Territorial disputes: The Persian Gulf (Part 28) [Post 188]

The Persian Gulf, territorial disputes and the historical entitlement

In reviewing TERRITORIAL DISPUTES in the Persian Gulf, we centered the attention yesterday on historical entitlement arguments. It is often the case Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates base their claims on historical, legal, political, cultural and geographical evidence.

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. 

The main problem with this idea applied to TERRITORIAL DISPUTES 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 Persian Gulf were? What would happen in the case of extinct civilisations? What about cultures that were in Ancient Times nomadic?

The principle of just acquisition may work for individuals. For States, it may solve one problem, what one has to do, i.e. mix one’s labour. But leaves several other issues unresolved—e.g. a) who did it first? b) how much each does individual own? (new problem, e.g. if someone digs, can he claim that plot, the field or the whole island?), and c) who inherits the property—the inhabitants or their ‘mother community’?

Any version of just acquisition will have the same problems: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates will never agree on the relevant facts and the relevant test, and therefore all this principle would do is guarantee endless conflict. So, reasonable people would reject it if they wanted to achieve a peaceful and permanent solution.

Whether they have access to historical records or not is irrelevant since they would only result in endless discussion concerning historical entitlement that in most—if not all cases—is highly difficult to be demonstrated. Governments and their representatives are aware of this issue. More precisely, as we have seen in previous posts referred to the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia and China, non-regional states maintain the very convenient status quo to their interest by using the historical argument since they know it will not bring any changes to the current situation.

The advice here would be not to agree to rely on a principle that guarantees endless conflict, and therefore, to reject it as the principle to resolve these disputes. At the same time, by rejecting the historical entitlement argument, it leaves all (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates) with an equal footing to continue the negotiations since none of them can argue a better or more robust right over the claimed territories.


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 and controversial borders.

Wednesday 10th February 2021
Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez
Twitter: @DrJorge_World

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