Imagine Countries G, O, and Y all border Country S.

Now imagine the following chain of events:

  1. Years prior, Country S had declared that closing a certain maritime access corridor to that country would be considered a declaration of war.
  2. Countries G and Y sign a mutual defense agreement.
  3. In response to a (false) report that Country S was amassing military forces along Country Y's border, Country G begins amassing their military on the G/S border, and takes up positions overlooking the aforementioned maritime access corridor.
  4. Country S reiterates their declaration that closure of said corridor would be considered an act of war.
  5. Country G closes said corridor to Country S's shipping.
  6. Countries G and O sign a defense pact.
  7. Country O begins their own military build-up.
  8. Fearing their ability to withstand a war on two fronts, Country S launches a preemptive strike against Country G.
  9. Country O begins attacking Country S.
  10. Country S defeats Country O's attacks, and captures territory from them.

Now, the war as a whole is, strictly-speaking, an offensive war initiated by Country S against Country G. However, since Country O then initiated hostilities of their own against Country S, to whom does the territory that Country O lost to Country S legitimately belong according to international law?

  • 1
    Hands raised, who else is trying to figure out what real countries were modeled by this question? :)
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 21:53
  • @user4012 - S = Isreal G = Syria O = Egypt I am not sure if number 8 is entirely accurate but hey. Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 12:58
  • @DeplorableNumber9035768 Close, but no cigar. ;)
    – Sandwich
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 9:25

2 Answers 2


The Kellogg–Briand Pact (1928) effectively criminalizes war and conquest. So Country S would be in violation of this act.

However in matters of international law the willingness of the country to subject itself to that judgement and the willingness of the most powerful nations to enforce the prohibition is what really matters. So even though Country S is probably on the wrong side of the Pact, if the most powerful countries perfer not to follow the pact, and allow Country S to annex the land taken from Country O then it does not really matter who is right in the law.

  • What a joke that is! Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 13:57
  • Thanks, however I think I'm more after an answer that takes the whole offensive war vs. defensive war thing, and compares that to Country O's attacking of Country S after S had already attacked G. Basically, does offensive vs. defensive apply to the war as a whole, or to the individual vectors of hostility between each of the participants?
    – Sandwich
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 9:29
  • @Sandwich - International Law makes no differentiation between offensive vs defensive war. It simply outlaws war and conquest as a whole. Think of it like rape. It does not matter what clothes they are wearing or if they were into it when you were making out on the dance floor when they say no its still rape and its still illegal even if they are "Asking for it" Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 12:45
  • I guess I'm thinking of the Just War concept; found it from this page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defensive_war
    – Sandwich
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 0:25
  • @Sandwich - You asked about international law. The law defined in the act does not differentiate between aggressive and defensive war. And no more recent act has been enacted that would enact such differentiation. Even if there were I can not imagine the defensive war definition including conquest of areas that were controlled by the aggressor country prior to the war. Once a country goes outside of its borders it has moved from defender into aggressor or conqueror. Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 12:42

There's no such thing, in reality, as "legitimately belong according to international law". Only "what great powers consider OK" and "what you have the strength to keep".

Thus, territories captured by USSR as a result of WWII/GPW (Kaliningrad/Kunisberg, and 4 Japanese islands, and parts of Poland and Romania) are all "legitimately" part of USSR. Recovered Territories - Brandenburg, Pomerania and Silesia are legitimately part of Poland (there was also territory USSR acquired Eastern polish territory in exchange).

Dutch annexation is an interesting example: they had extensive annexation plans (As per Wiki, in its most ambitious form, this plan included the cities of Cologne, Aachen, Münster and Osnabrück, and would have enlarged the country's European area by 30 to 50 percent). But that plan was vetoed by USA (note: not international laws or some international community). However, 69 km^2 of territory WAS annexed by the Dutch, and only returned after a huge reparation payment was done by Germany (in other words, it would have been kept if Germany didn't pay up, with no objections from international community or law).

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