Territorial disputes: Crimea (Part 13) [Post 78]

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. The Israel-Palestine difference includes Israel, Palestine, the region and, to an extent, many other people around the world. The previous posts introduced a brief historical chronology, mentioned some key domestic and international reasons behind this case, and included references to other regional and international agents that have played (and in some cases, still do) a central role.

With the previous cases covered by this series (Kashmir, the Falkland/Malvinas islands, Gibraltar and the Israel-Palestine difference) we explored an ideal solution called EGALITARIAN SHARED SOVEREIGNTY in what has to do with population, territory, government and law.

Before going into any negotiations we had to determine who may be a legitimate party. Like many other TERRTORIAL DISPUTES, this issue maintain the conflict over Crimea in a status quo. The claiming parties do not recognise reciprocally complete legitimacy to go into any negotiations about the disputed territory. Therein, the last posts introduced the concept of “colourable claim” and explored three different grounds: historical entitlement, legal basis and moral standing. For one reason or another, Crimea, Russia and Ukraine have grounds to introduce a claim (this is different from saying they have the right to be sovereign over the territory). It only means Crimea, Russia and Ukraine ought to be part in any negotiation concerning the sovereignty (de jure and de facto) over Crimea.

The reader may ask why Russian and Ukrainian representatives do not agree on a common ground to start negotiations and settle peacefully and permanently the conflict over Crimea. To give an answer I quote Huth once again below. The quotation clearly illustrates that international and regional issues at stake are many times dependent on domestic agendas (and viceversa). Briefly, the difference still exists because there is no real will to solve it.

Huth explains the dynamics:

“[…] 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 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. In short, 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).

The next post will very briefly apply the EGALITARIAN SHARED SOVEREIGNTY to Crimea  and see how cooperation between Russia and Ukraine can result in a peaceful and permanent settlement materialised by joint institutions.

Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @London1701

13th June 2018

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