Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty
International Law and Politics
Jorge E. Núñez
This monograph has three parts.
PART ONE questions the current methodology for studying territorial disputes in the legal and political sciences, includes the core argument, and establishes key conceptual elements.
Chapter One, the Introduction, defines the overall goal of this project, the meaning of territorial disputes and the reasons to study them, in order to offer a more integrated approach to theory building for future analysis, discussion, and potential resolution of territorial disputes and sovereignty conflicts. There are many reasons for the origin and ongoing nature of these disputes: they are complex (multi-faceted) and although several sciences assess them, these sciences (and people in general) do not apply the same conceptual frame of reference. Therefore, many disagreements have to do with different conceptions, since different departure premises often lead to different conclusions. This chapter exposes the concealed beliefs and unstated assumptions in legal and political sciences with regard to territorial disputes and discusses a renewed vision that could help avoid analytical bias. By neutralizing possible interference from factors that can cause bias and that may lead to a partly unjust, unfair or inaccurate evaluation, analysis focuses on those elements that are pertinent to territorial disputes.
Chapter Two examines the second key element in this project: state. As with territorial disputes, it is a familiar term to many disciplines studying domestic and international affairs. However, these disciplines use the term in various contexts under the assumption it is the same concept when in fact they apply different conceptions to the term in their analysis. As a result, discrepancies in the analysis and evaluation of the same territorial disputes bring about disagreement. This disagreement is superficial, obvious and not relevant to the territorial disputes per se but biased by the a fortiori conditions of the analysis. In relation to territorial disputes in particular, the chapter introduces, defines and characterizes the state’s basic constitutive elements (territory, population, government and law) in legal and political sciences. This and the following chapter demonstrate that the underlying assumption that territorial disputes center on the element “territory” is a misconception.
Chapter Three appraises the concepts of sovereignty and self-determination. Although both are legal and political concepts, sovereignty gives priority to the state whereas self-determination gives preeminent place to the people. This chapter demonstrates that there is no such a thing as absolute sovereignty: in all cases sovereignty is limited and, therefore, shareable. Furthermore, self-determination may lead to solutions other than independence. Scholars can use these two insights to assess, and possibly resolve, territorial disputes by shifting preconceived erroneous views. The first part of the chapter demonstrates that sovereign states have factual and normative limitations and that states may be at odds with each other or cooperate. This is an axiological choice and has nothing to do with sovereignty itself. Indeed, states may accept limitations in order to operate together, limiting their sovereignty while still being considered as fully sovereign. These restrictions in theory and practice may either limit a state’s choices or enhance them. Because territorial disputes can be assessed by reference to territory as well as population, the will of the people who live in the space under dispute requires further exploration. At this point, self-determination becomes relevant to territorial disputes. If sovereignty can be shared, territorial disputes can be centered on elements other than territory and self-determination may lead to solutions other than independence, there is room for territorial disputes to be resolved by cooperative approaches.
PART TWO explores the logic behind territorial disputes and their pervasive nature.
Chapter Four considers how and why territorial disputes start, and why some continue endlessly while others reach a solution. Although relevant, the usually-assumed causes for these differences, such as the strategic location of a territory, its economic value, homogeneity with bordering minorities or a desire for political unification, fail to provide a satisfactory and comprehensive explanation. The chapter examines how domestic context influences the regional and international dimensions, and vice-versa. The hypothesis is that state leaders will take into consideration both external elements related to the regional and international dimensions pertinent to territorial disputes and the internal situation because it links directly to their domestic political prestige.Some territorial disputes escalate into conflict. This happens when the claiming state threatens or resorts to coercion (political, military, financial, etc.) to obtain sovereignty over the disputed territory. The chapter argues that, while international elements may explain the escalation into conflict, they do not necessarily explain the origins of the disputes. Conversely, local and regional elements that give birth to these disputes are not sufficient conditions for their escalation. Empirical data supports these claims.
Chapter Five discusses the main remedies applied at the international level to territorial disputes and why these alternatives are not the solution to some well-known and long-standing differences. The chapter finishes by introducing egalitarian shared sovereignty as a means to deal with such disputes.
PART THREE considers some current, well-known, and long-standing territorial disputes, divided by regions.
Chapter Six introduces and explores controversial cases in the Americas to demonstrate why these territorial disputes seem to continue endlessly without resolution. The analysis shows how territorial disputes have a multi-faceted and multi-layered nature that includes law, politics, nationalism, national identity, natural resources, prestige, and many other elements and issues with domestic, regional and international dimensions. The differences between Peru and Ecuador, Colombia and Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Mexico and United States, and some others demonstrate that most of the territorial disputes in the Americas date back to colonial times and the way that former colonial powers divided territory that was once sociologically integrated. These conflicts demonstrate that, although the claiming parties may achieve a settlement, domestic, regional and international issues at stake may still turn the situation volatile, and that regional guarantors are key in peacekeeping.
Chapter Seven evaluates ongoing disputes in Europe and Asia. The chapter has two main sections: the first one looks at cases that involve two ethnic or national groups living in the same territory, neither of which wants to belong to a state dominated by the other (the cases of Crimea, Gibraltar, Cyprus and Northern Ireland illustrate this segment). The section introduces, compares, contrasts and appraises domestic, regional and international issues at stake, such as geopolitical importance, nationalism, national identity, territorial integrity and historical entitlement. The second section centers on geostrategic location locally, regionally and globally, with a focus on the cases of Kashmir and the South China Sea. This section pays particular attention to an often-overlooked element: the major role that non-regional parties and their interests play in the origin, continuation and potential escalation of territorial disputes.
Chapter Eight examines current disputes in Africa and the Middle East. The first section demonstrates that current territorial disputes and sovereignty conflicts in Africa have colonial roots. As in the Americas, former colonial powers artificially divided what used to be sociologically-homogeneous territories. The assessment shows how European understanding in legal and political sciences is not appropriate to comprehending the complexity of these realities. The last section assesses the Arab-Israeli conflict. The analysis evaluates domestic, regional and international issues at stake, with particular focus on the influence of religion, geopolitical importance and leaders’ prestige.
Chapter Nine brings together the main points of this monograph, highlights their explanatory importance in law and political science, and points to possible further implications. The value of these implications is twofold: highlighting the many connections at the theoretical level that different territorial disputes present and establishing some guidelines for policymaking.
Book Launch Video
Book launch at the Department of Law, Stockholm University, the Stockholm Centre for International Law and Justice and the Department of Philosophy, Uppsala University.
Available in hardcopy and online:
Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics
Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics
Book Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty [Chapter 1: Abstract].
Tuesday 02nd March 2021
Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez