What happens to countries which don't have any standing army, when attacked by any other country, terrorists, etc.?

Even though only politically less significant or relatively more peaceful countries don't have an army, if attacked what can they do since the police forces can hold only till a certain limit?

  • are you only asking what would happen to the country or also general consequences? Because attacking a peaceful country would definitly have consequences.
    – miep
    Jul 12, 2019 at 11:01
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    Well, they tend to get occupied immediately. Even countries with an army can collapse very quickly if overwhelmed; this happened to most of the smaller victims of WW2, or in the modern era countries like Kuwait. In the case of Kuwait there was a retaliatory invasion by the UN backed Coalition a few months later
    – pjc50
    Jul 12, 2019 at 11:02
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    Costa Rica would be a valuable case study here.
    – Joe
    Jul 14, 2019 at 19:44
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    This would be a good question to ask on the History stack exchange: "Are there any historical examples of … that were attacked by …? What happened to them?"
    – Jasper
    Jul 16, 2019 at 13:57
  • There is a difference between "not having a standing army" and "insisting on pacifism". Historically many countries that did not have a standing army would raise a militia if attacked. More rarely, a tribe insisted on pacifism even when attacked. Which scenario is this question about?
    – Jasper
    Jul 16, 2019 at 14:15

2 Answers 2


Terrorism is usually a matter for domestic law enforcement, not the army. So this answer focuses only on a military invasion from a superior hostile force.

  1. Allies might help defend the country. If other countries with an army have a political interest in keeping the country independent, then they might send their own troops to aid their ally. The Korean war was a prominent example where South Korea was about to be conquered by North Korea and a coalition of multiple other countries (but mostly the United States) intervened and turned it around. When South Korea and the United States had almost conquered North Korea, China intervened on behalf of North Korea. The situation then became an uneasy standoff which is ongoing to this day.
  2. The UN might interfere. A UN resolution might condemn the aggression, saction the aggressor and/or send an international force of peacekeeping troops to repel the invasion. But this is only likely to happen if the aggressor is not backed by any of the five permanent security council members because each of them can veto such a resolution.
  3. Long and enduring guerilla warfare. The aggressor might defeat any organized government forces and officially establish an occupation. But there might be paramilitary organizations within the country which do not agree with being occupied by a foreign force. They might be able to put up an insurgency against the attackers and oppose them in asymmetric warfare. Such insurgencies are very difficult to suppress, even for armies with far superior resources and technology. The main problem is that it is impossible for the invader to tell which members of the local population are part of the insurgency and which aren't. Examples: Vietnam war, War in Afghanistan.
  4. Acceptance. When no external forces want to help and there are not enough civilians who are able or willing to take up arms against the invaders, then the invaded region might simply accept that they are now part of a different country. Recent example: The annexation of Crimmea by the Russian Federation.
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    You could also add to this government's in exile which continue the struggle from abroad when their country is overrun, for example Poland during WWII; en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_government-in-exile
    – James Wood
    Jul 12, 2019 at 11:58
  • One further option is evacuation, if not the whole country just a part of it is attacked, or if other the other parts seem to be more secure for civilians: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evacuation_of_East_Prussia Although in this case there still existed an army. Jul 12, 2019 at 12:18
  • Important to note that all of the countries identified in this answer actually did have standing armies.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 17, 2019 at 0:51

There is one modern historical example.

The 1830s Moriori of the Chatham Islands were a pacifist nation, with no army.

The 1830s Taranaki were a militaristic tribe of Maori whose homeland in New Zealand had fallen under the hegemony of the British.

When the Maori learned about the Moriori, they sent an expedition. They conquered the Moriori. They killed many Moriori. And ate them. The Moriori clung to their pacifist beliefs. The Maori refused to allow the Moriori to breed.

Today, there are no full-blooded Moriori.

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    "And ate them." Not pulling any punches in that answer.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 17, 2019 at 0:46

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