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What is the meaning of the territorial trap and its geographical assumptions?

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The territorial trap is geographical fallacy that misinterprets the idea of nations and their development. The main issue with it is that it takes a far too simplistic viewpoint of how nations develop and are defined.

One of the main assumptions is that national borders and boundaries are physical and defined. Of course, looking at maps and nations in modern times lends an individual to that belief, because most nations are very rigidly defined. However, historically, nations could lay claim to land "as far as the eye could see" or put fluid stipulations on it such as "a day's journey on horseback in each direction." The borders or nations have only recently been rigid and well-defined.

Another assumption is that multiple nations cannot exist in the same space, which is certainly far from the truth. Many nations currently fight over the same land and are battling for dominance—though each individually is still a separate nation.

Finally, the fallacy assumes that borders do not change and nations are fixed in time the way they are. This is incredibly false. Take a look at the United States through history. It has spread West, taken over the breadth of the American continent, and then continued expanding with the additions of Alaska and Hawaii.

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The territorial trap and its geographical assumptions can be wholly refuted by the modern, globalized economic and political context of the world. For example, the United States has immense power and influence that extends far beyond the reach of its fixed geographical borders that define the United States as a nation-state. US companies (and the political influences of these powerful companies) exert power and control over territories all across the world, particularly in the Global South.

Capitalism and the power of the countries of the Global North have (often immensely) negative effects over counties without actually assuming direct military control over the country or redefining nation-state boundaries. In a world dominated by globalized capitalism and trans-national corporations, fixed ideas of nation-states aren't always reflective of current political or economic realities.

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The concept of territorial trap is theoretical model that examines the understanding of how nations exist and are formed. The term was developed to describe the notion that nations are based on very strict geographic definitions; however, this is shown to be a "trap" because these territorial definitions inherently limit the scope of what a nation can be. The idea of the territorial trap is thus revealed as a flawed line of reasoning if only for the reason that nations expand and change over time.

The first assumption that a territorial trap is based on is that there are defined physical boundaries of nations. This is more true in modernity simply because we have established physical borders. Historically, though, it was much more nebulous.

The second assumption is that nations do not occupy the same space—meaning that separate bodies of government control distinct areas. This is openly defied by the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Finally, a territorial trap is defined by the idea that nations are historically fixed and defined. This is entirely flawed because nations change and grow over time and are passed and taken-over repeatedly. Thus, the idea of the territorial trap is established as a deeply flawed concept—but it was an attempt at creating a cohesive definition for what qualifies as a nation.

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The territorial trap is a theoretical model which aims to explain the flaws in conventional thinking about the development of the nation-state. One of the leading scholars of this theory is John Agnew, who wrote an influential paper in the Review of International Political Economy in 1994.

The territorial trap makes three assumptions about how nation-states exist, using geographical principles to explain this. The first assumption is that sovereign nations are geographically fixed entities. In other words, their borders occupy a fixed sovereign space, which represents the territory of that state.

The second assumption is that there is a clear distinction between domestic and foreign policies within nation-states. In other words, nation-states take a different approach to their domestic affairs (within their own borders) than to their relationships with other nation-states. This suggests there is a clear difference between the two categories of affairs.

The third assumption is that nation-states are historically fixed entities that act as containers for their own societies. This means that the space or territory that a nation-state occupies is intrinsically linked to the society that occupies that territory.

The idea of Agnew’s work, and the use of the phrase "Territorial Trap," calls for a re-thinking of these terms. It suggests that the post–Cold War world has seen examples where conventional thinking does not fully explain the existence and development of a nation-state. Agnew points to examples where the economies and political influences of several countries have spilled outside of their territorial boundaries. Therefore, to assume that geography plays a major role in the development of a nation-state is a flawed idea.

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