Guantanamo cage

Guantánamo Bay and the future of legal “black holes”.

When one nation (or clan or tribe or ethnic group) covets the land of another, the result, throughout history, has usually been aggression. It is conceivable that this cause/effect may even be hard-wired into human nature. But at the end of the 19th century, a more pragmatic approach –territorial leasing– began, spontaneously and sporadically, to appear. Under a territorial leasing agreement, the leaser pays to use and exercise jurisdiction over a territory while the lessee retains sovereignty. Wherever it has been tried, territorial leasing has proven to be much less disruptive and quite a lot cheaper than war.

Michael J. Strauss first got interested in the question of territorial leases when he was a wire service journalist in Europe and learned about a little known agreement between France and Spain that had quietly put to rest over 500 years of bloody dispute. Concerning several valleys in the Pyrenees, the lease ensured Spain’s sovereignty while giving French farmers the right to graze their flocks there. Strauss would use the story as the basis of his doctoral dissertation in international relations, turning up other examples (Tin Bigha on the Bangladesh/India border; Tiwintza between Ecuador and Peru; Naharayim/Baqura and Zofar/Al-Ghamr in Israel/Jordan) where territorial leasing has resolved intractable conflict over land.

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by Sarah Meyer de Stadelhofen
photographs by Edmund Clark