I just have a simple question, what happens when a country wins a war: will that country rule the losing country, or what happens after the war?

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    The UN comes in condemns the war, then imposes sanctions it does not enforce, then we pretend the event never happened unless it is politically expedient to bring it back up. Nov 6, 2013 at 20:17

4 Answers 4


War is not a game. There is no specific thing that happens when a country "wins" a war.

When a war ends, it's either because

  • there is only one side left, and the other sides are completely annihilated or rendered completely unable to fight somehow. In this case, yes, the victorious country gets to do pretty much whatever they want with the other country.

  • the countries ended the war based on some sort of agreement The winner can be said to be the one who got the more favorable side of the bargain. In this case, what happens is whatever the terms of the agreement are. Maybe the "victorious" country demands money or resources, or maybe they just agree to stop the war, because it results in too many losses on both sides.

Of course there are a lot of political and humanitarian elements involved, so even if one nation wipes out the armies of the other, they might suffer political consequences from other countries if they don't take responsibility for the destruction that they've caused.

  • This answers the question, but to substantiate your claims, it might help to give examples.
    – Publius
    Nov 6, 2013 at 6:22
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    ...for example (1) Germany after WW2; (2) Germany after WW1. Nov 6, 2013 at 12:23
  • D'Oh... Hadn't seen your classic example before I posted my answer! Nov 6, 2013 at 14:20
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    I would like to add that the historical trend is from the former to the latter; the Bible does instruct that the proper way to create an empire is to massacre civilians of conquered towns proportionate to how far they are away, and enslave the survivors. This was probably seen as more of a win-win situation relative to the earlier practice of massacring everybody. Today it is more en vogue to dictate policy and senior leadership of a country, preferably only using the threat of war. The United States does that a lot in Middle Eastern and South American countries.
    – John Woo
    Oct 21, 2014 at 20:08
  • This would be bettered answered by unconditional surrender and conditional surrender differences rather than complete annihilation scenarios
    – user9790
    May 30, 2018 at 1:43

Not necessarily - at the end of both World War I & II, for example, Germany was temporarily occupied and forced to pay reparations, but the country's sovereignty was never questioned. Even when Germany was divided in 1955, it was considered a sovereign state.

War, as Karl von Clausewitz famously remarked is simply diplomacy by other means. He also said:

"War therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will."

The point of war is simply to force another sovereign entity to do what you want - the casus belli.

  • In Syria, for example, the United States wanted chemical weapons gone. So, it threatened war, and when Syria (sort of) capitulated, actual fighting was averted.

  • In Afghanistan, the United States demanded that the Taliban stop aiding terrorists. The best way was to invade and drive them out.

  • And, in Panama, the United States wanted the President - Manuel Noriega - to go to jail for drug crimes. The soldiers invaded, Noriega was captured, and the US went home.

Diplomacy is better than war, because fewer people die, and less is destroyed. But in the end, all of it - war, diplomacy, the UN, and treaties - are simply the means by which nations alternately woo and coerce other sovereign entities to do what they want.

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    Why the downvote? Nov 7, 2013 at 13:52
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    That wouldn't be the same US who has one of the world's largest pile of WMDs? Or the same General Noriega who was a paid CIA asset and agent of US to check spread of communism in south America? Or the same Taliban government which was demanded to hand over OBL and when they demanded evidence against him prior to extradition, the US invaded and quickly changed their objective to regime change? TL;DR, war is silly. There are no rights in any war. Diplomacy is the way to go.
    – NSNoob
    Dec 7, 2015 at 6:12
  • I didn't downvote but this answer seems imprecise. Germany was not (fully) occupied after WW1 whereas it was deliberately completely and deliberately disintegrated after WWII only to be reconstituted later on different terms. In fact, both outcomes are frequently contrasted so its odd to lump them together.
    – Relaxed
    May 27, 2018 at 11:54
  • A perfect answer
    – user9790
    May 30, 2018 at 1:45
  • @NSNoob - None of that is relevant. The claim isn't that war is moral or immoral, only that countries use it to force their will on each other. Oct 26, 2018 at 17:42

It mostly depends on why the war was fought, and what the result was. I'll use some American examples.

In the American War of Independence, America fought (and won) a war with Britain for the right to be independent. America never wanted to attack or conquer Britain, all it wanted was for Britain to "get out" of the US. When Washington trapped Cornwallis' army at Yorktown, the British decided that they didn't have enough men left to conquer the Thirteen Colonies, so they made peace.

When America fought and won a war with Mexico, America wanted to occupy a large stretch of (almost) empty land between Texas and California, inclusive. America made peace as soon as Mexico agreed to give up these territories. American didn't want to conquer and rule the Mexican people, who spoke Spanish, not English.

During the Civil War, the North defeated the South, which was trying to break away from the US. Yes, this was a case where the winning country fought to rule the losing one. If the South had won, it would have been for their "independence" but not to rule the North.

Then America fought and won two World Wars with Germany as a preventive measure, to prevent Germany from conquering other countries.

  • America entered both World Wars while they were already well in progress so it's difficult to see a "preventive" aspect, especially in World War II where Germany had already occupied almost all of Europe by the time America entered. Or are you implying that Germany might have gone on to attack and conquer countries outside of Europe if left alone? That seems unlikely too given the huge forces they needed in the Soviet Union just to hold their own after the initial heady days of the summer of 1941. If they had conquered the Soviet Union, the danger would have been great. Otherwise, not so much.
    – Henry
    Oct 29, 2018 at 3:19

There is only one legal way to wage war under international law, enforced by the UN. That is in self defence, and when the war is concluded by ending the threat everything must be returned to the prior state, including the losing side retaining sovereignty and self-governance.

On the other hand, illegal wars can result in any outcome, although the UN will typically try to enforce international law as far as possible.

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    Why is this downvoted? The question can be interpreted more than one way, but treating it as a legal question is the only way it has a definitive answer. Oct 26, 2018 at 20:21
  • @JustinMorgan: because it’s not a legal question.
    – jmoreno
    Oct 28, 2018 at 14:53
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    It answers the question directly, it's just the usual trolls and pedants.
    – user
    Oct 30, 2018 at 9:22
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    @jmoreno as I noted, illegal wars are only subject to UN enforcement as far as it is possible.
    – user
    Nov 1, 2018 at 9:58
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    @JustinMorgan: I’m not missing your point, I’m trying to answer your question. You apparently disagree with my answer, but I have no idea what your basis is. Apparently you don’t know why this question was downvoted, but you do know that the downvoters didn’t do so because they don’t consider the original question a legal question.
    – jmoreno
    Nov 5, 2018 at 1:56

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