The New Today


Major territorial conflicts and internal conflicts in the world today

A territorial conflict involves either a disagreement between states over where their common homeland or colonial borders should be fixed, or, more fundamentally, the conflict entails one country contesting the right of another country even to exercise sovereignty over some or all its homeland or colonial territory.

There are a series of situations that qualify as territorial conflict:

(i) disagreement over a boundary line of a border,

(ii) opposing definitions of a boundary line and no legal or historical documents establishing that line,

(iii) occupation of another state’s territory without consent,

(iv) claim by one state against the occupation by another state of a portion of territory located within the latter, and

(v) when one state does not recognise the sovereignty or independence of another entity and seeks to control all or part of that entity’s territory.

Two of the major territorial conflicts in the world today occur here in the Caribbean: the Belizean–Guatemalan territorial conflict, and the Guyana-Venezuela territorial conflict.

The Belizean–Guatemalan territorial conflict is an unresolved territorial dispute between the states of Belize (formerly known as British Honduras) and Guatemala, neighbours in Central America.

During the late 1600s and throughout the 1700s, Britain and Spain signed several treaties regarding territories in the Americas. Both nations agreed that the territory of modern day Belize was under Spanish sovereignty though British settlers could use the land, in specific areas and for specific purposes.

The area was never fully under British or Spanish rule at this time and the British settlers continually expanded far past the boundaries set by the treaties. When the Spanish Empire fell, Guatemala said that it inherited Spain’s sovereign rights over the territory.

Since independence, Guatemala has claimed, in whole or in part, the territory of Belize. As of June 2022, both countries have agreed to settle this dispute at the International Court of Justice and have submitted their initial briefs to that organization. The court is not expected to rule until 2025 at the earliest.

This conflict over the Essequibo region – an approximately 160,000 square km stretch of densely forested land that constitutes two-thirds of Guyana’s territory and is home to roughly 125,000 of its 800,000 citizens – stretches back to the 19th century, when Guyana was under colonial rule.

Venezuela has laid claim to the Essequibo region since 1841, when it argued that the British Empire had encroached on Venezuelan territory in its acquisition of the territory of then – British Guiana from the Netherlands.

It has also challenged the validity of the 1899 Paris Arbitral Award through which the border between Venezuela and British Guiana was decided. On December 14, 2023, Venezuela and Guyana jointly declared their commitment to a peaceful resolution of this dispute through bilateral dialogue.

Some of the current internal conflicts in the world today are occurring in Sudan, Haiti, Syria, Myanmar, Gaza and Ukraine.

SUDAN: Sudan has experienced its share of internal conflict. Most recently in April of 2023, fighting between two rival military groups erupted in the capital city of Khartoum and has since spread throughout the country.

Ongoing fighting has continued, killing 13,900 people, and displacing 8.1 million. Most are internally displaced, and over a million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries.

Sudan was already facing hunger due to poverty and climate disasters, but the conflict has plunged millions more into hunger. Due to rising food costs and disrupted infrastructure from the conflict, over 20 million people are now facing food insecurity.

HAITI: Haiti has a long history of internal conflict, compounded by recurring earthquakes and hurricanes.

According to a report from officials of the World Food Programme in March 2024, 4.97 million people in Haiti face crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity, including 1.64 million people facing “emergency” levels.

Amongst the areas most severely affected is the Artibonite valley – the country’s breadbasket – where armed groups have taken over farmland and stolen harvested crops.

Also of concern are the West department, rural parts of Grand’Anse in the South, and several poor neighbourhoods of the capital, including Croix des Bouquets, and Cité Soleil – which saw pockets of catastrophic hunger in late 2022.

In 2022, conflict gripped the country once again when local gangs began fighting each other for control. The violence has escalated over the past year with civilians caught in the crossfire.

Related:  Building back better

SYRIA: It’s been over a decade of hellish conflict for families across Syria, and there are now more Syrian refugees in the world than citizens of any other country.

The ongoing civil war involves the government, rebel forces, various domestic groups, foreign countries, and ISIS.

It started as part of the wider Arab Spring protests in 2011, escalating each year with humanitarian atrocities, country-wide devastation, and millions of civilian deaths.

Some 12.9 million people, almost 60 percent of the population, are hungry and don’t know where their next meal will come from. This is a 57 percent increase since 2019 and the highest number ever recorded in the history of Syria.

GAZA: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is driven by several factors: ethnic, national, historical, and religious. It began in 1948, when 200,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes, following the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, when the Arab League decided to intervene on behalf of Palestinian Arabs, marching their forces into former British Palestine, settling in the Gaza strip as refugees.

Since then, Israel has fought 15 wars against the Gaza Strip. The number of Gazans reportedly killed in the most recent war in 2023, is the most catastrophic.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an unprecedented assault on Israel on 7 October 2023, with hundreds of gunmen infiltrating communities near the Gaza Strip. About 1,200 people were killed, and more than 250 were taken to Gaza as hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

So far since the conflict began, over 34,000 Gazans have been killed and over 2 million people have been displaced. Unlike other conflicts, people in Gaza have nowhere to flee and are trapped within their own borders.

With limited resources and no access to the outside world, Gazans are completely dependent on humanitarian aid to survive.

UKRAINE: Russia’s war in Ukraine is the most disruptive conflict that Europe has seen since 1945.

NATO’s 2008’s decision in favour of eventual Ukrainian membership brought an existential threat to Russia’s borders, a conflict which can be traced to the end of the cold war.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine became an independent state, formalised with a referendum to join the European Union in 2004. This manifested in a political division between the “pro-European “Western” Ukraine   and the “pro-Russian” Eastern Ukraine, which led to an ongoing series of political disputes, including the Russian invasion.

It has caused over 6 million refugees to flee the country and created a new humanitarian emergency in Europe.

The United Nations plays an important role in conflict prevention, using diplomacy, good offices and mediation. Among the tools the Organisation uses to bring peace are special envoys and political missions in the field.

However, this does not occur very often. More often, the countries engage in diplomacy, negotiating a settlement to their differences, or they continue their conflict at varying degrees of intensity and violence.

In addition to mediating, the U.N. or other international bodies routinely will send in “peacekeepers” armed or sometimes unarmed military and/or civilian forces who simply position themselves between the warring factions in an effort to stop the violence (though they do nothing to solve the underlying conflict).

Conflict resolution is a way for two or more parties to find a peaceful solution to a disagreement among them. The disagreement may be personal, financial, political, or emotional. When a dispute arises, often the best course of action is negotiation to resolve the disagreement.

The goals of negotiation are to produce a solution that all parties can agree to; to work as quickly as possible to find this solution; to improve, not hurt, the relationship between the groups in conflict. Conflict resolution through negotiation can be good for all parties involved.

Often, each side will get more by participating in negotiations than they would by walking away, and it can be a way for your group to get resources that might otherwise be out of reach.

Simeon Collins is a former Director of the Grenada Bureau of Standards and first Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA), a CARICOM Institution. He is also a certified OSHA Auditor