The List: The World’s Forgotten Territorial Disputes
It’s why Indians and Pakistanis continue to quibble over Kashmir, and why Israelis and Palestinians can’t seem to see to eye to eye. But these are just the two most-publicized disputes over land. FP takes a look at the most important border conflicts the world forgot.
Google Bolivia and Chile
Google Bolivia and Chile
Area of dispute: The small chunk of territory that separates Bolivia from the Pacific Ocean.
Why it matters: One word: water. An arrangement between the two countries allows landlocked Bolivia to ship its goods to the ocean tariff-free through northern Chilean ports. But thats not enough to satisfy Bolivia, which lost 250 miles of the disputed coastline in a 19th century war.
Current status: In early July, the two countries set up a joint committee to improve bilateral ties, suggesting that full diplomatic relationswhich were broken over the sea-access issue 30 years agocould be restored. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is open to that idea, especially since Bolivias immense reserves of natural gas could help fuel the energy-hungry Chilean economy. But she has emphatically dismissed the possibility of ceding any territory.
Google/ZENRIN Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam
Area of dispute: The Spratly Islands, a cluster of more than 100 tiny reefs, islets, and atolls in the South China Sea, with a land area of less than 5 square miles.
Why it matters: Food, traffic, and oil. The Spratly Islands are one of the most heavily fished areas in the world. Theyre also located in the center of the principle shipping route between Europe and Asia. And most lucrative of all are the untapped energy sources from the seabed below. China estimates that there are 17.7 billion tons of oil in the area, which would make it the fourth-largest oil reserve in the world.
Current status: The reasons for sovereignty claims are myriad: Some nations insist that they have historical ownership, while others say that geographical logic should prevail. All parties laying claim to the territory with the exception of Brunei maintain a military presence on the islands, despite a 2002 commitment (signed by all but Taiwan) to resolve differences by peaceful means. Although military confrontations have calmed down in recent years, the islands remain a hot-button issue in the region.
Google/NAVTEQ Canada and Denmark
Area of dispute: Hans Island, a tiny, icy rock near the Arctic Ocean between Canadas Ellesmere Island and Greenland, a semi-autonomous Danish territory.
Why it matters: As global warming melts sea ice, northern Arctic sea routes that have been impassable for centuries are slowly opening to navigation. Although even the hardy Inuit consider Hans Island itself to be uninhabitable, the route just north of the Northwest Passage is especially coveted by naval and shipping fleets.
Current status: Government officials and military personnel from both countries have made showy visits to the island over the years. Denmarks minister for Greenland once left a bottle of Danish schnapps, prompting subsequent Canadian visitors to leave their own beverages as marks of ownership. Last year, the Canadian defense minister made a brief helicopter stopover to Hans Island to assert Canadian sovereignty, prompting Greenland to denounce the occupation attempt. Formal negotiations between Denmark and Canada have begunbut the Danish Navy remains stationed nearby.
Google/ZENRIN China and India
Area of dispute: Several sections of the 2,200-mile border between the two giants. India wants a Chinese-controlled section of Kashmir the size of Switzerland. China claims parts of the Indian state Arunachal Pradesh covering an area three times that size.
Why it matters: Because its China and India. Simply put, any spat between the two nations matters. Together, they account for 38 percent of the worlds population, and in 50 years, theyll account for half of the worlds gross domestic product. And dont forget, both have nukes. Bad relations between China and India are bad for everyone. Also, any shift in Sino-Indian relations over Kashmir could affect Pakistan, another nuclear state.
Current status: The two countries fought a bitter border war in 1962, which China won handily, poisoning relations for the next several decades. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met in April 2005 to discuss the territories. They each recognized parts of the others claims, and announced their intentions to come up with a long-term plan to resolve the dispute. But few fresh ideas were brought to the negotiating table. Since then, the two leaders have been silent on the issue.
Google Eritrea and Ethiopia
Area of dispute: The entire 620-mile border between the two nations in the horn of Africa.
Why it matters: When Eritrea declared independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a long war, the border between the two poorest nations in the world was not yet drawn. Fighting broke out again five years later, leading to massive internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees. Despite multiple attempts at international mediation, more than 70,000 died before the war ended in 2000.
Current status: As part of the 2000 ceasefire, Eritrea and Ethiopia asked arbitrators in The Hague to draw the border. The court awarded the most hotly disputed areas to the allegedly repressive regime of Eritrea, a ruling that Ethiopia (which has powerful Western allies) refused to accept. The United Nations dispatched thousands of peacekeepers to the area who remain there today, observing the violent skirmishes that occasionally break out. There is no resolution in sight. Eritrea walked out of border talks in June, and many fear that full-fledged war could break out again.
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