Skip to main content

Long reads shortened

Why countries don’t invade each other any more

A statue of noted conquerer Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki, Greece. Getty

What Vladimir Putin is trying to do in Ukraine – invade a country “to make its territory his own” – is very rare nowadays, says The Economist. In a typical decade between 1850 and 1940, about 1% of the world’s population “saw their rulers change as a result of conquest”. In the 40 years up until the Ukraine war, the proportion was less than 0.001%. There were no “large conquests” at all between the late 1970s and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Globalisation has reduced the barriers to trade with nations around the world, making it much less worthwhile to conquer your neighbour than it used to be. Economic activity, once driven almost entirely by land and natural resources, is now more reliant on human workers, who are unlikely to want to toil for invaders. The need to maintain military control over captured territory – and supply it with all the amenities a modern state provides – is also a drain on productivity. GDP per head in the Palestinian territories seized by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 is less than 10% of Israel proper.