Book reviews - Disarmament and Arms Control.
       

Enduring Territorial Disputes
(Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011, 340pp.)

As Krista Wiegard writes “The persistence of territorial disputes makes it difficult for states to cooperate on simple bilateral issues like immigration, trade, fishing rights and joint security.” We might question if these are simple bilateral issues, but they have led less often to armed conflicts than issues over territory. “Territory is important not only to the citizens of the countries where territory is disputed, but also to the international community of states. Understanding the strategies used by governments involved in territorial disputes is critical to working toward peace.”

The book is about evenly divided between a general analysis of enduring territorial disputes followed by useful case studies including the ongoing law-of-the-sea delimitation disputes among China, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam, the border disputes among Israel, Syria and Lebanon concerning the Golan Heights, and the now quieter Sino-Soviet/Russian border dispute.

A key point which Wiegand makes is that territorial issues can serve as leverage in relations between rivals to extract concessions on other issues. Thus the problem is not only where the 1967 frontier between Israel and Palestine runs, but what are to be the broader relations among Israelis and Palestinians. “If the theory of territorial disputes as bargaining leverage is valid, we should observe that when other disputed issues exist, challenger states should initiate diplomatic or militarized threats or uses of force, and they should not offer or accept territorial concessions to attempt settlements...We should also observe clear cases of both implicit and explicit issue linkage by the challenger state, linking a particular disputed issue with a territorial dispute.”

Fortunately, there are some territorial settlements when states have larger common interests. Thus the border dispute between the Netherlands and Germany lasted only five years between 1955 and 1960 before both states decided that they had other things to do. Wiegand presents a useful table of seventy-six settled disputes and the type of settlement procedures used: bilateral negotiations, third-party mediation, arbitration, and adjudication largely by the World Court.

However, Wiegand also has a table listing seventy-one current territorial disputes between two or more states. Some disputes are frozen and hardly noticeable such as the dispute between Canada and Denmark over the Hans island that I had never heard of, while the dispute between North and South Korea is never far from our attention.

As Wiegand writes “Territorial disputes cause instability in the international system, threatening tensions, crises, and even wars. Millions of people living in states involved in territorial disputes are affected either directly or indirectly by border clashes, ethnic conflict, terrorism, martial law, militarized occupation, forced transfers, refugee status, fear of invasion, and, in some cases, nuclear war. These threats are part of regular life for South Koreans, Taiwanese, Indians, Pakistanis, Georgians, Israelis, Cypriots and others. The endurance of these disputes, or lack of peaceful settlement, has multiple costs that put a strain not only on the states involved but also on the international community as a whole.”

What can we, as non-governmental representatives and peace researchers do? We are unlikely to be named Foreign Ministers or elected to the World Court. Are there “Track II” - informal meetings - or other forms of dispute settlement that can be undertaken by non-governmental agents? There is a long experience of peace-making efforts concerning Cyprus undertaken by both UN mediators and “Track II” efforts with out much visible improvement in the situation. Likewise, there have been many “Track II” efforts on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Wiegand is optimistic as to the value of research. “Together with the findings of previous studies about the value of territory and domestic vulnerability, the findings in this study provide scholars with a richer understanding of the strategies pursued by states involved in territorial disputes and provide policy makers with the ability to use this considerable research to better manage and resolve such disputes.”

The many references give a good overview of this “considerable research”. After reading carefully, I am still unclear as to what role non-governmental representatives can play. Wiegand gives a good analysis as to how political figures can use territorial issues to inflame and mobilize public opinion. I dis not find ways on how to calm public opinion or to make reason a stronger factor in political disputes. Perhaps, building on some of Wiegand's research and insights, we may yet develop strategies for ending “enduring territorial disputes”. The book sets out the challenges but not the responses.

Rene Wadlow