WPS 2016-02: Expanding the Boundaries of Boundary Dispute Settlement: International Law and Critical Geography at the Crossroads

Michal Saliternik

This article identifies a new trend in the adjudication of international boundary disputes and examines it from a historical and normative perspective. For many years, the resolution of international land boundary disputes was governed exclusively by the principle of the stability and continuity of boundaries. Under this paradigm, the main role of international adjudicators was to determine the exact location of historical boundary lines that had been set forth in colonial-era treaties or decrees. Once these lines were ascertained, they were strictly enforced, and any attempt to challenge them was dismissed. In recent years, however, international adjudicators have been increasingly inclined to deviate from historical boundaries in order to promote “human-oriented” goals such as the protection of borderland populations or the bolstering of peace efforts. After demonstrating this development in several cases, the article evaluates its normative implications. For that purpose, it turns to Critical Border Studies (CBS), an emerging field within political geography that critically explores the sources, functions and effects of borders. CBS sheds light on the power asymmetries that underlie the traditional paradigm and points to the need to adopt a more dynamic and equitable approach to boundary delineation. Drawing on CBS insights as well as on recent boundary jurisprudence, the article maps out several types of human-oriented considerations that international adjudicators should take into account when deciding boundary disputes, and examines ways to balance them with the principle of the stability of boundaries. Beyond its contribution to the study and development of international boundary law, this article demonstrates the broader potential of marrying international law with critical geography, which has so far mostly been overlooked.

Expanding the Boundaries of Boundary Dispute Settlemet WPS 02-2016 (pdf)