Territorial Disputes at the International Court of Justice

34 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2005

See all articles by Brian T. Sumner

Brian T. Sumner

Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP; Alcoa Inc.


In international law and relations, ownership of territory is significant because sovereignty over land defines what constitutes a state. The benefits of having territory, though, are only as great as a state's borders are clear. In many cases, these borders are subject to competing international claims. Such claims can be generally divided into nine categories: treaties, geography, economy, culture, effective control, history, uti possidetis, elitism, and ideology. States have relied on all nine categories to justify legal claims to territory before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). This article examines the interplay and hierarchy among these nine justifications in the outcomes of land boundary cases adjudicated by the ICJ to determine whether one particular justification is dispositive - or, at the minimum, highly determinative. This analysis of the case law indicates that no single justification operates as the decision rule in the court's boundary dispute jurisprudence, and that the court manifests a hierarchical preference for treaty law, uti possidetis, and effective control, respectively.

Keywords: International Law,International Relations,International Court of Justice,ICJ,Territorial Dispute,Boundary Dispute,Border Dispute,Institutionalism,Neoliberalism,foreign affairs,World Court,uti possidetis,territorial claim,effective control,ex aequo et bono,terra nullius,effectivites,

JEL Classification: K11,K12,K33,K41,N10,N20,N30,N40,N50,N70,O19,Q15

Suggested Citation

Sumner, Brian Taylor and Sumner, Brian Taylor, Territorial Disputes at the International Court of Justice. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=665304

Brian Taylor Sumner (Contact Author)

Alcoa Inc. ( email )

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