Territorial disputes: The Persian Gulf (Part 27) [Post 187]

Natural resources and the Persian Gulf and the historical account

Many of the TERRITORIAL DISPUTES in the Persian Gulf have to do with non-regional states that had long ago presence in the continent by means of colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism or neo-imperialism.

In relation to the agreement on the historical account each sovereign state taking part in a sovereignty conflict is certain that it has ultimate and highest right over the disputed territory, and the use and ownership of the third territory is due to them. As a consequence, sovereignty disputes do not move from a zero-sum game.

That is because, in order to determine the initial acquisition, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates have to go back and resolve old historical claims only resulting in a practical matter: the competing agents are never going to agree on the ‘correct’ historical version of the events—i.e. the historical account is fundamentally controversial.

It is common to observe in sovereignty differences that the involved agents usually support their claims through historical, legal, political, cultural or geographical arguments—even a combination of many of them. In other words, not only will be the dispute over what the facts are but also what the relative moral significance of those facts is.

For example, one party will claim that whoever was the first one in the third territory is its owner and hence, its sovereign, and they were there first. But the opposite party disputes this, supporting their case with historical, legal, political, cultural and geographical evidence, and arguing either a) that they were there first, or b) that being first is not what makes acquisition just, but, e.g., being first to exploit its resources, or establish a community. 

Because all the parties argue they were the first to do what gave them a right to the third territory, an approach based on a historical account is futile for providing a solution to sovereignty disputes and the conflicts continue endlessly—e.g. arguments about the rightful sovereign of Jerusalem and surrounding areas have been present for generations. See for example Genesis 14: 18-20 in which Jerusalem (or Salem) has already enemies. Since Biblical times the region has been centre of disputes in relation to the rightful settlement of different populations. Should these agents go back to Biblical times in order to prove the current legitimate occupancy of the territory?

Faced with the idea of applying any kind of principle based on a historical entitlement will confront the representatives with two main problems.
First, they would need to agree upon a historical account—i.e. what actually happened, who was the first one to discover the territory, or to have a population there, etc.
Second, they would need to decide what type of act makes their claimed rights just—i.e. the first one setting foot on the territory, the first one to have a permanent settlement, etc. Besides, if there were conflicts in the past it would need to be decided whether they were just or not and whether the just side won.

The posts will continue this analysis tomorrow.


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.


The Persian Gulf, territorial disputes and the historical entitlement.

Tuesday 09th February 2021
Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez
Twitter: @DrJorge_World

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