Pluralism of pluralisms [Post 29]

Domestic context

The previous two posts introduced the notion of contexts in relation to cosmopolitanism and sovereignty. So far, we have covered the international and regional contexts.

Any agent (individuals, communities and states) may have presence and be interested in the local, regional and international contexts. In order to bring light to the notion of contexts and their relevance, the blog series will make use of territorial disputes.

This post will introduce and characterize the domestic context.

Territorial disputes have to do with at least two international agents, the claiming party or challenger, and the disputed territory that is the target. Although international and regional elements are relevant, the domestic context shows another angle.

Domestic leaders have direct influence in the initiation, escalation and resolution of territorial disputes. However, they are not always interested in the most advisable solutions. Indeed, internal political prestige may be a strong reason to start a territorial dispute and keep it unresolved. Political leaders may justify a territorial dispute because of natural resources and economic potential of the territory in question or prior loss of the territory, or to maintain an ongoing territorial claim,[1] so, the domestic political needs of state leaders can heavily influence their foreign policy agenda.[2]

Some of the most notable issues related to the local context are:

Prior unresolved dispute

The existence of a previously unresolved dispute between different agents increases the likelihood of a territorial dispute.[3] Similarly, the past history increases the chances of escalation.[4] In fact, the past history of the dispute may generate strong internal support for confrontation and, consequently, state leaders may escalate instead of pursuing a more amicable approach.[5]

The history behind the dispute may justify larger budgets for the military, may bring people together behind to a common cause, and in general, may provide the leader with a more prominent role.[6] As a result, although peaceful resolution may be achievable, political leaders are not always willing to move towards a compromise unless the economically valuable territory could be shared and democratic regimes were the involved parties.[7] Authoritarian single-party regimes, however, can also be willing to compromise.[8]

Prior loss of territory

If there had been a loss of territory it is highly likely the defeated agent will at some point become a challenger and initiate a territorial dispute.[9] Political leaders may use justifications such as the restoration of national honor. In South America, the Falkland/Malvinas Islands conflict includes a clear case with Argentina continuously denouncing the United Kingdom for the “usurpation” of the archipelago.[10]

A particular case may see a weaker challenger initiating a territorial dispute because its stronger counterpart has made concessions in past disputes.[11]

Decolonization norm

When a claim is supported by decolonization norms and often by self-determination, it is more likely that a territorial dispute will take place. The UN Charter refers to two kinds of colonial territories. UN Charter Chapter XII refers to the system of Mandates (formerly included in the Covenant of the League of Nations). UN Charter Chapter XI refers to non-self-governing territories—according to art. 73 UN Charter, those whose people have not yet attained a full measure of self-government. In addition to the UN Charter, the decolonization law through UN General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) declares contrary to human rights the alien subjugation, domination and exploitation of people and acknowledges the right to self-determination. These positions were originally intended for former European colonies around the world[13], but conflicts in Yugoslavia and Kosovo arguably extend the use of decolonization law.[14]

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Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020).

Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017).

Monday 07th June 2021

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World

[1] Paul K. Huth, Standing Your Ground. Territorial Disputes and International Conflict, 101.

[2] Ibid., 102.

[3] Ibid., 93.

[4] Ibid., 133.

[5] Ibid., 135-136.

[6] Ibid., 171-178.

[7] Ibid., 179. See also Berger Heldt, “Domestic Politics, Absolute Deprivation, and the Use of Armed Force in Interstate Territorial Disputes, 1950-1990,” in Journal of Conflict Resolution 43:4 (1999): 451–478.

[8] Krista E. Wiegand, “Peaceful Dispute Resolution by Authoritarian Regimes,” in Foreign Policy Analysis (2019).

[9] Paul K. Huth, Standing Your Ground. Territorial Disputes and International Conflict, 98.

[10] Argentina’s official position (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship, Argentine Republic): “The Question of the Malvinas Islands,” available at accessed 28 May, 2019.

[11] Huth, Paul K. 2001. Standing Your Ground. Territorial Disputes and International Conflict, 99.

[13] Marion Mushkhatt, “The Process of Decolonization International Legal Aspects,” University of Baltimore Law Review 2:1 (1972): 16-34.

[14] For an extensive analysis about decolonization law see Thomas D. Grant, “Extending Decolonization: How the United Nations Might Have Addressed Kosovo,” in Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 28:9 (1999): 9-54.

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