“The territorial integrity of Ukraine must be respected” – what is territorial integrity?

Like most people I’ve been following the news of developments in Ukraine with fascination and alarm. I certainly don’t know enough about the country to venture any specific opinions on the situation there. What I would say, though, is there are some resonances in one particular aspect with work I’ve done before. This is with regard to the notion of territorial integrity – which we are continually told must be preserved or respected. Many diplomats and politicians have made this claim. The phrase comes up regularly with regard to Ukraine – see the news reports from a simple Google search. I’ve made the argument before that territorial integrity does not simply mean territorial preservation, i.e. the fixing of existing borders and the maintenance of the territorial status quo. It also means territorial sovereignty, that is the exercise of power within those borders, within that territory. These two meanings have distinct historical lineages, which come together in the early twentieth century, and are enshrined in the United Nations charter. Most people invoking territorial integrity in relation to Ukraine can only mean the first of those; or at least, only the first with any degree of honesty, given what has happened over the past several weeks and further back.


I make a historical argument about the different conceptions that we have within the notion of territory in The Birth of Territory, and discuss the contemporary importance of understanding these different meanings in Terror and Territory, where I suggest there is a profound tension between territorial preservation and territorial sovereignty today. But I worked through some of the contemporary political issues in  series of articles leading up to the book, and then in a co-authored paper with Alison Williams on the specific case of Iraq. The most relevant of these pieces can be freely downloaded here – the first of which has a very brief mention of the 2004 election results, shown in the map above. Perhaps some will find them useful. The point is not that there is a direct relation between what is happening in Ukraine and these other places; but that the notion of territorial integrity is a complicated and contested notion, and understanding something of that might be of some use in making sense of the complexities at stake today.

Elden, S. Territorial integrity and the war on terrorEnvironment and Planning A. 2005; 37:2083-2104.

Elden, S. Contingent Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity and the Sanctity of BordersSAIS Review of International Affairs. 2006; 29:11-24.

Elden, S. Blair, Neo-Conservatism and The War on Territorial IntegrityInternational Politics. 2007; 44:37-57.

Elden, S. & Williams, A. The Territorial Integrity of Iraq, 2003-2007: Invocation, Violation, ViabilityGeoforum. 2009; 40:407-417.

This entry was posted in Boundaries, Politics, Territory, Terror and Territory, The Birth of Territory. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “The territorial integrity of Ukraine must be respected” – what is territorial integrity?

  1. Pingback: “The territorial integrity of Ukraine must be respected” – what is territorial integrity? | Progressive Geographies | PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR

  2. I hope that the re-annexation of Crimea to Russia takes place with minimal bloodshed. Under the circumstances, resistance is futile, given the distribution of “boots on the ground” and the apparent fact that the majority of the Crimean population favors the transfer of power. The Russians are justified in saying, about the Crimean peninsula, “all your bases are belong to us.”

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