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The right of conquest is the purported right of a conqueror to territory taken by force of arms. It was sometimes considered a principle of international law until the early 20th century.

The completion of colonial conquest of much of the world (see the Scramble for Africa), the devastation of World War I and World War II, and the alignment of both the United Statesmarker and the Soviet Unionmarker with the principle of self determination led to the abandonment of the right of conquest in formal international law. The 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, the post-1945 Nuremberg Trialsmarker, the UN Charter, and the UN role in decolonization saw the progressive dismantling of this principle. Simultaneously, the UN Charter's guarantee of the "territorial integrity" of member states effectively froze out claims against prior conquests from this process.

Conquest and military occupation

In the post-Napoleonic era, the disposition of territory acquired under the principle of conquest must be conducted according to the laws of war. This means military occupation followed by a peace settlement. If there is a territorial cession, then there must be a formal peace treaty.


  • Sharon Korman, The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice, Oxford University Press, 1996.

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