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This is a great question and one that is important to our world today. For example, Israel and Palestine are fighting over land right now and this conflict can be disastrous to many. China is also disputing Japan and the Philippines over two islands as well. So, this question is very alive and well today.
With that said, there are many reasons why nations dispute over land. Perhaps the greatest reason why nations dispute land is due to natural resources. What makes land very valuable is what is on or under the land. For example, is there is gas, gold, oil, or any number of other commodities, then that land is very desirable. This is the case with China, Japan and the Philippines. There are debating the deposit of natural gases in the disputed area. Another reason of dispute is access to water, which make the land more fertile. In short, there is usually something about the land that both nations want.
Another possible cause is the lack of clear borders. This is what the problem is in the South China Sea and it is also why there is conflict to some extent as the ice melts in the Arctic.
I would also say that it is not necessarily what is under the land. The Palestinians and Israelis are not fighting over resources but over the land itself. Sometimes, land is a surrogate for a desire on each side to have power.
Often boundary disputes result from differences between distinct cultures, ethnic groups, or political systems. For instance, the mainland Chinese claim that both Tibet and Taiwan are part of China, whereas both India and Pakistan lay claim to Kashmir. Boundary disputes resulting from religious differences include the one just mentioned (between India and Pakistan), as well as various disputes in the mideast. Boundary disputes resulting from ethnic differences are also important, such as those between the Turks and the Kurds.
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