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In expansionism, governments and[] states expand their territory, power, wealth or influence through economic growth, soft power, military empire-building or colonialism.[][1]

State-collapse anarchy, reunification or pan-nationalism are sometimes used[by whom?] to justify and legitimize expansionism, but only when the explicit goal is to reconquer territories that have been lost, or to take over ancestral lands. In contrast, would-be expansionists may promote ideologies of promised lands (such as Manifest Destiny), used to justify and legitimize expansionism with the perspective that targeted lands will eventually belong to the potential invader anyway, unlike claims of prior ownership.[2] (Compare Promised Land.)

The full extent of the empire of Alexander the Great, assembled in the 4th century BCE as he strove to conquer the lands of Asia and the Mediterranean

Theories of expansionism

Ibn Khaldun wrote that newly established dynasties, because they have social cohesion or Asabiyyah, are able to seek 'expansion to the limit'.[3]

Soviet economist Nikolai Kondratiev theorized that capitalism advances in 50-year expansion/stagnation cycles, driven by technological innovation. The UK, Germany, the US, Japan and now China have been at the forefront of successive waves.

Crane Brinton in The Anatomy of Revolution saw the revolution as a driver of expansionism in, for example, Stalinist Russia, the US and the Napoleonic Empire.

Christopher Booker believes that Wishful thinking can generate a 'dream phase' of expansionism such as in the European Union, which is short-lived and unreliable.

Past examples

The religious imperialism and colonialism of Islam started with the Early Muslim conquests, followed by the religious Caliphate expansionisms and ended in the Decline of the Ottoman Empire.

The militarist and nationalistic reign of Czar Nicholas I (1825-1855) led to wars of conquest against Persia (1826-1828) and Turkey (1828-1829). Various rebel tribes in the Caucasus region were crushed. A Polish revolt in 1830 was ruthlessly crushed. Russian troops in 1848 crossed into Austria-Hungary to put down the Hungarian revolt. Russification policies were implemented to weaken minority ethnic groups. Nicholas also built the Kremlin Palace and a new cathedral in Saint Petersburg. But Pan-slavism ambition led to further war with Turkey (the Sick man of Europe) in 1853 provoked Britain and France into invading Crimea, and Nicholas died, supposedly of grief at his defeat.[4]

The German Second Reich (1871-1918) underwent an industrial revolution under Bismarck, who also reformed and expanded the army. Poles and Catholics were persecuted. Colonies were acquired in Africa and China. In 1890, Kaiser Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck and resolved to build a world-class Navy, which led to an arms race with Britain and thence to World War One.[5]

From 1933 the Third Reich under Hitler laid claim to the Rhineland, the Sudetenland, unification (Anschluss) with Austria in 1938, and the whole of the Czech lands the following year. After war broke out, Hitler and Stalin divided Poland between Germany and the USSR. In a Drang nach Osten aimed at achieving Lebensraum for the German people, Germany invaded the USSR in 1941.[6]

Colonialism, a form of expansionism is the policy of a nation seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of developing or exploiting them to the benefit of the colonizing country.[7] The European colonial period was the era from the 15th century to the mid-20th century when several European powers had established colonies in the Americas, Africa and Asia.

Expansionist nationalism is an aggressive and radical form of nationalism that incorporates autonomous, patriotic sentiments with a belief in expansionism. The term was coined during the late nineteenth century as European powers indulged in the 'Scramble for Africa' in the name of national glory, but has been most associated with militarist governments during the 20th century including Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the Japanese empire, and the Balkans countries of Albania (Greater Albania), Bulgaria (Greater Bulgaria), Croatia (Greater Croatia), Hungary (Greater Hungary), Romania (Greater Romania) and Serbia (Greater Serbia).

In American politics after the War of 1812; Manifest Destiny was the ideological movement during America's expansion West. The movement incorporated expansionist nationalism with Continentalism, with the Mexican War in 1846-1848 being attributed to it. Despite championing American settlers and traders as the people whom the Government's military would be aiding, the Bent, St. Vrain and Company stated to be the most influential Indian Trading company prior to the Mexican War, underwent a decline due to War and traffic from American settlers by Beyreis. The company also lost Partner Charles Bent on January 19, 1847, to a riot caused by the Mexican War. The tribes: Cheyennes, Comanches, Kiowas, and Pawnees died from Smallpox in 1839-1840, measles and whooping cough in 1845, and cholera in 1849 brought by white settlers. The buffalo herds, sparse grasses, and rare waters were also depleted following the war as increased traffic by settlers moving to California during the Gold Rush.[8]

21st century


The People's Republic of China is accused of expansionism through its operations and claims in the South China Sea, which are concurrently claimed by Vietnam.[9]


Israel was established on reacquired lands under international law and a manifest of original ownership on May 14, 1948, following the end of World War II and the Holocaust. Its government has annexed the Golan Heights in 1981.[10][11]


Iran, the largest Shi'ite state, has extended its influence across the entire Middle East, including Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, arming local militias.[12]


Russian posturing has become aggressive since 2008, and especially since 2014.[13] The events associated with Russia are: the 2008 Russo-Georgian War and Russia's occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia; the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, which began in 2014 with the Annexation of Crimea and the War in Donbass; and the military intervention in Syria.

United States

The territorial evolution of the United States includes westward expansion, growing from the original Thirteen Colonies on the Atlantic coast to a country spanning the entire width of North America to the Pacific Ocean. It accomplished this by war and agreements with Britain, American Indian Wars, Native American treaties, ethnic cleansing, invasion of Spanish Florida, annexation of the breakaway country of Texas, war with and purchase from Mexico, and purchases from France and Spain. The 1856 Guano Islands Act triggered the acquisition of several islands, some of which are disputed with other countries. Some were ceded to other countries, but many remain U.S. territory. The federal government purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. The overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom was accomplished in 1893 with the participation of U.S. citizens and military forces, allowing the annexation of Hawaii in 1898. The 1898 Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War resulted in the acquisition of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands, though Cuba was granted independence in 1902, and the Philippines in 1946. The United States took control of American Samoa after the Second Samoan Civil War ended in 1899. The United States Virgin Islands were purchased from Denmark in 1917, solving economic and security problems created by World War I. Victory over Japan in World War II resulted U.S. administration of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Three Trust jurisdictions became independent countries in 1986 and 1994, each with a Compact of Free Association with the United States, but the Northern Mariana Islands became a federal territory of the United States.

The United States has made no territorial claims in Antarctica, but reserves the right to do so. It participates in the Antarctic Treaty and operates research bases on international territory there. The Outer Space Treaty prohibits claiming territory on other solar system bodies, though the United States sent Apollo astronauts to the Moon, where they planted U.S. flags.

The United States has been accused of neocolonialism with modern American imperialism taking the form of military and economic hegemony over the affairs of many countries, advancing American interests without annexation but with varying levels of coercion. For example, the U.S. forced the opening of Japan in the 1850s. In the late 1800s and much of the 1900s, U.S. corporations exercised outsized influence over several Central American countries, which became known as banana republics. They were occasionally aided by the U.S. military, especially during the Banana Wars, from 1898 to 1934. The United States has invaded and occupied many other countries to advance its economic and security interests, but has eventually returned these countries to sovereign domestic control. (For a complete list, see Territories of the United States § Former territories and administered areas.)

The U.S. retains military bases in some of the sovereign countries it once occupied, on a notionally voluntary basis, including in Germany, Italy, Japan, Greenland, Iceland, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is retained despite the protests of the Cuban government, and the U.S. also has military bases in various countries with which it has allied.

By voluntary agreement with the country of Panama, the United States controlled the Panama Canal Zone from 1903 to 1979. The U.S. constructed the Panama Canal and operated it until 1999, when it was turned over to Panama. The Corn Islands were leased from Nicaragua from 1914 to 1971.


In the nineteenth century, theories of racial unity such as Pan-Germanism, Pan-Slavism, Pan-Turkism and the related Turanism, evolved. In each case, the dominant nation (respectively, Prussia, Russia[14] and the Ottoman Empire, especially under Enver Pasha,) used these theories to legitimise their expansionist policies.

In popular culture

George Orwell's satirical novel Animal Farm is a fictional depiction, based on Stalin's USSR, of a new elite seizing power, establishing new rules and hierarchies, then expanding economically while compromising their ideals; while Robert Erskine Childers in The Riddle of the Sands portrayed the threatening nature of the German Second Reich. Elspeth Huxley's novel Red Strangers shows the effects on local culture of colonial expansion into sub-Saharan Africa.

See also


  1. ^ An alternative definition sees "expansionism" as "a desire to annex additional territory" for reasons such as perceived needs for Lebensraum or resources, the intimidation of rivals, or the projection of an ideology. May, Ronald James, ed. (1979). The Indonesia-Papua New Guinea Border: Irianese Nationalism and Small State Diplomacy. Department of Political and Social Change, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. p. 43. Retrieved 2020. At this point, however, we must define 'expansionism' a little more precisely . I am interpreting it to mean a desire to annex additional territory either
    i for the sake of more lebensraum ( living space ) or resources ( oil , copper , timber , etc . );
    ii for the sake of demonstrating the national power so as to intimidate neighbours;
    iii because of an ideology of national greatness, power [...]
  2. ^ "Manifest Destiny | History, Examples, & Significance". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved .
  3. ^ The Muqadimmah, 1377, pages 137-256
  4. ^ Orlando Figes, Crimea, Penguin, 2011, chapter one
  5. ^ Allan Mallinson, '1914; Fight the Good Fight', Bantam Press, 2013, chapter two
  6. ^ Sebastian Haffner, The Meaning of Hitler, Phoenix, 2000, chapters 2,3 and 4
  7. ^ Colonialism, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (1989 ed.) p. 291.; Colonialisme, Nouveau Petit Robert de la langue française (1993 ed.), p. 456.
  8. ^ Beyreis, David (Summer 2018). "The Chaos of Conquest: The Bents and the Problem of American Expansion". Kansas History. 41 (2): 72-89 – via History Reference Center.
  9. ^ Simon Tisdall, 'Vietnam's fury at China's expansionism can be traced to a troubled history', The Guardian, 15/5/2004
  10. ^ Masalha, Nur (2000). Imperial Israel and the Palestinians: politics of expansion. Sterling, VA: Pluto Press.
  11. ^ https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/peace/guide/pages/golan%20heights%20law.aspx/
  12. ^ Arango, Tim (15 July 2017). "Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. 'Handed the Country Over'". New York Times. Retrieved 2019.
  13. ^ Walker, Peter (2015-02-20). "Russian expansionism may pose existential threat, says NATO general". The Guardian. Retrieved .
  14. ^ Orlando Figes, Crimea, Penguin, 2011, p.89

External links

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