7.3.1 Territorial Conflicts

There are several types of dispute between countries in which military power might be used to try to acquire or retain territory:

  • Land has often been acquired by force historically – as was attempted in the Second World War– but since the founding of the UN there have been relatively few invasions of one country by another in order to seize control of it.  The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which led to what Encyclopaedia Britannica called the ‘Persian Gulf War’, was a notable exception.  Saddam Hussein’s motives were described as “the apparent aim of acquiring that nation’s large oil reserves, canceling a large debt Iraq owed Kuwait, and expanding Iraqi power in the region”.  The invasion was swiftly quelled with a UN-authorised military intervention.
  • Israel’s expansion in the ‘six-day war’ was another acquisition of territory by force. The captured land has not been wholly restored, although the Sinai was returned to Egypt two years later as part of the peace deal between the two countries, as shown on BBC maps tracing the conflict.
  • Old boundary disputes keep recurring and are relatively common. The Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), as described by GlobalSecurity.org, was an example where the border was cited as one of the causes of the dispute.
  • Land is a source of economic power, most obviously for raw materials and crops; resource shortages – of food, water and minerals – have the potential to spark conflicts. There has been sabre-rattling over islands which have valuable natural resources in the South China Sea, for example, as described in a BBC article: Why is the South China Sea contentious?
  • A regime might wish to shore up its domestic support by attempting to redress some perceived historic injustice, as with the Argentinean invasion of the Falklands in 1982 (6.3.6).

In the examples given, the armed forces of the participant countries confronted each other with the aim of changing the position of the boundary between them.  They relied upon the use of force, rather than submitting their disputes to the International Court of Justice for resolution (


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