Disputed Borders

May 14, 2018


Even though it seems like clearly defined country borders have been with us for eternity, the truth is they are a relatively recent addition to the global order. Prior to the 20th century, for example, most borders in the world were essentially open and people were able to pass back and forth freely.

That is a big difference from today, with our demilitarized zones, walls, and security checkpoints. These are a few of the most disputed borders in the world.

The Korean Peninsula

For hundreds of years, present-day North and South Korea were united under one culture and language. Political differences during the 20th century resulted in the Korean War, which has never officially ended, even 70 years later.

Today, the border between the two countries is known as the Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ, which is a heavily armed stretch of land that goes for 250 kilometers across the 38th parallel of the Korean Peninsula. It is considered to be the most heavily guarded border in the world.

Kuril Islands

World War II ended in 1945, but hostilities between Russia and Japan have yet to officially end. The reason is because of disputed claims on the Kuril Islands, which is a group of volcanic islands between the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia and Hokkaido Island of Japan.

The islands were officially transferred to the Soviet Union following the war, but Japan continues to claim an historic connection and sovereignty over the islands. Of the 56 islands in the group, only 19,000 people live on the eight that are inhabited.

Western Sahara and Morocco

For over 40 years, Morocco and the unrecognized country of Western Sahara have been in conflict. According to the United Nations, neither Morocco nor the Polisario Front, which governs the territory, has a sovereign claim, making the situation difficult to resolve.

As the situation is now, Morocco exercises control over the western coastal region and considers that territory its southern provinces. The Polisario, with political support from Algeria, control the smaller eastern region. While the fighting has decreased in recent years, this is still one of the most disputed borders in Africa.

Israel and Palestine

Perhaps no other border dispute makes international news more frequently that Israel-Palestine. To make matters even more complicated, this border dispute actually refers to two separate territories: Gaza and the West Bank. While the historical origins of the conflict are complicated and also disputed, both sides strongly believe they have a legitimate claim.

The border conflict has come to the point of war several times over the past few decades, and more recently there have been smaller but still serious armed confrontations. Despite decades of attempts by various figures in the

international community to resolve the conflict, the situation is likely to continue.

Jammu and Kashmir

Until 1947, India and Pakistan were British colonies. After independence, the countries split into two states; one dominated by Hindus and one dominated by Muslims. That act, known as partition, was enough to cause armed conflict on its own. Much of that conflict has centered on the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, which is partially claimed by both India and Pakistan.

Since the partition, there have been three wars because of the dispute, and the conflict is still officially ongoing. At Wagah, the only legal border crossing in the territory between India and Pakistan, there is a daily ritual to ceremonially close the border that is attended by hundreds of people.

Russia and Ukraine

One of the more recent border disputes is between Russia and Ukraine. While the roots of the dispute are not necessarily new, the situation became serious in 2014 when armed conflict started between Russian separatists in the east and the Ukrainian military. That same year the Russian government annexed the Crimean Peninsula, which to that point was under Ukraine’s control.

Even though many governments have condemned the move and not recognized its legitimacy, Russia continues to control the territory.

China and Taiwan

Although not necessarily a physical border, the dispute between Taiwan and China is one of the world’s most prominent. Taiwan, which is an island, came under Chinese control after the defeat of the Japanese in World War II, but the Chinese government was soon overthrown by Mao Zedong. The previous officials left the mainland and went to Taiwan to rule what it called the Republic of China.

The communist government on the mainland, however, has never recognized its sovereignty, and continues to view Taiwan as a “rogue province.”

Serbia and Kosovo

For centuries, Serbia has viewed the territory of Kosovo as part of its sovereign territory. During the time of Yugoslavia, they were administered under the same government, although with different political statuses. Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority, fell under the control of Serbia after the fall of Yugoslavia, but a strong independence movement during the 1990s led to a military conflict.

By 1999, NATO intervened on behalf of Kosovo, and a few years later it declared independence. Although Kosovo has been recognized by several UN member states, Serbia continues to view it as part of its territory, and armed conflicts are ongoing.