Look at a map of the world. Do you see all those crisp looking borders with pretty colors between them? They look really clean and well defined right? Well, unfortunately the world is not like that. Everyday borders shift, old countries are dissolved, and new countries are formed. Many parts of our world are claimed by numerous countries and a lot of those borders are just rough approximations. In fact many times, depending on whose map you look at, the world will change drastically. So, next time you look at an atlas take what you see with a grain of salt and remember what you learned here because these are the 25 most controversial territorial disputes of our present day.
For centuries Greece and Turkey have managed to be at each other’s throats about something and this time the situation is no different. They’ve been going back and forth taking and re-taking control of Cyprus. After several recent invasions by both sides, the island has now been split in half. As of today the northern 37% is under Turkish control while the southern 63% under the control of the Republic of Cyprus (primarily Greek). Between the two is a buffer zone administered by NATO.
These cities on the northern coast of Morocco are Spain’s only remaining territories in Africa. Morocco has repeatedly called for the Spanish government to transfer sovereignty of the two cities but in both cases the local population rejects the idea by an overwhelming majority. So, for now, they remain officially in the European Union.
Getting along has never really been a strong point for the governments of Malaysia and Singapore. Recently, however, things really got interesting when Malaysia accused Singapore of literally running off with some of their land. Because Singapore is an island many times it relies on reclaiming land out of the surrounding waterways. Evidently though, the area known as the Point 20 Sliver was not the smartest place to go digging.
People will fight over anything these days and the island of New Moore proves it. But to be precise, it wasn’t even an island. It was a sandbar. It was a sandbar that no longer even exists. In 1970 it appeared off the coast of India and Bangladesh after the Bhola cyclone and in 2010, due to rising sea levels, it once again disappeared beneath the waves. That, however, didn’t stop the two nations from butting heads for almost 40 years over a pile of sand.
In yet another semi amusing territorial dispute, this uninhabited island in the north Atlantic is claimed by several governments including the UK, Iceland, and Ireland. In 1997 though, Greenpeace occupied the island and called it Waveland. Not surprisingly, none of the other claimants seemed to care enough to mount an invasion.
Although there hasn’t been any blood spilled over these territories the list wouldn’t be complete without them. Antarctica is home to almost all of the remaining terra nullius (unclaimed land) on Earth and even though most of the island has already been hypothetically divided there are always rumors circulating about new claims.
Between this and the Falklands (#12) it seems that Argentina and the UK just can’t seem to get along. The dispute started around the turn of the 20th century when an Argentinian whaling company set up operations on the islands right around the time that the UK annexed them. During the Falklands War they fell under Argentinian control for a short time but were then once again returned to the UK after its resolution. To this day Argentina still lays claim to the islands.
Although there is no significant level of conflict between Spain and the UK concerning this small strip of land jutting out in the Strait of Gibraltar, it is an interesting point of contention for the two allies. And despite Gibraltar officially being a British overseas territory, Spain still lays claim to the peninsula.
A region of land consisting mainly of desert this is one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world. Originally it was part of the Spanish Empire but now both Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic claim the territory. Neither side seems to be winning a decisive majority of the international community’s support however, with countries like the United States and Russia simply urging them to agree on a peaceful resolution.
Sudan certainly isn’t known for its safety. For years the country has been wrecked by civil war and bloodshed and now that South Sudan has achieved its independence the fight has become an interstate conflict. Abyei is a region lying directly between the two nations right in the heart of the conflict zone. Although it is claimed by the South it is administered by the north.
This is an interesting entry on our list because unlike the others it doesn’t involve multiple claims to one piece of land. Rather, it involves two nations insisting that the same piece of land belongs to the other, sort of a “reverse territorial dispute”. For this reason the Bir Tawil region between Egypt and Sudan is one of the only unclaimed regions of land on Earth.
Despite gaining its independence in 1981, the country of Belize has been claimed by Guatemala for the past 30 years. There was a brief moment in 1992 that Guatemala decided to recognize the new nation, but that changed the next year and to this day if you look on some Guatemalan maps Belize is shown as its twenty third department.
You would think that when 3 million people declare independence at least one of the nearly 200 countries in the world would nod in acknowledgement. When Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991, however, they didn’t even get so much as a blink. Granted, they are in a part of the world where borders change almost daily, but hey, maybe if they’d gone with a more original name?
Relatively close in distance to South Georgia Island (#19), the 1982 Falkland War between Argentina and Britain was actually partially the result of Argentina’s claims there. After the war the islands maintained British territory status but even as late as 2007 Argintinian President Cristina Fernandez asked British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to resume talks over the future of the Falklands. Although Brown rejected the talks and Falkland citizens themselves identify as British citizens, Argentina still maintains its claim.
Although most of the world accepts Tibet as an autonomous region of China, Tibet’s “government”, the Central Tibetan Administration, remains exiled in India. As of today, even with backing from organizations such as the CIA, Tibet has been unable to procure its independence.