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This question is indirectly about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and attempting to predict the future by studying the past.

This article claims:

Wartime land grabs tend to end badly for tyrants, historian warns

The central thesis is as follows:

“If a conquest is recognized internationally, the conqueror has a chance to hold on to new lands and bequeath them to future generations,” said Zubov.

“If, however, the world refuses to acknowledge these annexations, anschlusses, unifications, and reunifications – if the conqueror simply starts drawing new borders of their empire during a war – it all tends to end very poorly and comically if we set aside the all the blood that is spilled in the process.”

The article goes on to cite Napoleon and Hitler as examples supporting the thesis.

However, I'm wondering if there are any counterexamples? Specifically, counter examples that meet the following criteria:

  1. Dictator seizes land of another country by force.
  2. Conquest is not internationally recognized.
  3. Invaders hold the seized territory over the long term. (Let's say for two or more generations after the death of the original "conqueror").

Go back as far in history as you'd like. I'd like a comprehensive overview via multiple answers, if possible.

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    Wouldn't that go for any empire that expanded? It's not like there was lifeless desert before them. They gobbled up all the tribes, kingdoms and other empires around them. And we would hardly know of them if they had lost them after a few years.
    – nvoigt
    Jun 12, 2022 at 8:38
  • May I assume that you are not interested in situations in which the leader of the conquerors is not usually depicted as a dictator? Jun 12, 2022 at 8:40
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    Well, you could argue, that to be internationally recognized there must be some kind of international body or at least enough countries must know each other. Rome wasn't "internationally recognized", but it was certainly recognized in the parts of the world where it was known. When the romans annexed a country on one end of their empire, neighbours on the other end of their empire might never have heard of it.
    – nvoigt
    Jun 12, 2022 at 8:57
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    Napoleon and Hitler are examples of dictators who were defeated. If the dictator is not defeated, the empire may hold its conquests for very long time, and eventually they are recognized. The outstanding example in Europe is the Russian empire which continuously expanded for many centuries by military conquest.
    – Alex
    Jun 12, 2022 at 11:57
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    I'm not sure what "international recognition" means in the premodern era. I'm also skeptical of the requirement to hold the territory for two generations past the "conqueror" - dictators and succession are difficult. The term "dictator" is ill defined, and changes in historical period - the term means something very difficult in Republican Rome and Imperial Rome and in the modern era. Is a Priest-King a dictator>
    – MCW
    Jun 12, 2022 at 12:30

3 Answers 3

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It seems to me that the annexation of the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) by the Soviet Union, from 1944 to 1991, is a good example. In particular, many countries have never accepted that that occupation was legitimate.

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The Turkish occupation of Cyprus in 1974 fits your requirements. In 2024, it will be occupied successfully for half a century.

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  • Say what you will about Erdogan, but Turkey isn't and hasn't recently been a dictatorship. At least not yet.
    – Michael W.
    Jun 13, 2022 at 23:42
  • It was, when they took over Northern Cyprus.
    – Jos
    Jun 14, 2022 at 0:07
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I believe that the present system of international diplomacy began during the Italian Renaissance and spread to the rest of Europe and then to the rest of the world.

So before the Italian Renaissance diplomacy would have been much different from modern diplomacy, and I think that it would have been very unusual for third parties to make statements about whether or not they recognized the conquests and annexations that one country, state, empire, kingdom, realm, etc. made at the the expense of another.

Thus, if I understand it correctly, the time frame for your question might be restricted to the last 500 or 600 years of history.

On the other hand, whenever the Chinese Empire was mighty, the rulers of other east Asian countries and other countries in the Chinese cultural sphere, would have tributary relations with China acknowledging nominal Chinese overlordship. So it is possible that in some cases, the Chinese government would recognize and, in other cases, not recognize any conquests that one tributary state made at the expense of another one. But I don't know a lot about Chinese diplomatic relations.

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    This seem sound to me; other other hand, I think the Chinese example you offer is worth of further research - reminds me of the Treasure Fleet of Zhen He, which (as I understand) modern scholarship interprets as a diplomatic voyage.
    – MCW
    Jun 12, 2022 at 19:19

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