It's a well known fact territorial disputes are a constant source of instability and wars, especially if a territory contains both members of ethnicity X and Y.

Would it be possible by having the said territory be part of both country X and Y, as a federated state?

  • The state would have to obey to laws of both federations
  • The state participates in politics of both countries, paying (reduced) taxes to both
  • The state would organize as much things as possible (school, police, hospitals, etc...) on its own in order to avoid using exclusively system of country X and Y
  • Public enterprises (transportation, post) would need to find some kind of compromises, but they should find an agreement and both deserve the state's territory
  • Both the army of state X and Y are responsible of the state's security
  • Citizens of the state are citizens of both countries X and Y
  • Citizens of both X and Y can enter the state's territory without any conformities
  • Foreigners should have a visa for both countries X and Y to enter the state's territory

Real world example : We could imagine south Tirol being part as both Italy and Austria. Both countries uses the Euro currency, are part of Schengen area, and are part of the EU, which would simplify the membership to two simultaneous federations.

  • 5
    What happens when a law of federation X conflicts with a law from federation Y?
    – cpast
    Mar 3, 2015 at 16:17
  • This is definitely the major problem... One of the federations should make an exception for this particular province.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 3, 2015 at 16:59

2 Answers 2


Two examples show how badly this works:

  • Austria and Hungary (who shared a common monarch) held Bosnia-Herzegovina as a codominium. Within five years of their making this status official, Serbia forced a war over Bosnia. Despite being utterly defeated in the war, Serbia was given control of Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia at the end of the war; internal uprisings shattered Austria-Hungary into half a dozen pieces.

  • The United States and Britain claimed the Oregon Territory and British Columbia as a codominium. At the time, there were very few white settlements, and neither power was in a position to enforce its laws or collect taxes. Also, both countries shared the same common law, so the subjects of both powers agreed on what most of the laws were. James K. Polk successfully ran for U.S. President on a platform of gaining full control of the territory, by war if necessary. He negotiated the split of the territory, with the United States getting the Oregon Territory, and Britain getting British Columbia. The islands that are now San Juan County, Washington were disputed for another generation.

Wikipedia has more examples, including a few present day examples, and one example that lasted for 300 years.

  • Most/all of the wikipedia examples aren't interesting, because they only include inhabited areas and/or water surfaces.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 4, 2015 at 8:28
  • 1
    It is certain that pre-war Bosnia/Herzegovina is not a good example. However it was not really part of 2 countries, as Austria and Hungary were already both part of the same empire, and it seems that the kingdom of Hungary was just a pretext the empire made to shut off the mounth of Maygars dissidents. Finally, Serbia didn't force a war over Bosnia (this was the official Austrian point of view), the Serbian government wasn't behind the Sarajevo attempt. But I learnt that there was a word for that, "Condominium", thank you for pointing it out.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 4, 2015 at 8:34
  • @Jasper, what do you mean by "Despite being utterly defeated in the war, Serbia was given control of Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia at the end of the war"? Serbia was on the side of the Allies in WWI, it was not "utterly defeated" it was victorious. Mar 23, 2016 at 13:12
  • @Black - Serbia's population was ravaged by war and disease. All of Serbia was occupied by the end of 1915, after the Bulgarians invaded. The Serbian army was forced to retreat across Albania. britannica.com/place/Serbia/Government-and-society#ref477303
    – Jasper
    Mar 24, 2016 at 2:28
  • @Jasper All true, but the retreat was a lost battle, war was not over for Serbian army. In the end, Serbian and French troops, with the help of British troops, liberated the entire country before the WWI has ended. Mar 29, 2016 at 8:31

Why? Yes, it's possible and it has a name: Belgium. Of course, joke aside, it's still one country with a single federal government so not really an international condominium as far as international law is concerned but the architecture of its political system is very unusual and seems relevant to your question.

I am not a specialist but I will try a brief description of (what I understand about) how this works. There are two types of federated entities (“regions” and linguistic “communities”) and every place in Belgium belongs to at least two of them and the Brussels area belongs to three (it's a region in its own rights and belongs to both the Flemish and the French-speaking communities). Their norms are deemed “equipollent” with no clear priority between the two sets of entities and the federal level.

These “communities” are not merely representative bodies with a symbolic or cultural role, they have their own government, their own budget, some (limited) powers of taxation. And they run important services, like education. The number of civil servants working for the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (the French-speaking community) and the number of those working for the Service public de Wallonie (the region) are roughly on the same order of magnitude (that's without counting all the teachers whose wages are also funded by the community).

Of course, there are a few differences with your scenario: Instead of a single well-defined entity that belongs to two separate countries, you have different overlapping entities that ultimately belong to the same country. And there is a single constitution and a constitutional court. But the very unusual (and to my mind very relevant) thing is that just as in your fictional federation(s), you have two (or three) sets of norms, in principle without any clear hierarchy between them that apply to the same territory.

It kind of works, too. I know many people who have bad things to say about Belgium but obviously it's still a relatively rich and modern country and hasn't descended into complete anarchy.

One reason for that is that broadly speaking, communities and regions are in charge of different things (say the regions are in charge of roads, the communities of schools and the federal state of the army), which removes much of the potential for conflict. As in your example, being part of the European Union probably helps as well because many things have been offloaded “upwards” from the federal level to the EU, further reducing its role and the potential for conflict between the parallel structures of government.

  • Sorry but while it's true Belgium has the reputation of having communication problems within it's communities, neither the French or Dutch government has any power on Belgium. Also Brussel is it's own region and is not part of neither the French- or Dutch-speaking regions. Even if on the field it is the case, de jure it is not part of 2 countries, and thus it does not make an example for my question.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 5, 2015 at 19:20
  • @user2537102 Of course, I am not talking about the French of the Dutch government or mere communication problems, I am talking about the fact that a given municipality belongs to two entirely separate and overlapping entities. As I explained, Brussels is part of the Dutch and the French-speaking communities. It's easy to overlook that but you should not think of Belgian regions as analogous to the states/provinces of other federal countries, precisely because the communities are also federated entities, existing alongside the regions.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 5, 2015 at 19:25
  • 1
    Clearly, there are some differences with your scenario and there are many things that I don't know about the Belgian system but I do think the parallel is more relevant than you realize and if you are interested in the topic, I invite you to look into it in more details.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 5, 2015 at 19:27
  • @user2537102 Since I am not completely sure whether you know Belgium and disagree or we simply misunderstood each other, I would like to add that I am not using the word “community” in a sociological sense. In Belgium, a community (communauté/gemeenschap) is a very specific institution (with a government, a budget, etc.) which is theoretically on a par with regions as federated entities.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 5, 2015 at 19:31
  • 1
    @user2537102 That's not exactly how it works. You can't say that the regions are made of communities or the communities are made of regions, they don't stand in a neat hierarchical relationship to each other. And the communities have real power, a parliament (not elected directly, however), a government and a budget. Proceeds from taxes (especially the VAT) are shared between regions and communities based on rules defined in federal law. To give one concrete example, the French community runs schools in Brussels and in Wallonia, without funding or regulatory oversight from the regions.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 8, 2015 at 20:51

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