Contested Borders: Effects and Implications

Contested Borders: Effects and Implications

Contested borders around the world have unique and sometimes surprising implications for many different areas of life, both within and beyond the two countries' borders.


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UN Peackeepers at the Golan Heights

The Middle East's Golan Heights, which is occupied by Israel, is a disputed territory. UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights in April 2018.

Science Photo Library/Science Source
The Middle East's Golan Heights, which is occupied by Israel, is a disputed territory. UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights in April 2018.
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Maps can make the world seem very organized. Countries and their borders look clear and well marked. That is not always the case, though. There are places where countries disagree about their borders. These contested borders can have big consequences.

Fighting—and Sometimes not Resolving—Wars

Contested borders can lead to conflict. They can even cause war. Eastern Europe is one region that has seen rapid changes. Many countries there were once controlled by the Soviet Union. That huge country broke up around 1990. Many new borders had to be drawn. Some new countries went to war about their borders. Others have been threatened by Russia. Russia had been the most powerful part of the Soviet Union.

In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine. It took over a territory in Ukraine called Crimea. It has an important port on the Black Sea for the Russian Navy. It also has many people who consider themselves Russian. They voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia. Ukraine protested the results. Most countries took Ukraine's side. However, Russia refuses to leave Crimea.

Some border disputes are leftover from past wars. North Korea and South Korea are an example. The Korean War (1951-1953) split the country in half. In 1958, the two sides signed an agreement. It officially ended the fighting but not the war. No peace treaty was signed. Ever since, there has been a safety zone along the border. It was created to prevent new fighting. In 2018, the two sides officially agreed to end the war. Tensions and a contested border remain, though.

Economic Concerns

Economics also can play a part in contested borders. Different countries may want the same place if it has valuable resources. The Spratly Islands are one such area. They are in the South China Sea. Six different countries have claimed them: Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, China, and Taiwan. Recently, oil was found in the seafloor. This resource may be worth trillions of dollars. All those countries want the territory so they can get that wealth.

Trouble with Maps

Today's maps are very accurate. Still, mapmakers face a challenge when drawing contested borders. They may be accused of taking sides. Google Maps is an online map service. In 2014, it showed Crimea differently depending on where users lived. Users in Ukraine saw a dotted line. It indicated the borders were contested. Russian users, though, saw a solid black line. It showed Crimea was now part of Russia.

Such details may seem unimportant. In world affairs, though, they send a message. Maps are more than geography. They have a symbolic meaning. People may use them to push for or defend their cause.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

August 12, 2022

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