Border disputes often represent complex geopolitical disagreements as well as a challenge for cartographers. It is problematic to ensure that maps reflect the borders without any bias towards either side of the conflict. To ease this issue, MapTiler Cloud enables users to display the borders according to the selected country’s policy. In this article, we will show you the way how this is done.
To change disputed borders on your maps, you need to have a MapTiler Cloud account created. If you don’t have one yet, please register for free at https://cloud.maptiler.com/ or directly purchase at https://www.maptiler.com/cloud/plans/.
A boundary or territorial dispute is a disagreement over an area of land claimed by two or more political entities. Each involved party would publish its own maps where the area would be within their state territory. The conflicts can originate from historical background, different religious or ethnic perspectives, the possession of strategic natural resources or of a complex combination of a variety of these factors. What makes the mapping of border disputes even more difficult is the fact, that every conflict is unique and has its own geopolitical issues.
Border disputes have significant meaning in international law as they disrupt its very basis – the state territory. There are a few terms widely used in relation: border dispute, occupied territory and irredentism. Occupied territory, however not accepted by the sovereign states, is usually in control of the occupied state by the military force. Irredentism has a deep basis in history. It is an ideological movement wanting to reclaim lost populations and territories that once declared the independence of their former state.
Now that we know an important theory behind it, we can get a bit more insight into some of the most discussed border disputes of today’s world.
Kashmir conflict dates back to the Indo-Pakistani war of 1947, the year when the countries split. Both India and Pakistan claim the area of the formerly independent state Kashmir and Jammu with China being involved as a third party.
Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and West Bank are territories disputed by Israel and Palestina who did not reach peace even after the 54 years of struggles. In May 2021 the situation escalated again resulting in rocket attacks from Gaza and airstrikes by Israel. The ceasefire was agreed upon on 21 May.
Western Sahara is a disputed territory over which the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco are arguing. The territory’s sovereignty is considered as unresolved by the United Nations. The conflict originated from an insurgency against Spanish colonial forces in 1973 and the subsequent Western Sahara War.
Turkey-Syria border is a place of conflict since the Syrian Civil war started in 2011. The situation in the Middle East is a really complex one with many parties and troops involved ranging from Russia or United States to the terrorist organization so-called Islamic State. Although the conflict is slowly coming to an end as of July 2021, with Syrian forces controlling the majority of the state’s territory, clashes still continue in the northwest region.
South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 following the results of a referendum, making it the most recent sovereign state in the world. Despite that, the disputes over areas such as Abyei or Heglig stayed, as most of the oil reserves come from these regions. This eventually lead to a Civil War which was ended in 2020 by a peace deal and new government. As of July 2021, the implementation of the peace deal was however delayed.
Crimea crisis started in 2014 when the Crimean Peninsula was annexed by the Russian Federation. It is one of the most recent territorial disputes in Europe. There is an ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war following the events of 2014, with forces clashing mainly in the Donbas region.
Armenia-Azerbaijan border crisis is an ongoing standoff between the military forces of the two countries since the last clashes over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict originated in the early 1920s when both countries were taken over by the Red Army. Although the majority of Nagorno Karabakh’s population is Armenian, the territory was officially a part of Azerbaijan. Following the collapse of the USSR, tensions escalated into the First Nagorno-Karabakh war. In September 2020 a new war erupted in the area resulting in Azerbaijan gaining most of the territories held by Armenia after the first war.
The majority of these border disputes are already included in MapTiler Cloud making it easy for you to adjust the boundaries as you wish. More updates are soon to come, so stay tuned!
Tagging in OpenStreetMap
Displaying the disputed borders according to your preference is enabled by the OpenStreetMap specialized tags such as
claimed_by. These tags, however not officially approved, are widely used among users. There were several initiatives proposing the proper tagging of the border disputes, but none of them is active as of July 2021. OpenMapTiles schema used in MapTiler Cloud maps uses these OSM tags as well.
Disputed_name tag contains the name of the disputed area extracted from border relation in OSM without spaces and is valid for country boundaries only (
admin_level = 2).
Claimed_by tag consists of the ISO2 country code and specifies the country according to which’s policy the borders will be displayed. A list of the ISO2 country codes can be found for example here.
There is also the basic
disputed tag which defines whether the border is (
value = 1) or is not disputed (
value = 0).
Change disputed borders in one click
MapTiler Cloud allows you to quickly create a map that would be in line with the selected country’s policy.
Log in to your Cloud account and go to the Customize tool: https://cloud.maptiler.com/customize or select Streets from your maps section: https://cloud.maptiler.com/maps/ and click on Customize a copy.
In the Customize options click on MISC and select from the Preferred country borders drop-down menu.
That’s it! Now you have a map with the borders according to your preferred point of view. Don’t forget to save it.
You can choose from the following countries' points of view: China, France, India, Japan, Kenya, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Russia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, and Western Sahara.
Advanced changing of disputed borders
If you want to dig a bit deeper into the disputed borders mapping, use the Advanced editor. To access it, you can either click on the Edit a copy button under any of your map styles or go via the Customize tool and the button Advanced editing.
Once you are in the editor, you should focus on the two boundary layers:
boundary_2_z5_disputed_maritime. In the Layer properties, you can change the visibility zoom levels (the default are 5 to 24). In the Filter properties, you can work with the OSM disputed tags:
For highlighting just the borders that are disputed use the
disputed==1 expression and adjust the line styling in the Paint properties. This is the way the global map of disputed borders in this article was created.
To change the borders according to your preference, work with the
claimed_by tag and country codes. For example, if you want to see Crimea as part of Ukraine, add the filter
claimed_by == UA, if you want to display it as part of Russia, you have to add the filter
claimed_by == RU. The default value is unset and therefore shows the whole territory as a disputed area.
The map design of the disputed borders is often being discussed amongst cartographers. A dashed line is the most commonly used style. This can be achieved in the Advanced editor in Paint properties under Dasharray. There are two fields to fill – the lengths of the alternating dashes (later scaled by the line width) and the gaps that form the dash pattern. Another way to add a bit of uncertainty is a blur or adjustment of opacity. Both can be found under the Paint properties as well to make your maps look more professional. If preferred, you can also edit the whole layer design in the JSON code.
Border disputes are difficult and complex situations requiring deeper thinking when creating a map. MapTiler Cloud allows every user to easily adjust the borders according to their preferred point of view using Customize tool or Advanced editor.