# 9.2.4: Boundaries and Boundary Disputes

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# Boundaries & Boundary Disputes

“Good fences make good neighbors.” -Robert Frost

As mentioned in Section 13.4, boundaries can influence the solidarity of a state, as boundary disputes can result in conflict. A boundary is essentially an invisible, vertical plane that separates one state from another, so it includes both the airspace above the line on the surface and the ground below. Boundaries can be both physical and anthropogenic, and while it is difficult to categorize all boundaries, some prominent boundary types exist.

Physical boundaries are natural features on the landscape such as rivers, lakes, and mountains. The Rio Grande is an important physical boundary on the southern border of the United States. Like most rivers, the Rio Grande shifts gradually (and sometimes abruptly) through time. As a result of the fact that the course of a river is not fixed, a river boundary can be problematic. In fact, because of the gradual shift in the Rio Grande in the vicinity of El Paso, the United States and Mexico established the Chamizal Treaty which reestablished the boundary and included a more permanent relocation of the river channel by engineering (Figure 8.5). Some examples of mountain ranges as boundaries include the Zagros Mountains between Iraq and Iran, the Pyrenees between Spain and France, and the Andes Mountains between Chile and Argentina.

Alt text from map: Chamizal Treaty map

In contrast to physical boundaries, geometric boundaries and ethnic boundaries are not related to natural features. Instead, in the case of geometric boundaries, they are straight lines. These straight lines could coincide with latitude or longitude, as is the case with the northwestern boundary of the United States with Canada along 49 north latitude. Likewise, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are separated by another geometric boundary along the 141st meridian.

For ethnic boundaries, they are drawn based on a cultural trait, such as where people share a language or religion. The border between India, which is predominantly Hindu, and Pakistan, which is predominantly Muslim, is one example. Some borders split ethnic groups that are more closely related to the people on the other side of the border. For example, in eastern Ukraine, the majority of the population speaks Russian and is sympathetic to Russians on the other side of the border. As a result, the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been problematic for the Ukrainian central government because of the Russian affiliation with eastern Ukraine. Russian influence in eastern Ukraine is an example of irredentism, or an effort to expand political influence of a state on a group of people in a neighboring state.

Another prime example of where boundaries do not coincide closely with ethnic groups is in Africa. Almost 50 percent of the boundaries in Africa are geometric, and at least 177 ethnic groups are split in two or more states. If all ethnic groups in Africa were to be enclosed in their own boundaries, Africa would have over 2,000 countries (1). Because ethnic groups straddle many boundaries in Africa, this situation has led to considerable cross-border trade, but also has created numerous conflicts. For instance, several wars have occurred because the Somali ethnic group is split between five different countries.

# Key Terms for Political Geography Section of Chapter 7 Part 1

Boundary – an invisible, vertical plane that separates one state from another, which includes both the airspace above the line on the surface and the ground below.

Centripetal force – a force that tends to bind a state together.

Centrifugal force – a force that tends to break a state apart.

Compact state – a state where the distance from the center to any border does not vary significantly; roughly circular.

Ethnic boundary – a boundary that encompasses a particular ethnic group.

Fragmented state – a state whose territory is not contiguous, but consists of isolated parts such as islands.

Geometric boundary – a boundary that follows a straight line and may coincide with a line of latitude or longitude.

Gerrymandering – the process of redrawing legislative districts in order to benefit the party in power and ensure victory in elections.

Irredentism – an effort to expand the political influence of a state on a group of people in a neighboring state.

Multinational state – state that has more than one nation within their borders.

Nation – group of people bonded by cultural attributes such as language, ethnicity and religion.

Nation-state – state in which the territorial boundaries encompass a group of people with a shared ethnicity.

Physical boundary – a boundary that follows a natural feature on the landscape such as a river, mountain range, or lake.

State – a formal region in which the government has sovereignty or control of its own affairs within its territorial boundaries.

Stateless nation – a nation that aspires to become a nation-state but does not yet have their own territory.

Supranational organization – an alliance involving three or more states who have shared objectives that may be economic, political/military, or cultural.

Terrorism – intimidation of a population by violence in order to further political aims.

# Works Consulted & Further Reading

Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. 2013. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. Reprint edition. New York, NY: Currency.

Flint, Colin, and Peter Taylor. 2011. Political Geography: World-Economy, Nation-State and Locality. 6 edition. London New York: Routledge.

Frost, Robert. “Mending Wall by Robert Frost.” Poetry Foundation. Accessed April 30, 2018. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poe...6/mending-wall.

Gallaher, Carolyn, Carl T. Dahlman, Mary Gilmartin, Alison Mountz, and Peter Shirlow. 2009. Key Concepts in Political Geography. 1 edition. London ; Los Angeles: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Glassner, Martin Ira, and Chuck Fahrer. 2003. Political Geography. 3rd edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

Jones, Martin, Rhys Jones, Michael Woods, Mark Whitehead, Deborah Dixon, and Matthew Hannah. 2015. An Introduction to Political Geography: Space, Place and Politics. 2nd edition. London ; New York: Routledge.

Mann, Michael. 2012. The Sources of Social Power: Volume 1, A History of Power from the Beginning to AD 1760. 2nd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Marshall, Tim. 2015. Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World. First Edition edition. New York, New York: Scribner.

Mungai, Christine. “Africa’s Borders Split over 177 Ethnic Groups, and Their ‘real’ Lines Aren’t Where You Think.” MG Africa. January 13, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2018. http://mgafrica.com/article/2015-01-...whereyou-think.

Painter, Joe, and Alex Jeffrey. 2009. Political Geography. 2nd edition. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications Ltd.

ENDNOTES

The following is taken from:

OER (2 of 2): Introduction to human Geography A Disciplinary Approach 3rd Edition by Graves. Published California State University Northridge Department of Geography https://sites.google.com/site/gravesgeography/introduction-to-human-geography

• GP 6, 7, 8

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