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Annexation is the physical takeover of conquered territories as part of a greater state policy of expansionism. In most cases, annexation begins with the occupation of a subordinate territory through military possession and ends with formal political recognition of the acquisition by both parties involved. In some cases, the involved parties seek a cooperative agreement either to avoid war or because they recognize a common benefit through shared political, economic, and social institutions. The process of annexation, however, is usually driven by coercive measures: a compelling use or physical threat of force, intimidation or fear tactics, and other means of direct or indirect pressure. Annexation may produce either a long-lasting or a temporary political, economic, and social relationship between two states.
States that adopt annexationist policies are driven to satisfy their “land hunger” through the acquisition of lands that are outside of their original borders. These lands may be adjacent to the annexing state and represent the fulfillment of irredentist or nationalist goals. For example, Germany’s annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland in 1938 was part of a larger foreign policy aiming to unite all Germanic peoples under one larger empire. This policy of national expansion also directed the United States’ annexation of Texas in 1845. In this case, annexation was at the heart of the United States’ greater policy of Manifest Destiny; it believed that “winning the West” was part of fulfilling its natural destiny in North America. States may also seek to expand their colonial empire through the annexation of foreign territories. The annexation of Madagascar by France in 1896 illustrates this form of expansionism. In 1868 a treaty between the Merina peoples and the French government designated Madagascar as a French protectorate. British recognition of this arrangement in 1890 legitimized the French presence on the island, but only after France’s defeat of the Merina army in 1895 did Madagascar become fully annexed by France.
In either case, the expansion of national influence through the physical acquisition of land, peoples, and natural resources drives a state’s annexationist policies. The absence of international laws that regulate annexation allows each state to develop its own process of annexation. Some states’ annexationist policies are or have been governed by domestic national law, as was the case with Italy’s 1936 annexation of Ethiopia, which occurred with a formal decree issued by the king of Italy, and the United States’ acquisitions of Texas (1845) and Hawaii (1898), which were directed by joint resolutions in the U.S. Congress. Other states do not or have not constructed a legal framework for determining the process of annexation. For example, Japan completed the annexation of its Korean protectorate in 1910 through a simple proclamation by the emperor. Only the illegal use of force is condemned by the charter of the United Nations.
Annexed regions become part of the greater entity when the sovereign authority of the annexing state is recognized by both parties. Even though annexationist policy is a form of unilateral politics—a one-sided agreement imposed by the dominant party—the process of annexation is complete once a legitimization of the acquisition is accepted by the international community. In some cases, international treaties may aid in the process of annexation, as in the case of Norway’s annexation of the Svalbard Islands in 1925. The terms of the country’s final configuration, however, are determined solely by the annexing state. For example, the annexing state has the right to force the citizens of the annexed territory to adopt new national laws and customs. In many instances, the process of annexation leads to the destruction of the subordinate territory’s cultural identity. For example, the annexation of Hawaii by the United States and the subsequent declaration of Hawaiian statehood in 1959 have resulted in the Americanization of the Hawaiian Islands. Many native populations of permanently annexed lands have dedicated themselves to the preservation of their culture through peaceful educational movements or active resistance to deculturation.
Conversely, annexationist policies may be underscored by distinct humanitarian goals. A dual desire to promote industrial growth in the South and greater racial equality in American society as a whole drove the annexationist program of Northern Radical Republicans at the end of the U.S. Civil War (1861–1865). These abolitionist politicians advocated a program of Reconstruction that included the annexation of Southern states with the express purpose of destroying plantation society and establishing a unified liberal capitalist federal nation. In this case, the politics of annexation reflected a desire for the institutionalization of Radical Republican Judge Albion Tourgée’s (1838–1905) philosophy of “color-blind justice” for freed persons of the South and should be noted for its progressive commitment to social justice.
Annexation is not the inevitable outcome of military conquest, but rather one of many possible outcomes of conquest. For example, the military occupation of Germany and Japan after World War II (1939–1945) did not lead to the annexation of either country by the Allied powers. In both cases the Allies expressly rejected annexation of the subordinate territories at the time of occupation. Annexation can therefore be seen as a calculated, deliberate domestic or international policy.
- Dudden, Arthur Power, ed. 2004. American Empire in the Pacific: From Trade to Strategic Balance, 1700–1922. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
- Elliott, Mark Emory. 2006. Color-Blind Justice: Albion Tourgée and the Quest for Racial Equality. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Korman, Sharon. 1996. The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Wagner, Dieter, and Gerhard Tomkowitz. 1971. Anschluss: The Week Hitler Seized Vienna. Geoffrey Strachan. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
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