On 'successful' occupations

I think I remember two typical patterns for successful occupations in history:

(A) The occupied country has at least a similar wealth as the occupier itself.
This allows the occupiers to press enough contributions out of the suppressed to make the occupation pay for itself. France 1940-1944 is an extreme example for a 'profitable' occupation.

(B) The occupation lasts very long (generations).
Only officers, non-commissioned officers, clerks, technical specialists and elite troops are foreigners; the majority of the occupation forces are indigenous troops. This model usually exploits rifts in the occupied society (classes, religions, tribes) and recruits its indigenous troops only from one group. The European colonial powers and their colonies are a good example for this.

- - - - -

Afghanistan looks very differently. It's ridiculously poor in comparison to the involved foreigners and the indigenous forces are neither under control of foreign leaders and specialists nor were they recruited from only one group.

This violation of the well-established patterns may contribute to the explanation of the failure to force central control, peace and order onto Afghanistan so far.

Sadly, neither pattern really helps a country to reduce the risk of becoming occupied. Even the melding of internal rifts wouldn't help much against a multi-year occupation by a peer country.



  1. Interesting thoughts.
    What would you say about China's occupation of Tibet, though? I think the Chinese consider it to be successful, but it wouldn't seem to meet criteria (A) or (B). Is it too "de minimis" of an example, b/c of low population density?

  2. I think the key is here that the Chinese think that Tibet is Chinese. It's probably comparable to the development of Siberia by Russians or the British keeping Northern Ireland.

    The wealth difference wasn't huge for most of the time as well. PLA troops in Tibet cost very little in addition to what food can be gained locally. The infrastructure investments cost probably more than the occupation troops.

  3. www.carnegieendowment.org Has a very good article on this same subject, entitled: Lessons from the Past - The American Record on Nation Building.

    In the 2nd table, they have a list of seven factors which must be in favorable array in order for a successful occupation to take place: In iraq, none of those factors are in favorable order.

    By the way, sven, do you have any thoughts for an article on logistics yet? I would have read the books you recomended, but none could be found!

  4. The last one I read was "operational logistics" or similar.

    You should visit the Think Defence blog if you're interested in logistics hardware. They write much about it.
    There's also a Valium-like journal somewhere, "Army Logistician" or similar. It should at least be on findarticles.com .