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Territorial War Aims

Of the two elements associated with the nature of the conflict, territorial war aims were the single most important factor related to heightened levels of prisoner abuse. Similar to the targeting of civilians in annexationist wars, when territory was at stake the prospects for enemy soldiers were especially bleak. Yet the persistence of territory as a source of misery for prisoners may potentially be slowly dying out. The value placed on possessing and acquiring territory may be gradually giving way to newer more fluid forms of authority and sovereignty.9 Fragmentation in fundamental processes of economic production along with the growing importance of knowledge-intensive industries for a country's wealth and vitality have also substantially reduced the traditional benefits associated with territorial conquest.10 While in the past territorial ambitions may have been a key driver in the victimization of prisoners during war, from these perspectives desires for conquest could become less consequential in the future.

Unfortunately, in many respects territory remains a valued and contested prize in times of both war and peace, even as notions of boundaries and space may be changing.11 The number of ongoing territorial disputes, in which two or more states lay claim to the same piece of land, has not declined significantly since the early part of the twentieth century.12 If anything, the post-Cold War period witnessed an upsurge in new quarrels over land compared to prior decades, with many recently independent countries seeking to extend their boundaries. The creation of South Sudan as a newly sovereign state, resulting from a decades-long civil war, in certain ways simply replaced prior internal struggles with international strife against the Khartoum government ruling the remainder of Sudan. The conflict between the respective Sudans centers on the control of lucrative oil deposits, and the two sides came to blows on numerous occasions early on. Should the tensions eventually escalate to war where territory would likely be a main culprit and objective, conditions would likely be hazardous for combatants captured by either opponent.

Although not escalating to a full-blown war, the conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008 over the breakaway Russian-sponsored areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia similarly shows that territorial aims are likely to persist in one form or another for the foreseeable future.13 Georgia has not been the sole victim of Russian expansion in the postcommunist region. Ukraine lost the Crimean peninsula to its eastern neighbor in March 2014 shortly after protests brought down the pro-Moscow government of President Viktor Yanukovych. While the annexation took place with few shots fired, concerns remain about possible designs by the Kremlin over lands in eastern Ukraine that also contain sizable ethnic Russian populations. With several locations of the Katyn massacre close by, including the Starobelsk (now Starobilsk) special POW camp and execution sites in Kherson and Kharkov (now Kharkiv), any escalation in hostilities between the two sides would be all the more ominous. States have often sought to settle their territorial disputes without military force, but the presence of conflicting claims over parcels of land poses a danger of wars breaking out that would be extremely grave for any resulting prisoners.

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