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International disputes are major disagreements between two or more nations, or unilateral declarations by one nation that are not accepted by others. There are many sources of international disputes, including territorial disputes, maritime rights disagreement, conflicts on human rights, and long-held grievances for past actions that have never been fully resolved. International disputes have been the source of military conflict, civilian deaths, and long-standing animosity between nations that may stretch for generations.
Border disputes are quite common in the international community. Borders are often far from the center of power in a country, and may shift from time to time as a result of farming community spread or even topographical changes. The lines on a map made decades before may not always be relevant to the current situation, and in some cases may have been disputed even when the map was originally drawn. Greece and Turkey have been involved in border disputes for thousands of years about the land bordering the Aegean Sea; since the 1970s, these disputes have come dangerous close to military action at least twice.
Resource issues are another major source of international disputes. The rights to drill for oil, mine ore, cut timber, and access fresh water sources are important to a country's financial and sometimes literal survival, making these fights quite serious. Many resource conflicts relate back to territorial disputes; determining who owns the land with the resource can help define who has the right to use it. Resource debates also become more complex when discussing natural formations, such as large rivers, that span multiple domains. Sometimes, these initial disputes can have productive outcomes; in 1998, 14 nations that border the Danube River in Europe formed the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, an organization dedicated to reducing pollution and creating cooperative sustainable water use programs.
The Age of Imperialism left the world with a great deal of conquered nations and areas not happy with their colonial governors. Many international disputes of the 21st century still date back to the expansive era of nation building, with native people or prior owners crying out for the return of conquered and annexed areas. Gibraltar, for instance, has been an area of contention between the United Kingdom and Spain since the early 18th century, while many of the native people of the area insist on their own rights to govern.
The treatment of refugees, and humans in general, is often the source of grave international disputes. These conflicts lie around issues such as permitting human trafficking, the oppression of women, religious oppression, and ethnic cleansing or genocide attempts. International disputes over human rights issues often bear heavy costs and few simple results; many well-meaning nations that decry human rights violations are left with few choices to change the situation other than plunging in with military aid, which carries its own costs and does not always promise a solution. Many international law scholars hope that attentive management of other types of international disputes can help lead to improved international cooperation over time, which may in turn lead to a more open forum to manage human rights issues.