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Regional Boundaries

Regional Boundaries

If people persist in trespassing upon the grizzlies' territory, we must accept the fact that the grizzlies, from time to time, will harvest a few trespassers1

- Edward Abbey

If you live in a neighborhood, you may be aware of a few neighbors who are particularly protective of their yards. Think of all the times you have seen a NO TRESPASSING sign. Perhaps you are exploring a wilderness area. What would happen if you entered a territory that was not yours? How would the owner react?

Regional Boundaries Definition

The definition is as the name implies:

Regional boundaries: where the territory of one region ends and the territory of the next region begins.

This is an easy definition to understand, but in practice, regional boundaries are not always so simple. Let's discuss.

Regional Boundaries Examples

As you may know, there are three types of regions: perceptual, formal, and functional.

  • Formal regions feature a well-defined area that shares a common attribute.

  • Functional regions are characterized by a central node and then the surrounding area where an activity occurs.

  • Perceptual regions are based on perception rather than physical attributes.

While the borders of formal regions are usually well-defined, other regions' borders are not. Thus, regional boundaries are often transitory and overlapping.

Regional boundaries can occur naturally or be decided by the actors involved. For instance, some nations' borders occurred naturally, while others were born out of conflict and negotiation.


Examples of regional boundaries include the one between the French-speaking area of Belgium (Wallonia) and the Dutch-speaking area (Flanders). It is clear that you have passed the regional boundary when the language of the street signs changes. Additionally, you may transition from one functional region to the next if you can no longer receive a certain radio station, but instead have access to a new station.

Contested Regional Boundaries

As mentioned, regional boundaries are often not well-defined. There are numerous examples of multiple regions that overlap.

South China Sea

The South China Sea is a hotly contested region. Numerous countries bordering this sea lay overlapping claims to maritime territory. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines states as having direct control over the area extending 12 nautical miles from the coastline. States also can claim 200 nautical miles from the coastline as being within their exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

The South China Sea is a major passageway for international trade, so countries want to control as much territory as possible. It also has valuable minerals in and under the seabed. As the biggest power in the region and the dominant trading partner, China lays claim to most of it. It does this by claiming islands as Chinese territory so its EEZ can extend in a 200-mile radius around these islands. Oftentimes, these "islands" may be little more than a reef protruding above the waves. It has also expanded and created islands to support its territorial claims.

Regional Boundaries South China Sea Territorial Claims StudySmarterFig. 1 - China's claim to the Sea is depicted in red and each bordering nation's overlapping claim is depicted in blue

Thus, China's claim in the South China Sea defies the maritime laws as established by UNCLOS. The rightful territory of the nations of Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, and the Philippines is being infringed upon.

Kashmir

In the South Asian region of Kashmir, there is an ongoing dispute over where the intersecting borders of India, Pakistan, and China are located because these three powerful nations have overlapping claims to territory. In this region, it is not clear where one nation's border ends and where the other begins. Thus, it is easy for conflict to arise as nations seek to defend the territory they see as theirs. The region of Kashmir has seen border patrols and soldiers battling each other, which is extremely problematic because all three nations involved possess nuclear weapons.

Regional Boundaries Kashmir StudySmarterFig. 2 - This map depicts the region of Kashmir in South Asia. The borders between India, Pakistan, and China have never been formally defined in the region, so conflict remains

The main source of the conflict is a result of the Partition of India in 1947 which saw the former British colony of India split into two. Pakistan became home to the Muslims of the region, while India was mainly non-Muslim. This partition caused millions of Muslims to vacate the territory of India and move to Pakistan. During this time, both Pakistan and India claimed the Kashmir region as part of their country. Thus, Pakistan and India are the primary stakeholders in the region, while China plays a third-party role. The status of Kashmir has never been formally and continues to be fought over eight decades later.

Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh, known to Armenians as the Republic of Artsakh, is a contested area in the Caucasus region of Asia fought over by Armenia and Azerbaijan. While the territory is an enclave within Azerbaijan, meaning it is surrounded on all sides by Azerbaijan, the population of Nagorno-Karabakh is ethnically Armenian. Thus, Armenia claims this area as being part of its country as the residents are seen as members of the Armenian nation. However, most of the international community recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as being a part of Azerbaijan.

If you are confused by what it means to be a member of a nation, check out StudySmarter's explanation on Nation vs. Nation State as this is an important concept to understand for the AP Human Geography exam

Regional Boundaries Map of Nagorno-Karabakh StudySmarterFig. 3 - The Nagorno-Karabakh region is heavily contested and a source of conflict between the neighbors of Armenia and Azerbaijan

As with other regional boundaries, new sparks of conflict cause the borders of this region to be in flux. One side will gain territory during a battle only to lose it again at a later date. A conflict in 2020 caused the territory's borders to be re-defined again. As a result of the transitory nature of regional boundaries, they are not well-defined and stable.

Regional Boundary Problems and Solutions

When areas are contested, it is easy for conflict to arise. For instance, conflict can easily be sparked as states try to defend the territory they see as being theirs. No property owner likes to see their territory being encroached upon.

As mentioned in the boundary disputes explanation, boundary disputes are a major cause of conflict. They often lead to war.

Causes of Contested Regional Boundary

Multiple variables contribute to the creation of conflicts at regional boundaries, but there are a few causes that stand out.

Material Claims

When there are dual claims to the same territory, there can be conflict.

A key characteristic of territory is natural resources. Thus, resource-rich areas can become contentious as states compete for the ownership of these resources. For instance, in the contemporary age, countries compete over territory rich in oil or other fossil fuels because possessing the territory means the country can also possess the oil resources. The possession of oil has made countries around the world rich, such as Qatar, Bahrain, Brunei, and the United Arab Emirates. These states have become influential on the world stage simply because of the wealth and power their abundance of oil has provided.

The Arctic

While the Arctic is still covered in ice and is thus difficult to navigate, that is beginning to change as global warming causes the ice to melt. The Arctic is becoming more and more navigable, and the ice is also melting earlier in the year, too. Since the Arctic has historically not been hospitable to major industries or settlements, territorial claims in the Arctic have not been heavily contested or valued. There has been little motivation to formally define territorial borders. However, that is changing too.

The countries that claim Arctic territory are those that border the Arctic Ocean: the US, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark.

Regional Boundaries Arctic Circle Arctic Ocean Map StudySmarterFig. 5 - Map of the Arctic. This region is becoming increasingly navigable and contentious as bordering nations claim territory in order to possess untapped resources

Located under the Arctic Ocean are vast untapped reserves of oil and other fossil fuels. As the ice melts, it will be easier for nations bordering the Arctic to extract these resources. Thus, there is likely to be conflict as bordering nations seek to fortify and expand their territorial claims in the Arctic. The Arctic could be a new battleground as it becomes a source of wealth and important resources in the coming decades.

Cultural Claims

States may also have overlapping claims to territory due to what the nations see as being culturally important territory. For instance, states may often claim an area as being a homeland, which is the location where their nation originated. Since the homeland is seen as fundamental to the development of the nation, states have a strong desire to control their homeland. Homes have a certain emotive power and sentimentality that individuals will fight much harder to get back or defend. Thus, cultural claims for a region are powerful and are not often relinquished without a hard fight.

Israel and Palestine

A region that is highly contested is the territory of Israel and Palestine. While this is a highly contentious issue that has centuries of history and cannot be discussed in one paragraph alone, it is important to understand that the conflict has arisen due to both nations claiming the same territory for cultural reasons. This territory is the "homeland" of both groups.

The city of Jerusalem is extra complicated because this historic city is home to sites that are important and foundational to three of the world's major religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Regional Boundaries Israel and Palestine StudySmarterFig. 6 - The borders of Israel and Palestine are overlapping, confusing, and controversial. There is conflict over dual cultural claims to territory

Big Power Rivalry

Another region for contested regional boundaries is that competing powers lay claim to more and more territory to compete and strengthen their possession of territory and resources. The most powerful nation in a region often exerts its power and cannot be controlled. For instance, China seeks to hold territory in the South China Sea to expand its influence and territory to the maximum limit. This region has become a stage for a powerful country to exert its dominance. It is an alluring opportunity for big powers to see how much territory they can successfully claim.

Regional Boundaries - Key takeaways

  • Regional boundaries are where the territory of one region ends and the territory of the next region begins.
  • Depending on the type of region, regional boundaries can be clearly defined. However, regional boundaries are often transitory and overlapping.
  • Examples of contested regional boundaries include Kashmir and the South China Sea.
  • Dual cultural and material claims as well as big power rivalry are causes of contested regional boundaries.

References

  1. Edward Abbey (2015). “A Voice Crying in the Wilderness”, p.47, RosettaBooks
  2. Fig. 1 - Map of the South China Sea (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:South_China_Sea_vector.svg) by Goran tek-en licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  3. Fig. 2 - Map of Kashmir (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Situation_in_Kashmir.png) by OpenStreetMap contributors licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Regional Boundaries

Regional boundaries are where the territory of one region ends and the territory of the next region begins. 

The markings of a regional boundary depend on the specific types of regions involved. Formal boundaries usually have clear markings. However, regional boundaries can also be contested and unclear.

Regional boundaries can occur naturally, or they can be decided by the actors involved. For instance, some nations' borders occurred naturally, while others were born out of conflict and negotiation. 

An example of a contested boundary is the South China Sea as China claims more territory than granted to it by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Regional boundaries can be contentious, as those with stakes in the territory do not easily give up claims to territory. 

Borders are contested because possession of territory also means possession of the resources within the territory. States do not want to give up territory in which they have a material or cultural claim, as this would negatively impact the state. 

Final Regional Boundaries Quiz

Question

Which of the following regional boundaries is highly contested?

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Answer

The South China Sea.

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Question

Which of the following states is not competing for territory in the Kashmir region?

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Answer

China.

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Question

Which of the following states is not competing for territory in the South China Sea?

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Answer

Japan.

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Question

Which of the following states is not competing for territory in the Arctic Ocean?

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Answer

Sweden.

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Question

Regional boundaries can be overlapping and transitory.

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Answer

True.

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Question

If a nation claims that a territory is its homeland, they have a _______ on the territory.

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Answer

cultural claim.

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Question

Three types of regions are:

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Answer

Formal, functional, vernacular.

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Question

What agreement defines limits of territory at sea?

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Answer

UNCLOS.

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Question

An EEZ extends out _______ nautical miles from land.


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Answer

200.

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Question

Nagorno-Karabakh is disputed between what two countries?

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Answer

Armenia and Azerbaijan.

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