7.3.1 Territorial Conflicts

Land has often been acquired by force historically.  The enormous damage created by the Second World War then led to the founding of the UN, to prevent any further invasions (, but much of its decision-making was in the hands of the permanent five members of the Security Council P5 – who were all required to agree before action could be taken.  There have been several subsequent invasions:

●  Israel’s expansion in the ‘six-day war’ in 1967 was an example.  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.  The UN was very slow to bring an end to this war, which reportedly caused more than half a million deaths.

●  The Argentinean invasion of the Falklands in 1982 was an attempt to shore up General Galtieri’s domestic support, but he was defeated (6.3.6).

●  The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which led to what Encyclopaedia Britannica called the ‘Persian Gulf War’, was another example of an invasion.  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”.  That invasion was swiftly quelled with a UN-authorised military intervention.

These invasions weren’t prevented by the UN, but nor did they threaten the rule of international law as envisaged when it was founded.  The entire system is threatened, though, when one of the P5 members of the UN Security Council invades another country; American and Russian invasions, for example, highlight serious problems with the way the UN operates – as described later (7.4.4).

There are other types of territorial dispute between countries which need not be referred to the Security Council.  Land is a source of economic power, most obviously for raw materials and crops, and 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?  This type of dispute can be referred to the International Court of Justice for resolution (, to avoid the use of military force.


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This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/731b.htm