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TL&DR: To put it simply, I am looking for a good example (as modern and well-known as possible) of an invader who was very upfront about the evil, criminal character of his invasion from its beginning and didn't even try to justify it by anything other than a land grab for his nation.


It has long been trendy for nation leaders to come up with some sort of ethical justification when starting a military invasion to a neighboring country. As the most recent example, Putin's declaration of his "special military operation" in Ukraine referred to sufferings of the people living in Luhansk and Donetsk and called Ukraine Russia's historical land. Even Hitler tried to justify his invasion of Poland by setting up Gleiwitz incident and referring to Poland's unwillingness "to settle the Corridor question in a reasonable way" and "increased terror and pressure against our German compatriots."

And we all know that the real motivation is often a mere land grab. Even though Putin said in his declaration of his "special military operation," "It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory," he has already officially annexed Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson into Russia since that declaration. And Hitler had arranged with the USSR a plan to divide Poland.

This makes me wonder whether there has ever been a leader who bluntly declared a land grab to be the sole or main war goal without bothering to come up with any moral justification of historical, ethnical, religious, ideological, or any other nature. That is, a leader whose only justification to start a war was like, "We are stronger than them and are going to grab their land just because we can. The more land we have the better."

So, I am looking for an example of such a leader, and here are my criteria:

  • At the start of the invasion, the leader made a declaration or speech in which a land grab was declared to be the sole or main war goal.

  • No historical, ethnical, religious, or any other factors were really used by the leader to ethically justify the invasion and, ideally, could even be plausibly used by anyone to that end.

  • The aggressor and victim states were neighboring countries sharing a land border and recognizing each other and were at more or less the same level of technological development. This means that colonial wars and conquests similar to the conquest of Siberia by Russia do not qualify, and neither do wars to re-establish control over a breakaway territory.

  • A full-out military conflict ensued following the border crossing by the invading army.

  • The invasion wasn't part of a larger war involving other countries, such as World War II, or at least wasn't such at the beginning.

  • I would prefer examples of wars as modern and large-scale as possible.

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    Werent' most pre-modern wars of this ilk? although you ask for more modern, historically the king had to give rewards to his retainers (the word "king" in English is derived from ring giver). BUt shifting to the modern examples, how do you tell the difference between the actual reason and the veneer/public relations reason that it is strategically prudent to deploy?
    – MCW
    Mar 3, 2023 at 22:40
  • @MCW I am just looking for examples in which no veneer/public relations reason was given other than mere land grab. And yes, I think that most pre-modern wars were of this ilk, but I am looking for as modern example as possible
    – Mitsuko
    Mar 3, 2023 at 22:46
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    I am not an expert on South American history, but I would like to know to what extent the Beagle conflict between Chile and Argentine might have qualified, if a war had happened. The Argentine justification for the aborted 1978 Operation Soberania seems to be not to accept the result of the arbitration. Since the disagreement about ownership of the islands at Cape Horn reached back for more than a hundred years, it might be called a historical justification, but I don't know if there ever was a basis for the initial claim?
    – ccprog
    Mar 4, 2023 at 16:06
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    ...according to this, General Villegas, during the Falklands war, called for a seizure of the Beagle islands with the words: "carrying out acts of effective possession on the disputed islands, which are the real facts that guarantee the establishment of a usurped sovereignty and the preservation of the integrity of the national territory." It doesn't get more blatant than that, I think.
    – ccprog
    Mar 4, 2023 at 16:14
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    Does "our ruler is ordained by God and therefore deserves to rule over these other lands" count as "ethically justifying"? Mar 4, 2023 at 19:36

5 Answers 5

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The problem with your question is that you only have to go back a few hundred years to find that an invasion for purposes of a "land grab" did not have an "evil, criminal character" it was simply a part of normal life. If a leader was a good leader (meaning strong leader) they were expected to acquire neighbouring territory for himself, be it by war, diplomacy or other means. And it mostly was "for himself", not for the nation - the nation state being only about 500 years old, and rulers could rule many "nations". Having a new ruler did not change the "nation" you belonged to.

Going back only a few centuries the name or nationality of the supreme ruler made very little difference to the life of the average person. A ruler might be good or bad, and that was much more important than whether they were local or foreign. Those higher up the hierarchy would care more whether they were the same nationality as the people over them, but it still wasn't as important as how they were treated.

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  • I agree partially with the "there was no nation 5 centuries ago", even if I would made it even older for some regions of the world. But back to that time, there were over "resaons and rules" for which a leader was criminal or not to take that or this land: - Religion: Muslims were criminal to block Jerusalem to Christians (from Christian point of view of course) - Heredity: when a king died, nations made war to promote the guy that would made them more powerful, but they could not promote "anyone": There were disputed but existing rules, similar to today's rules about territories Mar 5, 2023 at 10:01
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It has long been trendy for nation leaders to come up with some sort of ethical justification when starting a military invasion to a neighboring country.

That has always been the case. The Romans never went to war, unless it was justified, at least from the Roman point of view. The other point of view was irrelevant. The justified war concept goes back long before the Romans.

The fact that you can't find any example of what you want (a pure land grab) shows humans everywhere always feel a need to justify what are essentially criminal actions.

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  • As I said in my answer, I agree with you in the fact that there are always "justifications". But there are no "essentially criminal actions": a nation grabbing a land from another, even today, is only criminal from the point of view of the majority of nations agreeing on where are the borders. But sometimes, this majority supports separatists instead of current state of borders, and the grabbing of land is no more criminal: for example South Sudan, or the Yugoslavian wars Mar 5, 2023 at 10:04
  • @totalMongot Did the land legally belong to the other nation? No. That's justifying what essentially is a criminal action.
    – Jos
    Mar 5, 2023 at 23:31
  • What do you call legally? Especially prior to 20th century? Mar 6, 2023 at 19:42
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Of course, this has happened before. Examples:

The Mongol Invasion of the Mamluk Sultanate began with the following letter:

From the King of Kings of the East and West, the Great Khan. To Qutuz the Mamluk, who fled to escape our swords. You should think of what happened to other countries and submit to us. You have heard how we have conquered a vast empire and have purified the earth of the disorders that tainted it. We have conquered vast areas, massacring all the people. You cannot escape from the terror of our armies. Where can you flee? What road will you use to escape us? Our horses are swift, our arrows sharp, our swords like thunderbolts, our hearts as hard as the mountains, our soldiers as numerous as the sand. Fortresses will not detain us, nor armies stop us. Your prayers to God will not avail against us. We are not moved by tears nor touched by lamentations. Only those who beg our protection will be safe. Hasten your reply before the fire of war is kindled. Resist and you will suffer the most terrible catastrophes. We will shatter your mosques and reveal the weakness of your God and then will kill your children and your old men together. At present you are the only enemy against whom we have to march.

Italy embarked on its adventures in Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia) because it had recently unified and was "behind time" compared to its fellow Great Power European countries in the scramble for colonies:

Once unified as a nation-state in the late 19th century, Italy intended to compete with the other European powers for the new age of European colonial expansion. It saw its interests in the Mediterranean and in the Horn of Africa, a region yet to be colonized and with access to the ocean. Italy had arrived late to the colonial race and its status as the least of the Great Powers, a position of relative weakness in international affairs, meant that it was dependent on the acquiescence of Britain, France and Germany towards its empire-building.

There are no stated objectives in Qin's wars of unification at the end of the Warring States period, as well. The only objective is unifying China, which necessarily involves "we are stronger than these upstart states so we're going to conquer them".

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What you are looking for does not exist: even if nations can became "monstruous" as for example Nazi Germany, they always justify their acts by something else that just "I'm hungry of lands". Still, there are some examples of wars plainly justified by "I want this land" with no (or little) ethical justification nor instrumentalization.

  • The Nazi invasion of USSR : The ideological background of this invasion is strong, with all the Nazi ideology behind. But the final reason for the invasion is, from the German's point of view, very basic: "Germany needs Lebensraum [minimum space to live and be powerful] so will take it from the Untermenschen [lower men, for example the Russians, and Soviets and Slavs in general]
  • Argentina invasion of the Falklands: Argentina tried to justify the war as an aggression of its soldiers that were exerting their right to grab these lands

Still in these two examples, Nazi Germany and Argentina thought (or at least said they thought) that they had an ethnic or historical right to grab the land, even if it was against current international laws. A third example is slightly different:

  • Iran-Iraq war: the reason and the public justification for Iran-Iraq war was quite simple: Iran is supposedly weakened by the Islamic revolution and civil war that ensued, and there is a past agreement on a contested territory. Saddam Hussein started the war with no other reason that "There is an opportunity to contest the agreement over Chatt-El-Arab [the contested land]".

Please note that after the beginning of the war, other justifications came in: Sunnis versus Shiites, protecting the Gulf from Iran's expansion of revolution... And there was still a reference to history and ethnicity of the Chatt-El-Arab populations made by diplomats of Iraqi side to justify that Iraq should control this land

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Where to start - and where to end.

Let's start in 600 A.D., and consider:

  • Muslim Arab conquests of Arabia, Syria, Persian Empire, Egypt, Roman/Vandal North Africa, Berber Africa, Saharan West Africa (ie Mali et al), Sicily, Iberia, and Provence.

  • Hungarian conquest of the Hungarian Plain.

  • Frankish conquest of France.

  • Carolingian conquest of Germania and Northern Italy.

  • Mongol conquest of most of Asia north of the Himalayas.

  • The Spanish & Portuguese Reconquista.

  • Seljuk conquest of Anatolia.

  • Ottoman conquest of Balkans.

  • Crusader (ie Frankish-Norman) conquests of assorted Middle-East and Balkan states.

  • Moghul conquest of Northern India.

  • Frederick The Great's seizure of Silesia.

  • Dutch conquest of Indonesia.

  • British conquest of India.

  • Three partitions of Poland by Russia, Prussia, and Austria.

  • American conquest of everything between the Mississippi River and the Pacific.

  • Chinese conquest of Tibet.

  • Russian conquest of Siberia, Kazakhstan, a half dozen other "stans", Siberia, Karelia and Finland.

Have I left anyone notable uninsulted? I hope not; as the petty excuses of militaristic adventurers are, in the long run, how "natural selection" of government occurs.

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    Didn't the people who carried out most of those invasions present justifications? At the very least, the Muslim conquests, the Crusaders, and the Reconquista explicitly wanted to bring the "true religion" to their respective regions. The question explicitly excludes wars that have a religious justification. China claimed that Tibet was "historically Chinese," right? The question also excludes wars with a claimed historical justification.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 4, 2023 at 5:44
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    It also excludes wars between groups with disparate technological capacities, which at the very least, rules out the American conquest of Native territories, as well as the Russian conquest of Siberia, which is actually directly mentioned in the question as not the sort of thing that they are asking about. The question also mentions sharing a land border, which certainly rules out the British conquest of India or the Dutch conquest of Indonesia, and probably most of the Crusader invasions.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 4, 2023 at 5:47

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