In expansionism, governments and states expand their territory, power, wealth or influence through economic growth, soft power, or the military aggression of empire-building and colonialism.
Anarchy, reunification or pan-nationalism are sometimes used to justify and legitimize expansionism, but only when the explicit goal is to reconquer territories that have been lost, or to take over ancestral lands. In contrast with the ideologies of promised lands like Manifest Destiny, which are used to justify and legitimize expansionism with the perspective that the lands will eventually belong to the invader anyway, unlike claims of prior ownership.
as he strove to conquer the lands of Asia and the Mediterranean.

Theories of expansionism

wrote that newly established dynasties, because they have social cohesion or Asabiyyah, are able to seek 'expansion to the limit'.
Soviet economist Nikolai Kondratiev theorized that capitalism advances in 50-year expansion/stagnation cycles, driven by technological innovation. The UK, Germany, the US, Japan and now China have been at the forefront of successive waves.
Crane Brinton in The Anatomy of Revolution saw the revolution as a driver of expansionism in, for example, Stalinist Russia, the US and the Napoleonic Empire.
Christopher Booker believes that Wishful thinking can generate a 'dream phase' of expansionism such as in the European Union, which is short-lived and unstable.

Past examples

The militarist and nationalistic reign of Czar Nicholas I led to wars of conquest against Persia and Turkey. Various rebel tribes in the Caucasus region were crushed. A Polish revolt in 1830 was ruthlessly crushed. Russian troops in 1848 crossed into Austria-Hungary to put down the Hungarian revolt. Russification policies were implemented to weaken minority ethnic groups. Nicholas also built the Kremlin Palace and a new cathedral in Saint Petersburg. But Pan-slavism ambition led to further war with Turkey in 1853 provoked Britain and France into invading Crimea, and Nicholas died, supposedly of grief at his defeat.
The German Second Reich underwent an industrial revolution under Bismarck, who also reformed and expanded the army. Poles and Catholics were persecuted. Colonies were acquired in Africa and China. In 1890, Kaiser Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck and resolved to build a world-class Navy, which led to an arms race with Britain and thence to World War One.
From 1933 the Third Reich under Hitler laid claim to the Rhineland, the Sudetenland, unification with Austria in 1938, and the whole of the Czech lands the following year. After war broke out, Hitler and Stalin divided Poland between Germany and the USSR. In a Drang nach Osten aimed at achieving Lebensraum for the German people, Germany invaded the USSR in 1941.
Colonialism, a form of expansionism is the policy of a nation seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of developing or exploiting them to the benefit of the colonizing country. The European colonial period was the era from the 15th century to the mid-20th century when several European powers had established colonies in the Americas, Africa and Asia.
Expansionist nationalism is an aggressive and radical form of nationalism that incorporates autonomous, patriotic sentiments with a belief in expansionism. The term was coined during the late nineteenth century as European powers indulged in the 'Scramble for Africa' in the name of national glory, but has been most associated with militarist governments during the 20th century including Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the Japanese empire, and the Balkans countries of Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania and Serbia.
In American politics after the War of 1812; Manifest Destiny was the ideological movement during America's expansion West. The movement incorporated expansionist nationalism with Continentalism, with the Mexican War in 1846-1848 being attributed to it. Despite championing American settlers and traders as the people whom the Government's military would be aiding, the Bent, St. Vrain and Company stated to be the most influential Indian Trading company prior to the Mexican War, underwent a decline due to War and traffic from American settlers by Beyreis. The company also lost Partner Charles Bent on January 19, 1847, to a riot caused by the Mexican War. The tribes: Cheyennes, Comanches, Kiowas, and Pawnees died from Smallpox in 1839-1840, measles and whooping cough in 1845, and cholera in 1849 brought by white settlers. The buffalo herds, sparse grasses, and rare waters were also depleted following the war as increased traffic by settlers moving to California during the Gold Rush.

21st century


The People's Republic of China is accused of expansionism through its operations and claims in the South China Sea, which are concurrently claimed by Vietnam.


was established from the reacquired lands under the manifesto of original ownership in May 14, 1948, following the end of World War II and the Holocaust. Its government has tried to expand its territory and power through the annexation of the Golan Heights in 1981.


, the largest Shi'ite state, has extended its influence across the entire middle east, including Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, arming local militias.


posturing has become aggressive since 2008, and especially since 2014. The events associated with Russia are: the 2008 Russo-Georgian War and Russia's occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia; the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, which began in 2014 with the Annexation of Crimea and the War in Donbass; and the military intervention in Syria.

United States

The territorial evolution of the United States includes westward expansion, growing from the original Thirteen Colonies on the Atlantic coast to a country spanning the entire width of North America to the Pacific Ocean. It accomplished this by war and agreements with Britain, American Indian Wars, Native American treaties, ethnic cleansing, invasion of Spanish Florida, annexation of the breakaway country of Texas, war with and purchase from Mexico, and purchases from France and Spain. The 1856 Guano Islands Act triggered the acquisition of several islands, some of which are disputed with other countries. The federal government purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. The overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom was accomplished in 1893 with the participation of U.S. citizens and military forces, allowing the annexation of Hawaii in 1898. The 1898 Spanish–American War and Philippine–American War resulted in the acquisition of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands, though Cuba was granted independence in 1902, and the Philippines in 1946. The United States took control of American Samoa after the Second Samoan Civil War ended in 1899. The United States Virgin Islands were purchased from Denmark in 1917, solving economic and security problems created by World War I. Victory over Japan in World War II resulted U.S. administration of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Three Trust jurisdictions became independent countries in 1986 and 1994, each with a Compact of Free Association with the United States, but the Northern Mariana Islands became a federal territory of the United States.
The United States suspended its southern territorial claims in the Antarctic Treaty, but operates research bases there. The Outer Space Treaty prohibits claiming territory on other solar system bodies, though the United States sent Apollo astronauts to the Moon, where they planted U.S. flags.
The United States has been accused of neocolonialism with modern American imperialism taking the form of military and economic hegemony over the affairs of many countries, advancing American interests without annexation but with varying levels of coercion. For example, the U.S. forced the opening of Japan in the 1850s. In the late 1800s and much of the 1900s, U.S. corporations exercised outsized influence over several Central American countries, which became known as banana republics. They were occasionally aided by the U.S. military, especially during the Banana Wars, from 1898 to 1934. The United States has invaded and occupied many other countries to advance its economic and security interests, but has returned these countries to sovereign domestic control. Not counting minor military operations, this includes:
The U.S. retains military bases in some of the sovereign countries it once occupied, on a notionally voluntary basis, including in Germany, Italy, Japan, Greenland, Iceland, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is retained despite the protests of the Cuban government, and the U.S. also has military bases in various countries with which it has allied.
By voluntary agreement with the country of Panama, the United States controlled the Panama Canal Zone from 1903 to 1979. The U.S. constructed the Panama Canal and operated it until 1999, when it was turned over to Panama.


In the nineteenth century, theories of racial unity such as Pan-Germanism, Pan-Slavism, Pan-Turkism and the related Turanism, evolved. In each case, the dominant nation used these theories to legitimise their expansionist policies.

In popular culture

's satirical novel Animal Farm is a fictional depiction, based on Stalin's USSR, of a new elite seizing power, establishing new rules and hierarchies, then expanding economically while compromising their ideals; while Robert Erskine Childers in The Riddle of the Sands portrayed the threatening nature of the German Second Reich. Elspeth Huxley's novel Red Strangers shows the effects on local culture of colonial expansion into sub-Saharan Africa.