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Going out of style?

How rare are attempted or completed annexations of territory in the postwar world? Examples I have found so far:

  • China annexes Tibet, 1951 – successful to date
  • Ethiopia annexes Ogaden, 1954 – successful to date
  • Indonesia annexes Timor, 1975 – overturned in 1999
  • Morocco annexes Western Sahara, 1975 – successful to date
  • Iraq annexes Kuwait , 1990 – overturned in 1991

Does anyone have additional examples, other than East Jerusalem and whatever the West Bank settlements are supposed to be? At first glance, annexation and attempted annexation appears to be rare in the contemporary postwar world.  Annexation is a particularly depressing form of political domination, especially when joined with an attempt to displace the local people. (Displacement can happen in many other forms, including the displacement of Jews in most Arab countries since Israeli independence, and should also be condemned.)

I’m wondering about annexation because I am currently reading the section of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined in which he argues that an large number of war related statistics have dropped to zero or near zero since the Second World War, for the first time in history.

I have spent a lot of this chapter on the statistics of war. But now we are ready for the most interesting statistic since 1945: zero. Zero is the number that applies to an astonishing collection of categories of war during the two-thirds of a century that has elapsed since the end of the deadliest war of all time…Zero is the number of times that nuclear weapons have been used in conflict… Zero is the number of times that the two Cold War superpowers fought each other on the battlefield… Zero is the number of times that any of the great powers have fought each other since 1953 (or perhaps even 1945, since many political scientists don’t admit China to the club of great powers until after the Korean War)… Zero is the number of interstate wars that have been fought between countries in Western Europe since the end of World War II. It is also the number of interstate wars that have been fought in Europe as a whole since 1956, when the Soviet Union briefly invaded Hungary…Zero is the number of interstate wars that have been fought since 1945 between major developed countries (the forty-four with the highest per capita income) anywhere in the world (again, with the exception of the 1956 Hungarian invasion)…Zero is the number of developed countries that have expanded their territory since the late 1940s by conquering another country…Zero is the number of internationally recognized states since World War II that have gone out of existence through conquest…The point of this chapter is that these zeroes— the Long Peace— are a result of one of those psychological retunings that take place now and again over the course of history and cause violence to decline.

– Pinker, Steven (2011-10-04). The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Kindle Locations 5577-5578). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

In Jerusalem the past is everywhere, and one obvious conclusion is that waves of empires and peoples follow each other in unending succession. Of those peoples, whom do we see and remember? In declining order of importance:

  1.  Those that settle more people here for a greater period of time.
  2. Those that remove more of other populations.
  3. Those that remain emotionally connected to the land.
  4. Those that build massive physical works.

Thus, the British left few traces. The Romans left buildings. The Christians left many buildings and a small population. The Muslims left many buildings and a large population. Jerusalem implies a powerful realpolitik lesson for the Israelis: this is the way the world works.

Pinker’s book, though, offers a counterargument. While this is the way the world worked, and the way much of the world continues to work, it works less and less this way. The Enlightenment has been a success. It has had a slow, fitful progress with the single largest setback in human history in World War II and the Holocaust. The Enlightenment, as many have pointed out, failed the Jews. Nonetheless, Pinker argues persuasively, the trend lines are in the right direction. Cosmopolitan humanism is also a better way to live than tribalism, nationalism or other models. It yields greater economic success, more stability and richer cultural life. It results in less war, fewer homocides, and a decline or virtual elimination in many horrors: slavery, child labor, public torture and animal cruelty for entertainment, among others.

So, a tentative assertion: forced annexation is an evil that is not only no longer necessary, but on its way out as a method of doing the business of peoples and states.

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