25 Most Controversial Territorial Disputes

Posted by , Updated on May 24, 2024

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. Here are the 25 Most Controversial Territorial Disputes.



For centuries, Greece and Turkey have been at each other’s throats, and this time, the situation is no different. They’ve gone 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% is under the control of the Republic of Cyprus (primarily Greek). Between the two is a buffer zone administered by NATO.


Ceuta and Melilla

Ceuta and Melillahttp://www.theweek.co.uk/94326/ceuta-and-melilla-why-does-spain-own-two-cities-in-africa

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 rejected the idea by an overwhelming majority. So, for now, they remain officially in the European Union.


Point 20


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 running off with some of their land. Because Singapore is an island, 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.


New Moore / South Talpatti


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.


South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands


Between this and the Falklands (#12), it seems that Argentina and the UK just can’t 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. Brexit has only made things more complicated.


Western Sahara


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 is winning a decisive majority of the international community’s support; however, countries like the United States and Russia urge 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.


Bir Tawil

bir twailhttps://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/03/welcome-to-the-land-that-no-country-wants-bir-tawil

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.




When 3 million people declare independence, you’d hope at least one of the nearly 200 countries in the world would nod in acknowledgment. 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?


Falkland Islands

falkland islands

Relatively close in distance to South Georgia Island (#19), the 1982 Falkland War between Argentina and Britain was partially the result of Argentina’s claims there. After the war, the islands maintained British territory status, but as late as 2007, Argentinian 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.




Ever since the end of World War II, Kosovo had been a part of Serbia. After decades of violent conflict, Kosovo finally declared independence in 2008. Since then, 88 countries have recognized it as a legitimately independent state including three of the five members in the UN Security Council with veto power (United States, United Kingdom, and France). The other two, China and Russia, have expressed concern and even gone so far as to declare it illegal. Of course, you can guess where Serbia stands.




Although the Kuril Islands were formally acquired by the Soviet Union following World War II, Japan laid claim to them as well, referring to them as the Northern Territories. Neither side has shown any sign of backing down and as recently as 2006, a Japanese fisherman was shot dead by a Russian patrol for fishing in disputed waters.




Located on a narrow strip of land between the Dniester River and Ukraine, the only two Nations to recognize Transnistria as a sovereign entity are South Ossetia and Abkhazia (#3), who are themselves only partially recognized states. To most of the world, including Moldova, it is legally an autonomous territorial unit within the Moldovan Republic.



korea dmzhttps://lifehacker.com/a-brief-history-of-the-korean-war-1825653259

After World War II, the Korean peninsula was partitioned along the 38th parallel with the north becoming a socialist regime while the south became a republic. Conflict arose, however, as a result of both nations laying claim to the entire peninsula. Eventually, the Korean Demilitarized zone was established between the two nations after the Korean War. To this day, despite a ceasefire, they remain in a state of war.




For those of you who don’t know, two countries claim to be China in the world, the People’s Republic of China (Mainland China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan). To make matters worse, neither recognizes the other, and they both claim the same territory. After World War II, the communist PRC (People’s Republic of China) established control on the mainland and declared itself to be the official successor to the ROC (Republic of China). Unfortunately, the ROC stuck around. This ignited a Chinese Civil War, forcing the defeated ROC into exile on Taiwan.


Spratly Islands


While one out of these 750 islands, reefs, and atolls located in the South China Sea is inhabitable, several nations have staked claims, including both China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The main reason for this conflict is that the islands have numerous oil and natural gas reserves as well as excellent commercial fishing. They’re also in the middle of busy commercial fishing lanes with almost three hundred ships passing through every day.


Northern Ireland

northern ireland

You might be wondering at this point, “Why haven’t they gotten to Northern Ireland, yet?” Well, technically Northern Ireland isn’t in a territorial dispute, at least, not any longer. The dispute was resolved by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and Ireland altered its constitution thus removing its claim to the six counties in question.


Abkhazia and South Ossetia


These two breakaway republics have been battling Georgia (the country…not the state) over their independence for nearly a century. With almost non-stop violence in the region, many times they rely on their closest ally, Russia, for military support. As of today the only countries in the world that recognise them as sovereign states are Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and several Pacific islands.




The Kashmir region between India and Pakistan is technically divided between three global powers – India in the south, Pakistan in the northwest, and China in the northeast (acquired from Pakistan). The problem is that neither India nor Pakistan are willing to recognize the other’s claims. After numerous wars, the land is still in dispute.




Surprised? Probably not. In what has possibly been the most fought over, contended for, and volatile region of the world for thousands of years, this land has gone back and forth between various powers over the centuries. Moreover, in recent history, the conflict has shown no signs of slowing down. After the state of Israel was created in 1947, almost every country in the region attacked it. Although the Arab-Israeli War ended after a year, the violence hasn’t, and several more wars have occurred since then.

Photo: Featured Image - Kristoferb at English Wikipedia, Korean People's Army soldier pointing to the DMZ, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 1. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 3. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 4. Blank map of Europe (with disputed regions).svg: maix derivative work Alphathon /'æɫfə.θɒn/ , Northern Ireland in the UK and Europe, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 5. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 6. TUBS, Taiwan in China (+all claims hatched), CC BY-SA 3.0 , 7. Rishabh Tatiraju, Korea DMZ, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 8. TUBS, Transnistria in Moldova (de-facto), CC BY-SA 3.0 , 9. No machine-readable author provided. NormanEinstein assumed (based on copyright claims)., Sea of Okhotsk map, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 10. NordNordWest, Kosovo location map, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 11. anonymous, Tibet-claims, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 12. Eric Gaba (Sting - fr:Sting), Falkland Islands topographic map-en, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 13. Lencer, Somaliland Karte, CC BY-SA 2.5 , 14. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 15. The original uploader was Jfblanc at Occitan Wikipedia., Halaieb e Bir Tawil oc, CC BY-SA 2.0 FR , 16. Africa location map.svg: Sting derivative work: Nicolay Sidorov, Map of Abyei Area en, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 17. Kmusser, Westernsaharamap, CC BY-SA 2.5 , 18. Original by Eric Gaba (Sting), label/legend edits by Jeff Dahl, Gibraltar map-en-edit2, CC BY-SA 4.0 , 19. TUBS, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in its region (special marker), CC BY-SA 3.0 , 20. Lokal_Profil, Antarctica, territorial claims, CC BY-SA 2.5 , 21. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 22. This Image was created by User:PlaneMad.
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