Wars of Retribution


The concept war of retribution can be described as the retaliatory attacks against an enemy state or power. In an anarchic system, the use military force to solve disputes is a common trend, with retributory actions a common feature. In this warfare arrangement, a Great Power can make demands, which might be accepted or resisted by the minor power. Conceding means averting war, but opposing imply inviting warfare. A state of a coalition of states can only avenge when they have relatively stronger whims to wage was than an enemy. Therefore, revenge attacks are a preserve of the mighty against the weak.  Punitive actions to punish Anoff Beamact can lead to deterrence. Powerful nations can threaten the weaker ones with the intention to take punitive measures if the later does not behave according to the demands of the former. The history of military attacks is ridden with retributory attacks. In 1939, German attacked Poland to avenge the latter’s working relationship with Russia. In this paper, retribution war shall be explored with a view of explaining what it entails.

Wars Of Retribution

In the international system, major states wage or threaten minor ones with the retributive war in case of failure to comply. Retributory attacks against small power are carried out to correct a wrong of to enforce the wishes of the dominant nation when it could have not otherwise attained without the use of force. In this kind of security arrangement, the weaker states leave at the mercies of, the stronger one; the former cannot defend themselves against the attacks from the later, thus have to act according to live within what does not trigger hostility between them.

Moreover, retribution wars help the Great Power to thwart any efforts by minor states to rise and challenge its superiority.  During the warfare, serious injury is inflicted on the smaller state, which destroys its military and economic strength. In some instances, a territory or part of it might be annexed by the major power. In the long run, the probability of the affected state to rise to power is greatly affected, which leaves the superior power to dominate the political, economic and security arrangements between the two.

1939 Germany Invasion in Poland

In 1939, persons posing as Polish military attacked a radio station in Gleiwitz City, an event that prompted Germany’s retaliation against Poland. The Germans army was more superior and well prepared for the battle than the Polish, which saw the latter suffer heavy losses. Punitive action by the Germans, was largely seen as a tool to punish the Polish for failing to align with Berlin’s security demands and expectations. The expansionist policies of Hitler left minor powers at risk of attack any time, especially those that were of strategic economic and security interests.  At the same time, Russia too invaded Poland, a development that would later mutate to the World War II.

Subdued and crippled, Poland was left at the mercies of Germany, whose army progressively occupied the Polish territory and inflicted more pain by successive murder and imprisonment of thousands of civilians.  Retaliatory attacks can be devastating to the recipient, for they are accompanied by heavy acts of inhuman treatment. It is a war that is rather avoided by the minor power that allowed.  However, in some instances, it is inevitable, especially when the demands by the major power are overwhelming or just aimed at instigating a war. The claims of a country over a whole or substantial part of another state is a trick situation that makes war inescapable.

1939 Russia War on Finland

Russians had supposedly wanted to take parts of the Finnish territory. Their demands included Finland to cede sizeable border areas in return for land somewhere else, the need to protect Leningrad, a town that was only 20 miles from the Finnish border. Finland flatly rejected these demands, a move that angered Russia, and subsequently triggered a retaliatory attack.  The Russians attacked and managed to conquer Finland, which led to the latter accepting to cede more territories than the former had initially demanded. The Finnish army was too inferior to the Russians regarding the number of combatants and military hardware, which left them with no chance of winning the war.  In March 1940, the Moscow Peace Treaty was signed, which saw Finland surrender about 11% of its territory to the Russian. Once again, retributory war benefits the superior power as the minor loose.

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Russia Invasion of Crimea

The incursion of the Russian forces in Crimea is a good example of a retributory war. Moscow did not want Kiev to move more closely to the West, thus felt the need to avenge the contrary actions by Ukraine to enhance relations with Europe and America. The annexation of Crimea region was pure to avenge what was seen as wrong to the Russians. In a revenge war, the minor state is always on the receiving end; it cannot march the strength of the dominant power.

1903-1920 British War in Somali

In 1903-1920, Britain engaged in a punitive campaign against Sayyid Muhammad bin Abdullah Hassan’s army in Somalia. In 1902, the latter had launched a holy war against the British and their interests in the East African region, a development that got them unprepared. Consequently, the Victorian Army had to prepare for a punitive response to thwart the resistance.  For the first time, air-force was used in warfare, which gave the British an advantage against the Somalis.  Similar actions were taken against groups that resisted Great Britain colonization across Africa. The Victorian Army could be deployed at any given time to ruthlessly quell resistances.

According to Abrahams, retributive wars were waged by Great Britain during 1800s and early 1900s against resistant. Punitive military actions against the threatening enemies of resistance groups was a lethal weapon during the scramble for colonies. The retributive excursion allowed the British crown to guard the Britons and their interests across the world. Any attack on Great Britain nationalist anywhere on earth was to be met by revenge.  Abdullah Hassan threat British interests were great due to his charisma, religious following and arms. His refusal to surrender refiles and armed resistance triggered a punitive action by Great Britain.

1986 Operation El Dorado Canyon in Libya

In 1986, following series of terrorist attacks on American interests, which were perpetrated by Libyan-backed terror organizations, Washington commenced a revenge assault on Tripoli. Libya’s stubborn continuous support for the terror groups, the Irish Republican Army, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Fatah had angered the United States. It had no otherwise than avenging and trying to deter the Libyan regime from supporting terrorism. The terrorist organization often targeted the Americans and allies interests, a trend that jeopardized their economic and security welfare. Consequently, Operation El Dorado Canyon was launched in 1986 to punish Libya for its support to terror networks and other actions that threatened the Americas interests such as claims over the Gulf of Sidra.

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Consequences of Retribution Warfare

The effects of a retributive warfare are numerous and varying, the major power benefits a lot from waging retributive war, it can impose its will on the minor state, annex some part of it, or even colonize it for its good. In a revenge war, the major power cannot be defeated but only affected, which gives it the impetus to use punitive force against a minor power that does not comply with its interests in the system. The payoffs of retributive action include among other things material gains, wiping out an enemy, enhanced bargaining power, and expanding the country’s sphere of influence. A defeat for a minor power means the gain of the Great power that is involved.

Moreover, a war of retribution forces a minor state to next time chose between war and peaceful resolution of conflicts. In this respect, the Great Power will only opt for negotiation when it is assured f gaining. The whole arrangement favors the superior states against the weaker ones. Anytime a major power feels a wrong has been committed by a less powerful state, the threat of revenge war is invoked, thus creating a state of anarchy. Military strength becomes a critical element of state survival

Retribution wars can escalate and lead to a full-scale conflict as was witnessed during the World War I and II. States are forced to live in an endless state of fear and suspicion, which in itself causes instability. Punitive action can only be health if it is used to punish a wrong without inviting other major powers to the defense of the affected minor state. Russia’s assault on Ukraine triggered a conflict between the West and Moscow, a problem that has far-reaching economic and security implication on global politics.

Examples of Wars of Retribution

In1914, Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia in retaliation for the killing of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand. The attacked ignited the World War I. Serbia was powerless in the hands of the superior Austria-Hungary forces. It had no otherwise than to suffer the retaliatory attacks. Due to the external pressure and interest in the conflict, there was little room for negations. The Germans encouraged Vienna to avenge with the promise of support in case Moscow joined the war on the side of Serbia. In this case, it is evident that retribution wars can lead to escalation and a bigger war.  Serbia did not have the military muscle to deter the invasions, thus suffered heavy losses. Retaliatory attacks objectives are to inflict serious pain and subdue the enemy force into accepting the will of the major power.


Retribution war is a revenge overt action, in this context military. States that are more powerful have since time immemorial applied punitive measures to punish the minor ones for wrong doing of simply failure to align with their demands and expectations. Russia’s attack on Finland in 1939, Germany invasion of Spain in 1808-1814, 1991 Gulf War, 2001 America’s war in Afghanistan, 1986 war on Libya, Austria-Hungary war on Serbia in 1939 among many other wars were motivated by the need to punish for a wrong committed. Retributive offensive is good in advancing the interest of the major power as well as deterring minor power from acting in contempt of the international norms. A look at the history of the war of retribution reveals that they are more successful if no other major powers are involved, or if they are, on the side of the great power that is administering punishment. It is worth noting that not all punitive actions are triggered by a wrong by the minor power; it can sometimes be due to the desire of the superior state to directly advance its interests at the expense of the weaker ones.