Calm before temperOver 200 regions around the world are engaged in territorial disputes. In fact, few countries are without one.
History has long been witness to the explosive nature of territorial disputes.
But if all countries resort to military action - as Israel and Palestine and India and Pakistan have - to claim sovereignty over disputed territories, the world will erupt in war.
Every dispute is entrenched in history and often comes down to economic interests over natural resources such as fisheries, mineral and oil reserves, and rivers.
These disputes are also driven by cultural, religious and ethnic nationalism.
The first visit by a Russian president to a disputed island off of Japan’s northern coast is the latest red flag in what could eventually lead to a serious territorial conflict.
Earlier this week, President Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian leader to visit one of the four islands called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.
Japan has been claiming sovereignty over the islands six miles from Hokkaido. The islands were seized by the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War, but Russia has challenged this view with a high-profile visit to the area.
Russia’s bold action has seriously hurt Japan’s pride, adding another blow to its already injured ego following its heated dispute with China over islets in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.
The rage driving Japan is understandable.
Ahead of Russia’s 2012 presidential elections, the Russian president may have a political motive for his visit, but Russia’s synchronized act with China is clearly meant to be provocative.
The Asian region has been embroiled in a series of hot territorial disputes - Japan versus Russia over the Kurils, China and Japan over Senkaku, and Southeast Asian countries with China over territories in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea dispute has become more sensitive and complex after the United States joined the fracas in a bid to offset China’s rising power in the region.
Territorial disputes endanger a country’s sovereignty and pride, which is what makes them so difficult to resolve.
But provocative actions won’t help anyone.
If war is not what these countries are after, it is best that everyone regains composure and lets diplomacy do the work.