Territorial disputes: Africa (Part 23) [Post 158]

Territorial disputes in Africa: the just acquisition of the territory

The just acquisition principle has been previously related to territorial sovereignty since it has been maintained that amongst the objects to which this principle is meant to be capable of applying are portions of the Earth’s surface, that is, areas of land. 
And that is exactly the aim of these posts: to evaluate whether there is a peaceful way of allocating sovereignty over non-sovereign areas of land or disputed territories. 

Nevertheless, the principle of just acquisition is not the answer to resolve these issues. Its main pitfall is that the information required to apply this principle is not epistemically accessible in sovereignty conflicts—e.g. how far back would the agents need to investigate so as to determine who the first inhabitants of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands were? What would happen in the case of extinct civilisations? What about cultures that were in Ancient Times nomadic?

To have a better understanding of the principle of just acquisition Nozick comes into play, offering his ‘entitlement theory’. But, though his theory is a subtle revision of just acquisition theory, examination of it will demonstrate that this principle is not workable in sovereignty disputes. In Nozick’s entitlement theory just acquisition becomes the first of three principles (this section is not concerned with the other two):

“An individual A acquires at time t a full property right in an object O which has not previously been the property of any individual if and only if:

(i)         A mixes his labour with o at time t; and

(ii)       as a result of O becoming A’s private property, no one else is made any worse off than he or she would have been, O having being left unappropriated by anyone and had everyone in consequence been free to use O without appropriating it.”

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia (Basic Books, 1974), in particular Part II, Chapter 7, Section I.


This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (Routledge 2020).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.


Territorial disputes in Africa: the just acquisition principle inadequacy. 

Wednesday 18th November 2020

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World


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