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Economic Conquest |WORK|



This paper develops an economic theory of empire building. This theory addresses the choice among three strategies that empire builders historically have used. We call these strategies Uncoerced Annexation, Coerced Annexation, and Attempted Conquest. The theory shows how the choice among these strategies depends on such factors as the economic gains from imperial expansion, the relative effectiveness of imperial armies, the costs of projecting imperial military power, and liquidity constraints on financing imperial armies. This theory also addresses the scope of imperial ambitions. The paper uses examples from the history of the Roman, Mongol, Ottoman, and Nazi German empires to illustrate the applicability of the theory.




Economic Conquest


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America's annexation of Hawaii in 1898 extended U.S. territory into the Pacific and highlighted resulted from economic integration and the rise of the United States as a Pacific power. For most of the 1800s, leaders in Washington were concerned that Hawaii might become part of a European nation's empire. During the 1830s, Britain and France forced Hawaii to accept treaties giving them economic privileges. In 1842, Secretary of State Daniel Webster sent a letter to Hawaiian agents in Washington affirming U.S. interests in Hawaii and opposing annexation by any other nation. He also proposed to Great Britain and France that no nation should seek special privileges or engage in further colonization of the islands. In 1849, the United States and Hawaii concluded a treaty of friendship that served as the basis of official relations between the parties. A key provisioning spot for American whaling ships, fertile ground for American protestant missionaries, and a new source of sugar cane production, Hawaii's economy became increasingly integrated with the United States. An 1875 trade reciprocity treaty further linked the two countries and U.S. sugar plantation owners from the United States came to dominate the economy and politics of the islands. When Queen Liliuokalani moved to establish a stronger monarchy, Americans under the leadership of Samuel Dole deposed her in 1893. The planters' belief that a coup and annexation by the United States would remove the threat of a devastating tariff on their sugar also spurred them to action. The administration of President Benjamin Harrison encouraged the takeover, and dispatched sailors from the USS Boston to the islands to surround the royal palace. The U.S. minister to Hawaii, John L. Stevens, worked closely with the new government.


But modern economic complexity goes beyond the mere breadth of commodity inputs. Technological complexity is a lengthening of value chains (either domestically or internationally) and a specialization of individual steps in productive processes. For example, the simplest semiconductors that control basic electronic components like truck window switches are vastly more complex than any single input component to industrial processes that prevailed a century ago. They also require an array of input processes (technical intellectual property, sourced commodities, capital equipment, and specialized labor) that are too complicated to be in-sourced by a given city, country, or even region, without driving costs higher than the ubiquitous components could justify.


Another twist in the story of rising economic complexity is that power to veto economic activity through foreign dependencies is not limited to governments. While the UK can sanction Russian banks, Apple can also stop selling its iPhones in the country. To be sure, any given corporation or consumer has much less power to exercise veto points over domestic production processes than the government of an economic superpower like the United States or European Union. But corporate decision making can serve a similar role to sanctions if executives believe that lost revenues in an aggressor country are less objectionable than the backlash of continuing to operate.


Whether this shock was foreseen by Russian policymakers before invading Ukraine is unclear. What is clear is that any country planning a war of conquest needs to assume a similar reaction from the global community. In effect, the costs of war have risen, and risen dramatically. That does not mean that offensive wars are impossible going forward. But would-be conquerors will require a plan to blunt the impact of international interdiction of production if they want to invade. The ultimate irony is that Russian policymakers thought they had done that by cultivating European energy reliance and building up a massive pile of gold reserves. But their efforts at sanction-proofing the Russian economy now look laughable in the face of a global effort to deny unreplaceable inputs.


Using economics to achieve non-economic foreign policy objectives has become a dominant strategy for great powers in the post 9/11 world. The economic statecraft kit now includes a wide range of practices such as financial sanctions, coercive policies and inducements to defensive policies.


It is well-established that the Conquest of the Americas by Europeans led to catastrophic declines in indigenous populations. However, less is known about the conditions under which indigenous communities were able to overcome the onslaught of disease and violence that they faced. Drawing upon a rich set of sources, including Aztec tribute rolls and early Conquest censuses (chiefly the Suma de Visitas (1548)), we develop a new disaggregated dataset on pre-Conquest economic, epidemiological and political conditions both in 11,888 potential settlement locations in the historic core of Mexico and in 1,093 actual Conquest-era city-settlements. Of these 1,093 settlements, we show that 36% had disappeared entirely by 1790. Yet, despite being subject to Conquest-era violence, subsequent coercion and multiple pandemics that led average populations in those settlements to fall from 2,377 to 128 by 1646, 13% would still end the colonial era larger than they started. We show that both indigenous settlement survival durations and population levels through the colonial period are robustly predicted, not just by Spanish settler choices or by their diseases, but also by the extent to which indigenous communities could themselves leverage nonreplicable and nonexpropriable resources and skills from the pre-Hispanic period that would prove complementary to global trade. Thus indigenous opportunities and agency played important roles in shaping their own resilience.


The present essay thus not only aims to reconstruct the organization and war practices of the akıncıs but also argues that an analysis of the akıncıs allows for new insights into the nature of the early Ottoman Empire and the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. It further maintains that the akıncıs were a central element in the actual economic motivation of the conquest, namely the hunting of slaves, and that this slave hunting falls within a very specific phase of the Ottoman conquest.


The akıncıs, therefore, are a good example of how disciplinary boundaries complicate and marginalize the treatment of an important phenomenon since it can only be partially grasped in the respective disciplinary context. As will be shown below, however, the organization, tactics, military practice, and economic significance of the raiders can be extracted in almost all desirable detail from contemporary narrative non-Ottoman and Ottoman sources. The sources used in this process are well known in their respective disciplinary contexts, i.e., Ottoman, Byzantine, Balkan, Venetian and crusader studies, but in the relevant adjacent disciplines they often seem exotic or are ignored altogether. Cross-reading of sources is repeatedly demanded as a methodological imperative, but rarely implemented in research practice.


Georgius de Hungaria, himself a former slave, offers probably the best description of the akıncıs, weaving together economic and military tactical aspects. It is to him we owe the insight that the akıncıs were the first link in the chain of the Ottoman slave trade and that slave hunting was the real driving force of the raids and thus also of the akıncıs. Against this background, the equipment and tactics of the akıncıs also become understandable: their goal was to capture as large a number of people as possible by exploiting the effect of surprise, if possible without fighting, and to sell them immediately to slave traders who had accompanied them. The akıncıs themselves had no means of or interest in returning the slaves and other loot to the trading centers of the Ottoman Empire. There was, then, a division of labor, further business being left to professional slave traders.


As becomes clear from the examples above, the akıncıs could and should be examined through the contemporary narrative sources. Not only were both Muslim and Christian authors well acquainted with these particular Ottoman raiding troops, but they also present a far richer portrayal of their peculiarities, the specific ways of warfare and the tactics they employed while waging expeditions, and above all the purpose and target of these plundering incursions than could possibly be gleaned from examining Ottoman administrative documents alone. Moreover, the information provided by the narrative sources appears highly reliable, especially when it is juxtaposed with the available contemporaneous documentary evidence. It also suggest new directions for research and possible connections with other militarized groups who were part of the phenomenon that otherwise cannot be apprehended if research remains confined within the structural constraints of the study of the akıncıs proper. In addition, as we have attempted to show above, transcending disciplinary and linguistic boundaries is essential in studying the akıncı phenomenon and opens up new vistas for further research that would ultimately highlight the nature of the Ottoman conquest and the role of the slave economy in the process. In order to underline this particular link, in the following section we will divert the focus from the organizational peculiarities of the akıncıs and provide a closer examination of their military incursions from the perspective of the affected regions in a more consistent and chronological order. 041b061a72


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