Does Conquest Pay? The Exploitation of Occupied Industrial Societies

Does Conquest Pay? The Exploitation of Occupied Industrial Societies

Does Conquest Pay? The Exploitation of Occupied Industrial Societies

Does Conquest Pay? The Exploitation of Occupied Industrial Societies


Can foreign invaders successfully exploit industrial economies? Since control over economic resources is a key source of power, the answer affects the likelihood of aggression and how strenuously states should counter it. The resurgence of nationalism has led many policymakers and scholars to doubt that conquest still pays. But, until now, the "cumulativity" of industrial resources has never been subjected to systematic analysis.Does Conquest Pay? demonstrates that expansion can, in fact, provide rewards to aggressor nations. Peter Liberman argues that invaders can exploit industrial societies for short periods of time and can maintain control and economic performance over the long term. This is because modern societies are uniquely vulnerable to coercion and repression. Hence, by wielding a gun in one hand and offering food with the other, determined conquerors can compel collaboration and suppress resistance. Liberman's argument is supported by several historical case studies: Germany's capture of Belgium and Luxembourg during World War I and of nearly all of Europe during World War II; France's seizure of the Ruhr in 1923-24; the Japanese Empire during 1910-45; and Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe in 1945-89.Does Conquest Pay? suggests that the international system is more war-prone than many optimists claim. Liberman's findings also contribute to debates about the stability of empires and other authoritarian regimes, the effectiveness of national resistance strategies, and the sources of rebellious collective action.


“DOES CONQUEST PAY?” is a controversial but little-studied question in international politics. That conquerors can harness captured economies is a longstanding premise of realist balance-of-power strategy and theory. But the virulence of nationalism, the correlation between development and democracy, the long postwar peace, and finally the collapse of the Soviet Empire have suggested to many observers that conquest no longer pays. The importance of economic resources to power means that the truth of the matter is relevant to the likelihood of expansion and the need for balancing strategies like containment. Yet the study of resource “cumulativity” has been confined to historical works on specific occupations and empires.

This book will argue that invaders can, in fact, make conquest “pay” in the limited sense that they can exploit seized industrial economies for their own purposes. To demonstrate this, I have assembled evidence on the imperial revenues, policing costs, and productivity of several twentieth-century occupations and empires. The evidence shows that modern societies can be mobilized intensively in the short run or controlled and “farmed” in the long run. This is true, however, only for ruthless oppressors. Invaders who are morally, internationally, or economically constrained from applying coercion and repression find their attempts at exploitation foiled by massive popular opposition.

Understanding why and when conquest pays, despite the power of nationalism, requires analyzing the sources of collaboration and resistance. It is the economic and political behavior of a nation's leaders, bureaucracies, firms, and individual citizens that determines the profitability of conquest. The variety of important actors and circumstances make this an extremely complex subject. But patterns of collaboration and resistance appear to reflect different levels of coercion, repression, and modernization. To explain this, I draw on theories of coercion and collective action, combined with basic features of modernization. These theories and the evidence suggest, in contrast to commonly held notions, that modern industrial societies are in many respects more vulnerable to coercion and repression than less-developed ones.

Collaboration, resistance, and their impact on economic extraction need interdisciplinary study. Interactions between invaders and invaded often resemble relations among states and have important ramifications for the quality of life in the international system. But rule by invaders or their proxies is also close to the subject of comparative politics, political . . .

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