Sumatra Bose, "Contested Lands", A Review (in English language only)
von Dr. Christian Heinze
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2016 06 10

Bose, Sumatra, „Contested Lands“, Cambridge 2007

The author is Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The book describes the main features of the conflicts concerning the political existence of hostile communities and their governments in Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Cyprus and Sri Lanka with emphasis on territorial and ethno-national aspects. These conflicts have resulted in wars or warlike strife, destruction, loss of life and health and displacement of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people amounting to the “transfer” of territory. The description covers the recent development of the five most significant examples for this type of conflict in such detail as appears possible within its 329 pages. While this size does not allow to capture and evaluate completely the manyfold deeper economic, political (particularly colonial), social, ideological and the often very important religious roots and factors forming the “substantive nature” of the respective conflicts, the contents of the book are not only sufficient but well qualified to serve as a basis for further discussion and responsible policies.

While Bose does not “purport to possess the panacea for disputed territories” (Barry Lenser), he points out as a characteristic factor of conflicts over “disputed lands” the desire of ethnic-national communities for (“collective”) self-determination or self government in their homelands, including “secession” from established “states”, without interference, control or “occupation” by other ethno-national majorities or minorities inhabiting the same territory or by their allies. Bose’s research confirms that attempts at “solutions” along the lines of patterns of “autonomy”, federation or “confederation” or “consociation” usually meet with disapproval and failure. Attempts made by foreign authorities to suggest or more or less gently impose a “solution” frequently if not usually fail also or produce precarious results. In his view, conflicts can be aggravated by the respective communities being too small for state building. Features of policies mentioned like propagating, enveloping or frameworking reconciliation or attenuation or like exchange across borders, cooperation, integration, transformation of borders into bridges describe wishful approach rather than substantial means.

Bose derives, however, two requirements for peaceful settlements of the conflicts in question. One consists in external, third-party-engagement. The other is that the prospects of peace are not necessarily well served by an incremental approach. These observations do not lead very far. For example, the remedy of third party engagement is not recommended by the uneven intervention of the USA into the Israeli-Palestine dispute which Bose mentions. And additional international backing for the UN intervention into the Cyprus conflict as suggested by Bose would certainly not be helpful, because the role of the UN is in itself the cause for the continuation of the Cyprus conflict, as it blocks due recognition of the Turkish Republic of North Cyrus as a state - a status achieved with the help of Turkish intervention on the basis of a treaty right of guarantee (vide

Any attempt at promoting peace in cases of conflicts like those dealt with in Bose’s work, in order to provide a chance for success, must rely on the notion of the State and its internal requirements of a permanent supreme power over a territory with the basic consent of its population and its external consequences of international status and impermeability to be heeded by the family of nations. Because only three alternatives exist for the development of such conflicts: either (1) one community submits to a government firmly established, be it through one or more other communities, that government sincerely supporting the basic needs of the submitting community within the disputed territory, be it even without any more specific co-determination of that community, or (2) the community migrates to a territory where it submits to such a government, or (3) the community establishes its own sovereignty over a part of the disputed territory or a territory outside of it. Bose’s “Contested Lands” provides strong arguments against the validity of the doctrine of illegitimacy of any change of state territory lacking the consent of all concerned, a doctrine held valid and applied by the United Nations in some cases of conflict to the detriment of peace.

Christian Heinze, 2016 06 10

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