Disputes over territory ownership have prevailed as a global hot topic for centuries. The concept has deep roots in the United States’ history. For instance, look at the annexation of Texas in 1845 resulting in a feud with Mexico, or today’s dilemma with Canada over the Machias Seal Island. Nearly everyone is aware of these events: But do many truly understand the logistics behind them? What causes them? How do leaders carry them out and how do they end — if they ever do?
The University of Connecticut promoted a webinar hosted by The International Studies Association that welcomed authors Dr. Rob Geist Pinfold, Dr. Emilia Justyna Powell and Dr. Krista Wiegand to discuss their recent publications written in regards to territorial disputes.
Dr. Rob Pinfold, a professor at Durham University, presented first, discussing his 2023 publication, “Understanding Territorial Withdrawal: Israeli Occupations and Exits.” His presentation mainly focused on the topic of withdrawal; in particular, how countries do it or why they may choose not to.
For those not heavily invested in these kinds of conversations, Pinfold explained that occupation is the event in which a state controls a territory but hasn’t yet annexed or assimilated that acquired territory. He went on to explain that on paper, these occupations are meant to last for a short period of time, but in reality, they are almost always drawn out.
Pinfold explained his findings from the case studies he performed that helped him write the book. He discovered commonalities that he split into six themes between each case and their approach to occupation: Gradual process, enemy violence, international bargaining, multilateral, domestic consensus and entrenchment elsewhere.
Pinfold elaborated on the “gradual process” theme as it appeared to be an eye opening finding. Outside observers often hear about a new occupation and assume that the decision was made on a whim. As it turns out, this decision comes as a result of smaller events that anticipate it.
He also spoke more on the “entrenchment elsewhere” theme. This concept could refer to either the act of a state withdrawing its occupation or essentially trading itself as an occupier of one territory to a new one that it cares slightly more about than its previous subject. Rarely do countries withdraw themselves without occupying a new land.
Pinfold ends on an interesting note by saying that these countries know that “violence is necessary but not always sufficient.” He added that violence can only get a country part of the way to a successful occupation or to help it withstand becoming occupied. This also relays back to the “gradual process” theme from before, entailing that occupation requires many roles and sequences of events in order to be properly executed.
Following Pinfold were Dr. Emilia Powell from the University of Notre Dame and Dr. Krista Wiegand from the University of Tennessee sharing their presentation of their co-authored book “The Peaceful Resolution of Territorial and Maritime Disputes.” This publication focuses more on the legal side of international disputes. It is built upon the theory that “states seek a resolution method that is most likely to yield favorable outcomes;” the scholars spent their presentation breaking down what exactly that means.
Powell kicked off the first half of the presentation by declaring that “states want control in what the outcome is and how that outcome is achieved.” They do this by going through two strategic decisions: choice-of-venue strategic selection and within-venue strategic selection.
“Choice-of-venue” refers to the “where” the dispute will take place. States primarily look towards places that either they themselves have won in or where their allies have won. “Within-venue” refers to the process of figuring out how states will use what they know about their venue in order to elicit the most favorable outcome for themselves.
In part, these strategies look at the geography of the land itself, but not for reasons you may assume. For example, a country may decide to provoke a dispute over the ownership of an island not because they believe they’ll win with naval power, but because legally, islands in certain oceans cannot be claimed by mainland countries. Disputes occur not just for the desire to gain power, but sometimes to withhold power from another nation.
Dr. Weigand took over to explain this more clearly using the South China Sea Arbitration as an example. When discussing this example, Weigand described the Philippines’ strategy behind choosing lawyers. The country sought not for a lawyer who had loyalty to the Philippines, but rather with beliefs and values that aligned with those of the Philippines on this dispute that would ultimately fuel a successful ruling.
No matter your level of expertise in international affairs, these webinars are extremely insightful and deliver a sufficient amount of information on topics not expounded upon enough. Additionally, they’re only an hour long, so you will not feel overwhelmed by a great deal of information. If you would like to hear more from ISA, their webinar series continues through Oct. 19.