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When the United States lost the Vietnam war, the Vietnamese showed another face of war:

With a big difference of power, the weaker country can win.

This is happening again in Afghanistan and in Iraq. In Afghanistan the United States, one of the richest countries in the world, fights with one of the poorest and even with this difference it isn't able to win the war.

So, what I'm asking is: can an invading country win the war if and only if the people of this invaded country are not willing to fight hard enough?

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There's too much rethoric in this question for my tastes. "the poorest country"? –  Lohoris Apr 4 '12 at 20:40
Hum.. my english isn't so good. I don't want to be a anti-American :) –  Rodrigo Apr 4 '12 at 20:55
I understand, I'll fix it. –  Lohoris Apr 4 '12 at 20:58
There is a logical problem to this question (although I realize this may be a translation error). A powerless country can never win any conflict, because they have no power. Its also a difficult question to answer because it really depends on the difference in power between the actors and a host of other factors. In general though, it certainly isn't an "if and only if" sort of situation, because it is certainly possible for a population to be fully committed to a war and still lose. Even occupied virtually indefinitely if the invader has the will and resources. –  BrotherJack Apr 4 '12 at 23:26
Problem is no one has really won in Afghanistan in a long while, even Russia eventually gave up their invasion of Afghanistan. Sometimes it is not just the difference in wealth but also the battlefield, if you choose your battlefield unwisely you will never win. –  MichaelF Apr 5 '12 at 11:55

4 Answers 4

No. The USA had won the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in any military sense. Their problems there are that they cannot keep the countries secure, safe and politically stable.

This is much different from Vietnam where they were opposed by a regular army, supplied from abroad and did not control the whole territory.

But indeed if an occupying army is very sensitive to casualties, a sparse insurgency and instability can force it leave.

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But the insurgency WANT to create stability to do exactly what the U.S. do, leave their country. Isn't this a kind of win? In the Vietnam the U.S win all battle, but.. lost the war... Isn't the same now? –  Rodrigo Apr 4 '12 at 21:10
The US will leave pro-US governments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although there is far from safety and stability, the governments are able to manage the resources in a way the US wants until overthrown. –  Anixx Apr 4 '12 at 21:21
I agree with this, in Afghanistan and Iraq its more a case of "winning the war, and losing the occupation". –  BrotherJack Apr 4 '12 at 23:21
The Vietnam war was lost not only because of the North Vietnamese army as you say, but also because the South was exactly like Iraq and Afghanistan. There were insurgents and the pro-USA government in the south was far from stable. When the USA pulled out, the South government fell. Same will probably happen in Iraq and Afghanistan. America needs to realise that democracy means most countries will choose governments that are different from what the USA would like. You can't impose a government on a country and claim to be creating democracy. –  Rincewind42 Apr 5 '12 at 2:40
@Rincewind42 there are similarities between Vietnam and Iraq, but as the poster notes above two of the major differences was that the Vietnamese received significant outside assistance and the dynamic of the conflict more closely resembled a war than an ongoing occupation like in Iraq and Afghanistan. –  BrotherJack Apr 5 '12 at 12:01

It is impossible for a modern power to conquer an invaded country. The reason for this is the current aversion to atrocity – the large scale massacres, enslavement, forced migration, etc. that were used to control a foreign occupied population are no longer acceptable.

Thus, a powerful country can destroy an existing regime, but establishing a favourable replacement is near impossible if a large enough proportion of the population are prepared to oppose it, even if they are only armed with rifles and IEDs.

(It's even becoming difficult for native minorities to maintain unpopular regimes without resorting to atrocity and incurring the condemnation of the international community, despite the advantage of local knowledge and established institutions that a foreign force lacks.)

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I disagree strongly with the wording of the first sentence, but I'm still +1'ing this because it is the only answer here that's getting the reason correct. The rest of this is spot on. –  T.E.D. May 19 '12 at 2:10
I have to ask: what aspect of the wording do you disagree strongly with? I must admit I was being deliberately provocative with the 'impossible' bit, and 'conquer' does seem rather archaic these days (a telling change!), but if you agree with the rest I would have thought it only mildly disagreeable, at worst… –  Paul Hutton May 21 '12 at 2:55
"Impossible" is far too strong of a word. It can be done. It is just highly unlikely (for the exact reasons you explain). –  T.E.D. May 21 '12 at 13:01

It's still possible for an invaded people to lose if the odds are TOO overwhelming. One example was the so-called "battle" of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, where there were only 70,000 Jewish residents, armed with only a few hundred rifles, against crack German police and army units.

But the thrust of the question is, have modern times made it possible to mobilize the civilian population in such a way so that even if one army is decidedly smaller/weaker than the other, can the civilian population supporting the weaker army prevent a defeat. The lesson of Vietnam was yes. That is, the Americans had to defeat not only the regular Vietnamese forces, which they basically did, but also the North Vietnam civilian population, which was a much harder task.

Going back to World War II, the Germans failed to capture Stalingrad, because they had to fight not only the defending Soviet 62nd army, but in also the civilian population, which provided food, information, militia, and "replacements" to the Soviet army.

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That's a little isolated though, it's like USAF v Hiroshima - or RAF v Dresden, that was pretty definitive but not really a war. –  none Apr 8 '12 at 4:43

can an invader country only win the war if and only if the people of this invaded country want to lose it?

This doesn't make much sense, was there ever a war where someone wanted to lose? Did Nazi Germany want to lose WW2? No

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I say now, not in ww2 times :) –  Rodrigo Apr 5 '12 at 11:38
perhaps German V Austria 1938? –  none Apr 8 '12 at 4:43

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