The Death of Conquest

We don't "do" conquest anymore--but the new anti-conquest norm has had several unforeseen consequences. Some are proving very worrisome.

Issue: Spring 2003

There have been at least two elephants in the room since September 11, 2001. The one nobody wants to arouse is Islam; the one nobody wants to acknowledge is conquest. We don't "do" conquest anymore. Our presumptions seem to be that we shouldn't do it, and that we can't do it. Thus in the polymorphous scholarship and commentary that have appeared since last September 11, those who would influence policy argue over the lures of pre-emption and the limits of power. They debate a putative U.S. imperial role and reflect on the predicates of American history. But old-fashioned conquest, in which ground is seized and populations are controlled against their will for extended periods, is never raised as a policy option. The world community, such as it is, has come to oppose utterly wars fought overtly and permanently to occupy, subjugate or seize another country or its population. This represents a genuine if frequently overlooked new norm of international politics.

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