Monday’s Mtg: Territorial Disputes in the 21st Century

I picked up a New York Times earlier this week and it was like it was 1933 or something. Nothing but territorial disputes and dueling nationalisms. Japan is about to reinterpret its pacifist constitution to allow more military freedom of action to counter China, with which it has territorial disputes. Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites were busy drawing the borders of Iraq’s successor states. More saber rattling by Putin over Ukraine. Israelis and Palestinians murdered in the streets. You get the idea.

Ron suggested we devote an evening to how territorial disputes are supposed to be resolved these days, and it certainly seems well-timed. International institutions and law have matured enough that there’s usually a forum in which to resolve a territorial beef peacefully if the parties really want to. Globalization is supposed to make going to war over such things more unwise than ever. Yet, almost every country in the world – including the United States and plenty of developed countries – still have festering territorial disputes. So, what gives? Why do these things linger?

Beats me. Many of the worst such conflicts are unsettled for good reasons, like those islands that China claims that sit on vast mineral or energy wealth or in Palestine, where both sides want the other not to exist. Still, is building stronger transnational institutions going to help what the disputants can’t do themselves?

After I do my reading on this one I’ll open Monday with a brief introduction, probably just highlighting the most contentious territorial disputes. I think we may have to lean on our resident international relations types like Bruce and Zelekha.


  1. Where are the worst ongoing territorial disputes between nations? What are they about? Do they have any common features that give us insight into the phenomenon?
  2. Why have the worst disputes not been settled? Security? Access to natural resources? Politics and nationalism?
  3. What formal mechanisms exist for resolving territorial disputes? Why are they not used more?
  4. How has globalization changed the picture? Can we expect more wars over territory in the future (see link below that says we can) or fewer? Are we entering the 21st century or, with no hyper-power, another 19th or even 17th?


NEXT WEEK – Homelessness What can be done, in San Diego and beyond?


2 responses

  1. Anyone ever hear of the World Court in The Hague? It’s job is to resolve such disputes and it does, generally quite fairly. Problem is countries have to accept its jurisdiction, and there is no way to enforce its decisions.

    1. Yeah, that was one of the points I was gonna make.

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