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The Future of Conquest

September 24, 2021
Dan Altman
This article was originally published by Foreign Affairs.

“The Future of Conquest. Fights Over Small Places Could Spark the Next Big War,” Dan Altman, Foreign Affairs, 09.24.21. The author, an assistant professor of political science at Georgia State University, writes:

  • “Today, conquest looks like what Russia did in Crimea and what China could do once again in the South China Sea. … Unless the United States embraces a level of restraint not attempted since Pearl Harbor, sitting out future territorial conflicts may not come as easily as in the past. Too many of the world’s most dangerous flash points pit China or Russia against U.S. allies threatened by conquest.”
  • “Looking forward, possible Chinese and Russian conquests loom as many of the most consequential and plausible scenarios for conflicts among the world’s great powers. … Seizing and annexing Crimea and its more than two million inhabitants shattered the false hope that conquest was a thing of the past in Europe. It underscores why the next Russian conquest is the most pressing foreign threat to European stability. The question is, where will it occur?”
  • “The worst-case scenario envisions Russia openly invading the Baltics … Although any scenario this grave deserves serious assessment, the modern history of conquest provides reason to believe it is unlikely … The presence of NATO troops serving as a tripwire deployment in the Baltics further reinforces deterrence against Russian invasion.”
  • “[F]urther Russian encroachments in Ukraine and Georgia remain all too plausible. … When possible, the best response to ‘green men’ tactics is to defeat the incursion as if the opposition were truly rebels while not engaging Russia otherwise. … And by allowing Moscow to deny that it had been defeated, this approach offers the hope that Russia will accept a limited failure rather than escalate the conflict.”
  • “China and Russia will naturally doubt whether U.S. alliances, designed with larger aggressions in mind, extend to small territories. … Conversely, U.S. deterrence in many of its potential flash points with China suffers because American tripwire forces are absent. … Against Russia, the same is true for Ukraine and Georgia.”

Read the full article at Foreign Affairs.


Dan Altman

Dan Altman is an assistant professor of Political Science at Georgia State University.

Photo by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation shared under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.