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A photo of an Indian soldier patrolling near the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Indian army soldiers patrol the disputed area near the Line of Control between India and Pakistan in December 2013.

PHOTOGRAPH BY CHANNI ANAND, AP

Eve Conant

for National Geographic

Published March 28, 2014

When it comes to territorial disputes across the globe, the list is long and ever-changing. There are now more than 150 disputes under way that involve territory, mostly in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific region, but also in Europe and the Americas. Some disputes are on the distant horizon (Antarctica), some are long-simmering (Jammu and Kashmir), and others—like Crimea—are at their boiling point.

Many fear a spillover effect from Crimea. There is wide concern that Russia's apparent success in annexing the peninsula could set a dangerous precedent for further Russian incursions into Ukraine and other nearby countries, or that other countries may feel emboldened by Russia's actions.

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier went so far as to say Russia has "opened a Pandora's box" with its swift and widely condemned annexation of Crimea. Yet Richard Haass, an American diplomat and president of the Council on Foreign Relations, points to the specifics of that crisis, saying he does "not think the situation in Crimea is necessarily easily replicated," because of the demographic and historical particulars, as well as the imbalance of military forces between Russia and the Ukraine.

Few subjects are more politically sensitive than territorial disputes; the UN declined to comment for this story, citing those sensitivities. But as Haass says, "There is no shortage of disputes either about territory or with a territorial dimension." Some of the world's most contentious and vexing disputes involve territory in:

Map of Crimea.
ALL MAPS: NG STAFF

Crimea

The Black Sea peninsula with its predominantly ethnic Russian population became a part of Ukraine in 1954, when both Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union. The recent military occupation by Russian forces and subsequent referendum to join Russia has been condemned by many world leaders as illegitimate. The West has imposed sanctions.

By contrast, Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and Syria have recognized Russia's control over the area; China abstained from voting on a UN Security Council draft resolution that would have condemned the referendum in Crimea as illegal. (A UN General Assembly vote on March 27 condemned the occupation by 100 to 11, with 58 abstentions.)

But "Crimea is concerning because it sets a precedent for what the international system will bear," says Jeffrey Mankoff, deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. "There is concern that China, for instance, may take [Russia's annexation of Crimea] as a lesson" it will apply to some of its own territorial disputes: that the international consequences of violating borders might not be as severe as once thought.

Map of East China Sea.

East China Sea

A chain of remote, energy-rich islands known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China are the subject of a territorial and maritime dispute between the two powers that has been escalating in recent years, especially over the past few months. (See "Why Are China and Japan Sparring Over Eight Tiny, Uninhabited Islands?")

China has been trying to assert control over airspace in the East China Sea that overlaps with a zone declared by Japan more than four decades ago, after years of post-World War II control by the U.S. Japan argues that the islands were vacant (when no one occupies or controls territory, it is considered terra nullius, "land belonging to no one") until 1895 when its government laid claim to them; China argues that it owned the islands before then.

China is involved in multiple other territorial disputes, including the long struggle over Tibet, which "is an example of a dispute where there is one state and an area inside it wants to be separate," says Ron Hassner, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, who has written extensively about territory disputes. Tibet would top his list of current disputes, he says, because of its large territory and population. (He says the oldest still-active dispute on record is between England and Spain over Gibraltar.) He adds, "Another form of territorial dispute is when two states argue over a piece of land that lies between them, such as Jammu and Kashmir."

Map of Jammu and Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir

The former princely state of India and Pakistan (once part of the British Empire, now part of India, Pakistan, and China) has been disputed since the British relinquished control of the subcontinent in the 1940s. A heavily militarized, 450-mile-long (724-kilometer-long) Line of Control has long pitted Indian and Pakistani forces against each other in this contested Himalayan region.

The stakes were raised in 1998 when Pakistan started to catch up with India technologically and both countries publicly tested their nuclear weapons. In some ways that escalation, however, may be part of what is containing the crisis. "In many cases, these disputes simply linger," says Haass. "It becomes politically too difficult to compromise and militarily too dangerous to press your case."

Map of Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and West Bank.

Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and West Bank

The geographical areas disputed by Israelis and Palestinians are "tiny pieces of land," says UC Berkeley's Hassner. Because of the small number of people and the limited extent of the territory, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would not make Hassner's top five list, "but they get a lot of exposure." Just this week at least three Palestinians were killed and more than a dozen people were injured during an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the West Bank.

When it comes to territorial disputes, says Haass, "the Golan Heights is a classic one." That dispute between Syria and Israel has been under way for decades. "But right now Syria has bigger fish to fry with its civil war," says Haass. "The Golan Heights is not a priority or preoccupation right now" as Syria grapples with its own rebels inside its borders.

Map of Western Sahara.

Western Sahara

The former Spanish colony of Western Sahara in northwest Africa has been in political limbo since Spain withdrew from the area in 1976. Although the action was not recognized internationally, Morocco succeeded in annexing the approximately 100,000 square miles (259,000 square kilometers) of resource-rich desert territory shortly thereafter, and it has remained disputed ever since.

"Morocco has steadily built a series of walls known as the 'Berm' some 2,000 miles [3,219 kilometers] long to essentially push the indigenous population, the Sahrawis, out of the area," says Hassner. In 2010, just ahead of UN-mediated talks on the future of the territory, several people were killed in violent clashes between Moroccan security forces and protesters near the capital, Laayoune.

Map of Transdniestra..

Transdniestria

Besides Crimea, Russia has other territorial disputes on its hands, including a 60-year dispute with Japan over a chain of islands in the Pacific it calls the Southern Kurils and Japan calls the Northern Territories. After a 2008 "five-day war" with Georgia, Russia also now effectively controls Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that once were firmly considered part of Georgia. But the region many are eyeing warily right now is a tiny strip of land called Transdniestria, an unrecognized breakaway state that lies along Moldova's border with Ukraine.

Transdniestria proclaimed independence from Moldova and allegiance to Moscow in the early 1990s and has been considered a "frozen conflict" ever since, but with an ongoing Russian military presence there. After Russia's recent actions in Ukraine, local leaders expressed their firm desire to be annexed next. NATO's supreme commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, said that request would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a pretext to send in troops, as he did in Crimea.

"There is absolutely sufficient [Russian] force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Transdniestria if the decision was made to do that," he said at a recent meeting in Brussels. "And that is very worrisome."

28 comments
David Miller
David Miller

Good overview. Yes, you could have included other disputed regions, such as Northern Cyprus or Nagorno-Karabakh, but then the article would never end. Regarding the Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and West Bank,  you refer to "tiny pieces of land" and "small number of people." The population or the West Bank and Gaza is more than 4.4 million people--greater than all the other disputed areas cited, except for Kashmir. The area is greater than the state of Delaware, which is small but not tiny. The Senkaku/Diaoyu islands are tiny.

Andy Graham
Andy Graham

As a non-stop traveler for 16 plus years, the solution is public transport, while a person driving a car can accidentally drive into problem areas. Taxi drivers and buses refuse to take me into danger, for fear of their own lives, this is my insurance clause.


We was in Iraq, shortly after the heavy fighting stopped, we tried and tried to get this old man we found for a driver to take us to Tikrit, He used every excuse, and never agreed.


Duh, saying things change is a silly, how to know the are changing is a solution, and siting in the chair with the mouse in hand is best thing to do. Andy Lee Graham of Hobo Traveler in Lome, Togo West Africa, a long way from Indiana.

Nitin NaikGaonkar
Nitin NaikGaonkar

 Things change when people need the change. Kashmir is a very prolonged issue now and politicization at the cost of innocent lives has turned into a dirty picture. Even my hands shiver and the camera feels shame to click the photos of once heaven on earth. Hope everything goes fine for the people of Kashmir. 

Videlis Rotich
Videlis Rotich

What about Migingo dispute between Kenya and Uganda

Xubair Makhdoomi
Xubair Makhdoomi

The Kunan Poshspora incident occurred on February 23, 1991, when units of the Indian army launched a search and interrogation operation in the village of Kunan Poshpora, located in Kashmir's remote Kupwara District. At least 53 women were allegedly gang raped by soldiers that night. However, Human Rights organizations including Human Rights Watch have reported that the number of raped women could be as high as 100.


Although the Indian government′s investigations into the incident rejected the allegations as "baseless,international human rights organizations have expressed serious doubts about the integrity of these investigations and the manner in which they were conducted, stating that the Indian government launched a campaign to acquit the army of charges of human rights violations and discredit those who brought the charges.


India Killed 150000 People in Kashmir

70000 Widows

55000 Orphans

13576 Unidentified Graves

1:40 ---- Army:Civilians




Moti Gupta
Moti Gupta

Agreeably when it comes to territorial disputes across the globe, the list is long and ever-changing with more than 150 disputes under way in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific region, but also in Europe and the Americas.We understand the gravity of incident of Russia annexing Crimea. 

It can open a Pandora box of some flash points spread across the world with serious adventures by some disputed borders countries..

Its a dangerous world in future with scarcity of food and water making international borders very tense. 

World leaders need to come forward to address the issues that's going to plague the world in future. We need safe world for our coming generations. 

Natalia Leonova
Natalia Leonova

The precedent was already set by Kosovo - without referendum. Over 60% people of Crimea are Russians. More than 80% speak only  Russian. They offered people from Europe to come and watch referendum to be sure - they ALL WANTED be part of Russia. 

Amal Huma
Amal Huma

Facts of Jammu and Kashmir largely understated. It is referred to as Indian Occupied Kashmir. Where the atrocities of Indian Army (yes it's a military occupied territory) are at an inhumane peak however the World conveniently overlooks the scenario. I wonder why.

Kenji Tamura
Kenji Tamura

Why didn't you include the South China Sea disputes? The Philippines is a US Treaty ally. Vietnam is a formidable country too. China wants to dominate that critical choke point!

Borce Kiroski
Borce Kiroski

"Pandora's box" is opened by NATO with occupation and annexation of Serbian region of Kosovo and Metohija. Fix it on start of text.

Daniel Rolan
Daniel Rolan

I honestly feel this is a harbinger of a new wave territorial disputes and regional conflict as a result of competition over agricultural land and scarce water in a world warmed by human caused climate change. There is so much pent up tension and beneath-the-skin grievances present between tribes and ethnic groups, which will likely be used to fuel new nationalist agendas for territorial takeover, forced rellocation of minotiries, even genocide in certain areas. The connection between Climate Change and war is rarely faced honestly. Often conflicts over resources are masked by religion and politics, but really it comes down to a fact: less growing land, less water, shrinking forests, diminishing fish stocks, economic bloodletting from billion dollar storms and more - all because of human caused climate change.

What helped me finally see this was a book called The Great Waves of Change. I highly recommend you read this book for an eye opening revelation about the truth of our predicament on Earth and how we can prepare personally and as a nation and world for what is coming.

http://www.greatwavesofchange.org

Bob Burnitt
Bob Burnitt

This is what all the puppet politicians want, the elites that own them want it.  The USA "Permanent War Economy" and the MIC that administers it is LOVING this, they are salivating.  One of these days they are going to meet their Stalingrad too.  BB

John Huang
John Huang

In an ideal world, the world superpower would be neutral with zero conflicts of interest and pursue all conflicts / issues. Unfortunately that is not the case and that is clear in position now taken by the US on the Artic Northern Passage.

Don Faul
Don Faul

When there is no big stick or, more aptly, the failure of the leader of the world’s only superpower, to use the big stick, leaders like Putin will more aggressively against weakness. Sad, that the lessons of the late 1930s with Hitler have been either forgotten or ignored.

bob martin
bob martin

I think Russia is trying to start the Soviet Union again  

Drew Palmer
Drew Palmer

Perhaps the most important dispute to resolve soon is the Antarctic Ocean before shipping and drilling interests become further entrenched, and the flag planted at the north pole becomes an historical Russian monument.

Gregory deGiere
Gregory deGiere

Your Middle East map, while accurately reflecting the internationally recognized Israeli-Palestinian borders, errs on the Israeli-Syrian border. It incorrectly shows the occupied Golan Heights as part of Israel while showing the internationally recognized border as "boundary claimed by Syria."

Val Dudkin
Val Dudkin

Definately, one of the most acute and long-standing territorial disputes is between Britain and Argentina over Falkland\Malvine islands in South Atlantics.

Benji Sun
Benji Sun

missing is the Armenia - Azerbaijan conflict zone.  just look at their current borders and it's a mess of pockets of "enemy" territory.  this is far more important and violent than the stupid mess left by the Brits in Kashmir.

Mayank Gupta
Mayank Gupta

It's all about perspective and what is being fed to people by the government and national media. In India, we call the other region as Pak occupied Kashmir and know that it is a hub of terrorist units. Atleast Indian army has never tried to cross border and has not supported any terrorist unit in crossing the LoC. I being a resident of Kashmir have the rights to tell you that no atrocities have been implied in Indian part of Kashmir. Though yes, if you talk about killing ISI agents and terrorists, then yes they have been doing it because they have all the rights to do so.

Vijay Jaiswal
Vijay Jaiswal

@Amal Huma  Because Pakistan illegally occupied part of Kashmir after King Hari Singh merged it with India and besides that Pakistan gave part o it to China. 

Natalia Leonova
Natalia Leonova

@Don Faul  Putin has nothing mutual with Hitler. USA paying "Revolutions" from Chile-Salvador-Iraq-Siria-Ukraine are real Cuarto Reich

Piyush Pandey
Piyush Pandey

@bob martin  just chill dude ..uncle sam and nato puppets will pee this time...GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!!!!

Sandra Parada
Sandra Parada

@Gregory deGiere  Well, technically it is "claimed by Syria". The Israelis are firmly in control of the territory and Syria claims that it belongs to them.

Natalia Leonova
Natalia Leonova

@Piyush Pandey @bob martin  

they would just eat one more small state - like they ate Serbia. Probably - Ukraine. Or Syria. And that is the way Usa will start III World War some day.

Natalia Leonova
Natalia Leonova

@Piyush Pandey @Natalia Leonova @bob martin  Now we know -1. We have just fed Asian republics for 70 years - we don't need it anymore. 2. Ukranians hate us - big thank , uncle Sam - you payed their nazists. 3. Now we know too well what is radical Islam. No, we don't want USSR again. But we want Russians in former Soviet republics be protected.

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