017. International Dispute Settlement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


This series of posts is centred on one particular kind of international disagreement: territorial disputes.

We have already seen that territorial disputes have to do with two key concepts: STATE and SOVEREIGNTY.
We preliminary defined State as a group of people (population) that live in a certain territory and have in common a government and a system of norms (law).

Although population, territory, government and law are the essential components in order to have a State, there are others elements (or sub-elements) that give it flesh: currency, market, defence, language, religion, etc.

For clarity in the exposition, we shall divide the analysis into the main four requirements and start from them:

a) population: the people that are the nation, the subjective element of the State. If we wanted to reduce the issue to its normative existence, we could say that the population of a State is determined by its law (for example, national citizen and foreigners).

As the intention as this point is to deconstruct the concept, we shall follow another approach by revising what characteristics may/may not be necessary in order to develop a group of people into a nation.

Is it necessary for a nation to have people from the same ethnic origin, professing the same religion or speaking the same language? We shall see these points separately:

  • Language:

We do not think that having only one language is an indispensable requisite for a group of people to be a nation (hence, a State).

There are several cases in which although the State has one official language, its inhabitants speak others (Argentina’s official language is Spanish but the Welsh community in the Patagonia learns both, Spanish and Welsh at school).

Moreover, there are several States around the globe with more than one official language (South Africa, Montenegro, Israel, India, Perú, United Kingdom, to name a few).


  • Ethnicity:

An ethnic group can be defined as that in which its members identify themselves with each other through a common background or heritage (real or assumed) that may consist in the language, culture, religion, race, etc. As we are considering religion and language separately, we shall focus on culture and race when dealing with ethnicity here.

Is to be black or white a requisite to be part of a community? Is it an African or Asian background necessary? Once again, there are several examples that have a direct answer to the question. In nowadays world, we observe most (if not all) States in which their population is conformed by individuals from various races and many different cultural backgrounds. Our vocabulary has even a word for such a phenomenon: cosmopolitan. The perfect example of a cosmopolitan society is the United Kingdom. Another one that reflects a harmonious merge between civilizations is Mexico. It appears that a common ethnicity is not fundamental so to constitute a nation.

  • Religion:

There are States with official religions such as Argentina, Monaco, Vatican City (Roman Catholic), Iceland, Denmark (Lutheran), United Kingdom (Anglican), etc.

Nevertheless, there are several that are considered secular States; in other words, without any official State religion: Bolivia, France, United States, etc.

Moreover, those States that do have an official religion usually recognize in their Constitutions freedom of religion so although they do have an official one, their inhabitants are able to profess the religion of their choice.

As we have seen, the individuals that integrate the population of a certain State may have (and in most cases they do have) diverse beliefs, ethnic background, languages, etc. but they still can perfectly be considered as an integrated group of people able to be a nation and therefore, constitute a State.

Jorge Emilio Nunez

Twitter: @London1701

28th February 2018

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