Right of conquest

Right of conquest

The right of conquest is the purported right of a conqueror to territory taken by force of arms. It was sometimes considered a principle of international law until the early 20th century.

Proponents state that this right acknowledges the status quo, and that denial of the right is meaningless unless one is able and willing to use military force to deny it. They note that granting the right promotes peace since it removes the justification of war by denying the legitimacy of violating the borders of a nation's "de facto" area of control. Historically strength in battle and fitness to command were not distinct, (see Trial by Combat, and the Divine Right of Kings.)

Proponents argue that there have been few "good" leaders, (see King Richard I and Pope Alexander VI.) Conquest proved great military strength, and defence was considered one of the most important elements required of a king (see Lord Protector). A proponent often stood as regent, rather than as mere plunderers (as the Vandals and Mongols are perceived).

Critics respond that "right of conquest" rewards military aggression and promotes rather than prevents war.

The Islamic legal term for property rights acquired by conquest is or "`anwatan", (literally "by force").

The completion of colonial conquest of much of the world (see the Scramble for Africa), the devastation of World War I and World War II, and the alignment of both the United States and the Soviet Union with the principle of self determination led to the abandonment of the right of conquest in formal international law. The 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, the post-1945 Nuremberg Trials, the UN Charter, and the UN role in decolonization saw the progressive dismantling of this principle. Simultaneously, the UN Charter's guarantee of the "territorial integrity" of member states effectively froze out claims against prior conquests from this process.

Conquest and military occupation

In the post-Napoleonic era, the disposition of territory acquired under the principle of conquest must be conducted according to the laws of war. This means military occupation followed by a peace settlement. If there is a territorial cession, then there must be a formal peace treaty.


* Sharon Korman, "The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice", Oxford University Press, 1996.

ee also

*Fait accompli
*Status quo ante bellum

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