Territorial disputes: State and its elements. Territory [Post 4]

In order to better understand territorial disputes, we started the analysis by broadly introducing two key concepts: STATE and SOVEREIGNTY.Although population, territory, government and law are the essential components in order to have a State, there are other elements (or sub-elements): currency, market, defense, language, religion, etc.We started with POPULATION in our last post. It is now time to cover TERRITORY.

b) territory: an area possessed by the population (in land, water or space. More recently, it may be argued territory includes cyber-space).As explained before in the case of population, we could have a normative approach by saying the territory of any country is established by law through national and international norms (Constitutions, bi and multilateral treatises, conventions, etc.).We shall go further by observing what other implications may lead us to. Although at first glance territory seems an easy concept to define and characterize, it includes many sub-elements. As an example, and only to name a few:

Natural resources:

Natural resources are any material in raw condition present in the territory, organic or mineral, that is not initially a product of any kind of human activity. Some States are rich in natural resources, others are not: no particular amount of natural resources defines a State. But, the distribution of natural resources is usually one of the main problems when dealing with territorial disputes even though the involved sovereign States may already be wealthy ones; it is a feature that always presents controversy. 


By national defense or security we mean the protection of each and every interest a State has (its possessions, territory, population, etc.). It can have different ways such as military, economic, diplomatic, politic, etc.Does a State require having an army and navy to be considered as such? Does it need economic power?The international scenario offers a wide scope of very diverse realities, from large States with formidable military power (United States) and almost none (Argentina) to small ones with a well-equipped and trained army and navy (United Kingdom) and non-existent ones (Andorra or Vatican City).Although it may seem desirable for a State to have its own means of defence (particularly military) reality shows it is not a necessary requisite. There are several cases in which the army and navy are not big, well equipped or trained enough in order to defend its territory or population but they are still respected as States. Even more, as we have mentioned, there are others that in fact have none military defence means. For the latter is common that their defence is the responsibility of another country or that they are part of an international organization that secures this aspect (i.e.: OTAN).We shall discuss the economic and diplomatic angles when dealing with the government.


From Vatican City or Montenegro to Australia or Russia, the worldwide context has an ample spectrum of States in terms of their territory size. Its extension is not either a requisite that could be considered necessary so to be in presence of a State.

NOTE: This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, “Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty: International Law and Politics,” London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020 (forthcoming)Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, “Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue,” London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.

NEXT POST: State and its elements, government.

Thursday 19th September 2019 

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @London1701

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