10 Ongoing Territorial Conflicts With No End In Sight

10 Ongoing Territorial Conflicts With No End In Sight

Stephanie Schoppert - September 12, 2016

Lines on the map can be major points of conflict between nations. It has been happening ever since the first lines were drawn and it continues to happen today. These conflicts often turn violent as two states believe they hold the rights to the same land or one state simply wants land that they have no right to. Today politics can make these territorial disputes much more nuanced but they continue to play major roles in the politics of their region and the future of the lines on the map.

1. West Sahara

10 Ongoing Territorial Conflicts With No End In Sight

West Sahara exists on the northwest edge of Africa and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria. It has a population of just under 600,000 which makes it very sparsely populated. The people tend to live in a few major cities while the rest of the territory is just desert flat lands.

West Sahara is a bit of left over from the colonial period, the UN calls it a non-decolonized territory on the “List of Non-Self Governing Territories.” However, both Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic claim to have control over the region. Both have laid claim to the territory since 1975 when the Spanish agreed to leave the area as part of the Madrid accords.

When the Spanish left in 1975, they left the territory under a joint administration of Morocco and Mauritania. A three-way war erupted between Mauritania, Morocco and the Sahrawi national liberation movement. The Sahrawi national liberation movement formed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with an exiled government in Tindouf, Algeria. The three-way war continued until 1979 when Mauritania withdrew and Morocco took control over most of the territory, including all major cities and natural resources.

The SADR and Morocco continued fighting until the UN negotiated a ceasefire in 1991. Under the ceasefire, Morocco controls two-thirds of the territory while the rest is under the control of the SADR with Algeria’s support. Today the territory remains in dispute as 37 states have formally recognized the SADR and it was welcomed into the African Union. Morocco’s claims have been supported by most of the Arab League and several African countries, but Morocco did leave the African Union after their acceptance of the SADR. As political trends change, states will give and withdraw their support for one side or the other.

2. Gibraltar

10 Ongoing Territorial Conflicts With No End In Sight

While Gibraltar may not look like much, it has been highly contested as a territory. Both Spain and the UK have laid claims on Gibraltar. Gibraltar is a small British Overseas Territory that is located on the south end of the Iberian Peninsula. Over 30,000 people live in Gibraltar, and the territory’s only real claim to fame is the fact that it offers access to the strait of Gibraltar for shipping. The small territory has a GDP of £1.64 billion that is based on shipping, tourism, online gambling and financial services.

Gibraltar was captured by an Anglo-Dutch force in 1704 during the War of Spanish Succession. The Treat of Ultrecht was signed in 1713 and it gave Britain control over Gibraltar “in perpetuity.” The British find the small territory useful for its access. During World War II, Gibraltar was home to a very large naval base and it allowed them to control the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean.

Despite the fact that Britain has held a claim on the territory for over 300 years, Spain has continued to claim a right to the territory, despite the treaty. The Spanish have tried to retake Gibraltar through sieges but they have never been successful. In 1967 and 2002 a vote was held within Gibraltar to allow the people to choose whether to remain a British territory or become part of Spain. In both votes 99% of the population chose to remain as part of the UK.

In 2016, Spain made it very clear that if the UK voted to leave the EU that they would make a move on Gibraltar. When the vote was held, the people of Gibraltar overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, but the vote ultimately went to leaving. The day after the vote Spain’s foreign minister called for joint control of the peninsula and said the results of the vote made Spanish control of Gibraltar much closer than before.

3. Kosovo

10 Ongoing Territorial Conflicts With No End In Sight

Kosovo is a small autonomous state that is currently recognized by 80 UN member states and Taiwan. However, Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo as its own state and continues to call it the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija. Kosovo is a small country with a population of just over 1.8 million and a GDP of $18.8 billion.

In the early 90s the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia experienced a decline which caused the state to fracture into several pieces. 5 states were created Bosnia and Herzegovivna, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and FR Yugoslavia. It was FR Yugoslavia that maintained control of Kosovo. Kosovo also wanted their independence and thus started the Kosovo War from 1989 until 1999 to get their independence.

The Kosovo Liberation Army received support from the UN which went as far as to bomb FR Yugoslavia. When the war ended and Yugoslavia was forced to withdraw, it split into two states, Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. Kosovo which had become a UN protectorate during the war and after, declared its independence in 2008.

Kosovo remained under the watch of the International community, with the UN placing the International Civilian Office in Kosovo which would monitor the government and its decisions along with the International Steering Group (comprised of all the nations that recognized Kosovo0. In 2012, both the International Civilian Office and the International Steering Group left the country and left them to govern themselves. However, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo which began in 2008 and was set to end in 2012 has been extended multiple times. The European Rule of Law Mission provides thousands of police and judicial personnel in Kosovo in order to maintain law and order. They will currently remain in Kosovo until 2018.

4. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

10 Ongoing Territorial Conflicts With No End In Sight

This small group of islands has been the source of much animosity between Argentina and the UK. The UK has claimed sovereignty over South Georgia since 1775 when James Cook sailed there. Then in 1908 the UK annexed both South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. However, an Argentinian whaling company set up their operations in South Georgia in 1904.

Under British control South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands became part of the Falklands. In 1906, the Argentinian whaling company signed a lease and began using British whaling licenses. Despite the whaling company changing their flag to that of the British, the Argentinian government made a claim on South Georgia in 1927 and on the rest of the islands in 1938. The UK, in an attempt to bring peace and settle the matter, have offered to take it up with the International Court of Justice 4 times between 1945 and 1955. Argentina refused. Argentina actually maintained a summer station and a naval base on Thule Island. The British discovered the base in 1974 and protested the issue, but the UK never forced them to leave until 1982 after the Falklands war.

On March 19th, 1982 a group of Argentinians posed as scrap merchants and occupied an abandoned whaling station. Then on April 3 they moved in on Grytviken and took over the city. The occupation did not last long as British forces took back the city on April 25th. After that the British removed the Argentinians from Thule by force.

In 1985, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands broke away from the Falkland Islands and became a British overseas territory. The issue was brought up again in 2010 when the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, insisted that Queen Elizabeth II return the islands to Argentina. The British government refused and Argentina still maintains its claim over South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

5. Crimean Peninsula

10 Ongoing Territorial Conflicts With No End In Sight

The Crimean Peninsula has recently become the subject of international news as it becomes the newest territorial dispute. The peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014 following a Ukrainian revolution. Crimea has a majority Russian population, many of which were in favor of returning to Russia following the instability within Ukraine, but it was never put to a recognized vote. Protests waged throughout Crimea that were pro-Russian and against the interim government that was set up after the revolution.

Ukraine tried to maintain control of the peninsula even as pro-Russian protests increased. The city of Sevastopol even went as far as to elect a Russian citizen as mayor which is illegal under Ukrainian law. The Supreme Council Chairman stated that the Crimean Peninsula would not consider separating from the Ukraine. The following day Russian special forces seized control of the Supreme Council of Crimea building and the building of the Council of Ministers. Russian flags were raised above the buildings.

Under Russian occupation the council was forced to meet and hold votes, either under threat or they had their votes cast for them. One report stated that the members of the Crimean Parliament were held at gunpoint until they agreed to give their support to the annexation. A move which the Ukrainian government immediately declared illegal. Russian troops spread throughout the peninsula without insignia and Russia denied any troops in Crimea. On March 18th, 2014 The Treaty on Accession of the Republic of Crimean to Russia was signed. The UN General Assembly declared the referendum and change of status as invalid.

In July 2015, the Russian Prime Minister declared that Crimea had been fully integrated into Russia. In August 2016, Ukraine stated that Russia has increased its troops along the demarcation line, causing Ukraine to increase their troops along the Russian border.

6. Tibet

10 Ongoing Territorial Conflicts With No End In Sight

The territorial dispute over Tibet has perhaps the longest history of any of the territorial disputes that continue today. The People’s Republic of China sees Tibet as part of China and it has been that way since the 13th century. According to Chinese law during the Yuan Dynasty, Tibet is a part of China. The region is largely seen by much of the international community as an autonomous region of China.

The Chinese claim was enforced in 1906 after a British expedition to Tibet to see if the 13th Dalai Lama would be a better leader for the territory than China (and hold off Russian influence). In 1910, the Chinese led their own military expedition into Tibet and deposed the Dalai Lama who fled to British India. In 1911, the Xinhai Revolution ended the Qing dynasty and apologized to the Dalai Lama, giving him back control of Tibet.

In 1950, the People’s Republic of China incorporated Tibet and negotiated a Seventeen Point Agreement with the 14th Dalai Lama. The agreement gave Tibet autonomy but affirmed the sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China. The Dalai Lama refused the agreement and instead formed a government in exile. After the Dalai Lama’s exile China began implementing social and political reforms in Tibet, including the Great Leap Forward. The Great Leap was meant to transform Tibet from agrarian to industrial quickly killing anywhere from 200,000 to 1 million Tibetans in the process. Some believe it even caused the Great Chinese Famine.

Today there continue to be separatist campaigns to get Tibet independence, these have often been met with brutal anti-separatist campaigns. One notable example was the Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989. In 2008, protests by separatists spread across the world as supporters of Tibet attacked 18 Chinese embassies and consulates. Chinese control over Tibet has become so tight that Tibet is now the second least free country in the world.

7. Cyprus

10 Ongoing Territorial Conflicts With No End In Sight

The island of Cyprus has been the site of much conflict over the years as two factions war for control. The island is the third largest and third most populated island in the Eastern Mediterranean. It has a population of 1.1 million and a GDP of $27.5 billion. Today the island is divided between the Turkish and Greek forces, with the majority of the international community viewing the Turkish occupation as illegal.

Cyprus’ strategic position led to it being controlled by a number of major powers over the centuries including the Egyptians, Persians, the Roman Empire and the Venetians. It was taken over by the Ottoman Empire in 1571 and they ruled until 1878 when it was placed under British administration. In 1914 the British formally took over control of Cyprus but allowed the Greek population and culture to thrive. In the 1950s the Turkish believed that they should annex Cyprus as an extension of the Anatolia while the Greeks within Cyprus wanted a union with Greece.

In 1960 Cyprus was granted independence. In 1963 violence broke out between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots and it lasted until 1974. On July 15th, 1974, Greek Cypriot nationalists attempted a coup d’etat in order to get Cyprus to merge with Greece. Following the attempted coup Turkish forces invaded Cyprus and captured Northern Cyprus. The move displaced over 200,000 residents and established a separate Turkish state in 1983.

The action was condemned by the international community and Turkey remains the only state in the world to recognize the Turkish state in Cyprus. Today the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus controls 37% of the island. Another 4% of the land is dedicated to a UN buffer zones. Currently the international world views the Turkish occupied area of Northern Cyprus as a territory of the Republic of Cyprus that is illegally occupied.

8. Falklands

10 Ongoing Territorial Conflicts With No End In Sight

The Falklands Islands are part of another dispute between the UK and Argentina. The islands changed hands numerous times in the years prior to 1833 when the UK took over sovereignty and has maintained it ever since. The UK claim to the Falklands goes all the way back to 1690 but Argentina believes that they have a claim to the islands as well. Argentina did manage to take control of the Falklands for a brief period in 1833.

When British colonies began to get independence following World War II, Argentina raised the issue of sovereignty over the Falklands with the UN. The UN told the two countries to come up with an arrangement on their own. The two countries tried to come to an agreement and even worked together. Argentina would supply oil to the Falklands and the British built a runway for Argentinian airlines to use. But neither country would agree on sovereignty, largely because the people living in the Falklands wanted to remain under British rule.

In 1982, Argentina was suffering an economic crisis and decided it was time to take back the Falklands. They launched an amphibious attack on April 1st and took control of the islands. The international community condemned the action, to the point where several countries came to the aid of the British during the Falklands War. The war lasted a mere 10 weeks and ended with Argentinian surrender.

In 2009, the British government decided there would be no further talks about the future of the Falklands. A 2013 referendum in the Falklands revealed that 99.8% of the population wanted to remain British. Argentina does not view the people of the Falklands as having a say in the sovereignty of their island, and therefore rejected the vote. They continue to maintain their claim over the Falklands.

9. Taiwan

10 Ongoing Territorial Conflicts With No End In Sight

The Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China (PROC) are in dispute over the control of Taiwan. The country has a population of over 23 million and a GDP of $1.147 trillion, making it no small prize. However, the history of Taiwan as the international community refers to call it, is very complicated, making sovereignty even harder to decipher.

The modern issue of sovereignty began in 1895 when Taiwan was ceded to Japan. In 1912, the Republic of China formed on the mainland and took over control of Taiwan after the Japanese surrender in 1945. This lasted until 1949 when the Communist Party took complete control of the Chinese mainland, forming the People’s Republic of China. The Republic of China then fled to Taiwan where it continues to rule. The Republic of China continued to maintain that they were the legitimate government of China and even continued to represent China at the UN until 1971.

Taiwan is recognized today by 21 members of the UN and the Holy See. They are one of the Four Asian Tigers which has seen a huge economic boom with its high tech industry playing a major role in the world today. The People’s Republic of China refuses to see Taiwan as anything other than a province of China. To that end most of the international community still does not recognize Taiwan as an independent state. The People’s Republic of China has declared that any formal declaration of independence by Taiwan will be met with violence.

Today both China and Taiwan agree there is no real solution and thereby stand by the 1992 consensus which determined that there is one China but that both sides determined what one China means. The PRC believes they are the legitimate government of one china while the ROC believes they are the legitimate government of one China.

10. Palestine

10 Ongoing Territorial Conflicts With No End In Sight

Palestine has become the territorial conflict that dominates the headlines around the world and it has been a source of strife for thousands of years. However, the modern day conflict began after World War II. Millions of Jews had been displaced after the war and needed somewhere to go. Many of them flocked to Palestine and the city of Jerusalem, which was mostly Arab controlled with some Jewish citizenship. Both groups believe that they have a right to live there, with particular importance placed on Jerusalem.

The British Mandate of Palestine was an attempt to maintain peace and order in the region but failed in 1947. The UN took over and presented the UN Partition Plan which would form two separate states with Jerusalem remaining as an international UN controlled city. The plan failed when the Jews agreed but the Arabs did not. Therefore, in 1948, Israel declared its independence.

This led to the Arab-Israeli War which occurred when the armies of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq attacked the new state. Years of fighting ended with Jordan taking the West Bank and East Jerusalem and Egypt getting the Gaza Strip. In 1956, another war broke out when Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula with the help of France and Britain. In 1967, a six-day war occurred in which Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, The West Bank and East Jerusalem. In 1973, The Yom Kippur war broke out and continued to deteriorate relations in the area.

In 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organization declared the State of Palestine with control over the Palestine territories. Palestine has brought referendums for statehood to the UN council but they faced strong opposition from the U.S., Israel and Australia. However, attitudes toward Palestine are gradually changing with 136 of 193 member countries of the UN recognizing the Palestinian state. In 2012, the UN upgraded Palestine’s status to “non-member observer state” which was considered by some to be a de facto recognition of Palestine. In December of 2015, a resolution in the UN passed which demanded Palestinian sovereignty over the natural resources in Palestinian territory that were currently under Israeli occupation.