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In my story/universe, I have several Empires- some good and some bad. My protagonist Empires are good, however I realized I've hit a setting related snag:

One of my empires has established a colony on another planet and as part of the story, defends this territory from an aggressive, evil empire - with the full consent of the native population.My story doesn't hinge on why the Natives are ok with having been made part of the good Empire.

I have struggled to figure out why a nation would decide they want to join an empire of their own free will aside from two ideas:

  • a 'franchise Imperialism' where a nation becomes a part of the empire in exchange for some commodity (Technology, maybe?)

With that idea they would keep most of their local laws, much like EU countries do, however my Good Empire would coordinate certain things - such as Imperial Defense, or even trade. My good Empire doesn't intend to oppress the natives.

What would some reasons be for a people to willingly choose to join an Empire? (In this way I am hoping to identify a good, moral reason for the empire to have taken this territory). Real world, historical examples would be extra helpful, as I could investigate these on my own.

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  • $\begingroup$ So if I understand correctly, you're asking how to make it morally correct for Good Empire to have done this. That makes this question the definition of opinion based, which we like to avoid. Shoot, if your Good Empire has political factions, two might have considered the action evil, and two might have considered it noble. You'll need to provide an objective means of judging what's "justified." $\endgroup$ – Nex Terren Aug 23 '16 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ Why does the Good Empire have to be an empire? Just rename it to a federation, or a collective, or something else that has a united government system. $\endgroup$ – Nij Aug 24 '16 at 2:43
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe they need roads, or wine, or education and think that the empire could provide that. $\endgroup$ – dotancohen Aug 24 '16 at 7:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Nij: "just rename it", like the DPRK, that name is convincing everyone ;-) $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Aug 24 '16 at 8:45
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    $\begingroup$ "defends this territory from an aggressive, evil empire" ...You mean not being plundered and overrun by oppressors isn't a good enough reason? $\endgroup$ – jpmc26 Aug 24 '16 at 22:26

17 Answers 17

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Why do any two geo-political bodies join together?

Well...there are countless reasons and many methods.


The methods discussion is more simple to explain so lets start there.

How does one geo-political entity absorb or combine with another?

  • Conquest: This is pretty strait forward. One entity takes over another militarily. While simple, union by conquest is not always a bad thing. As an example. If the South Korean military invaded and over took north Korea, would anyone outside of North Korea (with the possible exception of China...and lets be honest you're not invading North Korea without getting the ok from the Chinese) think that in the end it is a BAD thing to liberate that country from the control of a man who looks like, and often acts like a 2 year old.

  • Revolution/Culture Flip/Liberation: Similar to conquest in that armed force is used, but different in the fact that the nation/planet/region being absorbed/joining the empire initiates the violence in an effort to sever ties with another dominating force. As a good historic example, you can look at Texas. It declared independence from Mexico, then proceeded to join the US.

  • Alliance: Sometimes friends band together. Alliances like this can come about in many ways. Marriages, political or military alliances. The main point in whatever method is that agreements lead to greater cooperation and assimilation over time and eventually they merge. Shared cultural heritage helps a lot. Medieval Europe was a patchwork of kingdoms and fiefs each of which were realistically independent from one another in most respects. "France" and "Germany" and "Italy" didn't exist in the modern concept until fairly recently (last couple centuries).

  • Fear: Sometimes all it takes is fear of an empire to lead a smaller/weaker nation to offer and alliance or to become part of the empire. Rome may have not been built in a day but neither did they take the entire empire by conquest. Conversely, if trapped between two empires a nation may be willing to pick the lesser of two evils, even if they are fiercely independent.
  • Economic: Money moves the world. The EU exists largely as a result of economic consideration. The EC existed first after all. Common economic cause and a desire to promote peace on a continent that had been ravaged by two world wars drove the creation of the modern day European Union, which for international affairs is a "state"

There are other methods to achieve what you are discussing but these are common enough to be well known and believable. I would generally suggest that a combination of two or three of the above makes a more believable scenario but it is not necessary.


The reasons part gets complicated...

Perspective is notoriously fickle. From the view of Taiwan, China is the aggressor. From the Chinese perspective the Taiwanese are rebels.

You will have to define this perspective.

Once defined you can review and pull in the methods that make sense for your scenario. None of the methods are inherently evil.

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  • $\begingroup$ Economic could be as simple as "we don't have tariffs for anyone part of our Empire." You want to do trade with any of our member states? Become a member state! $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Aug 24 '16 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ ... and as sub-bullet of Fear, instead of people fearing the Good Empire, the Good Empire could simply have a "attack one of us, attack all of us" concept. If the Evil Empire attacks an independent, everyone just shakes their head and complains about the unreasonable evil; if the Evil Empire attacks a "member state," the ENTIRE Good Empire goes to war. You're not joining the one you fear to avoid destruction; you're joining the other one to protect yourself from the one you fear. $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Aug 24 '16 at 19:42
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Ye olde-fashioned way: Marriage

A previous Emperor happened to have a dashing young prince for a son, who stole the heart of the beautiful and kind princess of the territory. They had some wacky adventure, fell in love and got married. When they both inherited the titles to their lands, they were merged into the Empire.

It's a Protectorate

The colony may have been plagued by Space Pirates, Xenomorphs or Armageddon-like rocks raining from the sky. They did not have the resources to deal with this and the Good Empire stepped in, saving them. That's what good empires do, after all.

Some time later, some bad political stuff happened, an incompetent leader started a war with some bad people and once again, the Empire intervened, but this time there were some strings attached: The colony had to agree to become a protectorate, abandoning their own foreign relations and military.

Finally, the politicians screwed up again and when they organized a supposedly sham election, they lost in a landslide to a surprise write-in candidate: The Emperor!

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    $\begingroup$ The emperor being elected governor of a colony. Amusing, sort of like if the king of England was somehow elected to be the POTUS. $\endgroup$ – the_OTHER_DJMethaneMan Aug 24 '16 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ It could also just be someone picked and supported by the Emperor, though your idea is hilarious. $\endgroup$ – jpmc26 Aug 24 '16 at 22:34
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Look at the history of Japan post-WW2. The United States essentially conquered Japan (they surrendered, the US occupied the islands, close enough); it was the world's only offensive use of nuclear weapons, probably for good. Yet the Japanese are now close allies of the US, are on good terms with it, and are protected by the US military.

How did that happen? Well, that's a long and complicated answer, and I'm no expert on the history. But basically, a) Japan attacked the US first, and they knew it; b) after the US won, it rebuilt the country; and c) the US did not act vindictively towards them, which is how they expected to be treated if they lost.

One option, then, is to have this small planet have gotten into a war with the Empire aggressively - Supposing that in the distant past, they did not know how big this Empire really was, and (say) tried to take over the colony over some dispute. The Empire responds by annexing the planet. Since they're a good empire, they don't deal ruthlessly with populations in those positions. After say fifty years, life is good - they have cool stuff from the Empire they couldn't get before, they have protection from the bad empires, they're citizens of the Empire so they can easily emigrate to Imperial territory, they get assistance when there's famine, the list of benefits goes on.

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The reason taking over these natives would be bad is if they don't want to be taken over. But that wouldn't necessarily be the case. If your empire wants to be a just empire, then they probably aren't going to rule with an iron fist. The natives of this colony will probably get to keep their native cultures and much of their native governments. Really the only thing that will change is that now they'll have a closer relationship with your good empire; that means easier trade, greater access to a wider variety of goods, services, technologies, and cultures, and stronger defenses against enemies.

What I'm saying is that humans don't form governments because someone told them to. They form governments because working together makes things easier for everyone. As long as your good empire doesn't enslave these natives or try to extinguish their culture, I see no reason why they wouldn't want to cooperate.

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  • $\begingroup$ Unless the natives are Xenophobic warmongerers. $\endgroup$ – the_OTHER_DJMethaneMan Aug 24 '16 at 13:43
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The question makes me think of the history of Hawaii.

The reason was economic ties, and large scale immigration of people from larger nations, many of who became rich and important.

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If you change the war between the Good and Bad empires into a cold war, with no active combat; and if you make the Bad empire a slaving culture which works its conquered species into extinction, then the co-opting of a previously independent territory into the Good empire could be justified as protecting the peoples of that land from enslavement and extinction.

It also deprives the Bad empire of slaves and resources which they would have easily obtained by conquest, if the new territory had remained independent.

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  • $\begingroup$ the question states that the union happened before the bad empire even existed $\endgroup$ – Charon Aug 23 '16 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ oh nevermind it got edited... $\endgroup$ – Charon Aug 23 '16 at 20:21
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Nations form either as offensive or defensive. If they are offensive they conquer territories and bring them under their rule. If they're defensive they band together to oppose an external threat. Some might say there is a "symbiosis" type of nation where Group A and Group B join together because they trade a lot and it just makes sense over a long enough period, but this type of thing can be seen as just another type of offensive/defensive type with differing methods of conquering. Groups will always seek to be as powerful as they can be which means that even if they are friendly the groups will compete and one will slowly get stronger and the other weaker, eventually leading to the stronger to make the other a part of their "economic" empire, somewhat like the US and Japan.

Likewise, power bases seek out to have more power. So an Empire might start off as a union of 2 parties that set up a diplomatic center to handle things and then eventually this center requests and demands more power resulting it becoming more and more authoratative and power with the 2 in the union becoming part of an empire that they willingly but accidentally created. This is the situation of the EU.

A third portion is that National and governmental desire to join something are completely different in a number of cases so for example if there were a tyrannical government in place in state it is possible that the people might revolt against the government and one way of doing that is to foment a rebellion that colludes with another power that is stronger than its government and that power might request that in exchange for deposing the tyrant the state joins them thus creating or being part of that empire willingly.

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How about if your alien friends don't subscribe to the empire, but are happy to host your colony? Without subscribing to a form of government they could be a bunch of libertarians, sure have your empire on our planet, sure we'll trade with you, just don't try and subjugate us!

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What does it mean to be a nation? What does it mean to be part of an empire? The answers have to do with laws and a very nuanced concept called "sovereignty."

Sovereignty is understood in jurisprudence as the full right and power of a governing body to govern itself without any interference from outside sources or bodies (Wikipedia)

Nations typically have sovereignty. They make their own laws, they decide who has broken them. They decide what to do with their military. When you join an Empire, you give up some of this. The empire has the final say in all matters. This seems like a mighty thing to give up, but there's a very good reason to give it up. Jurisprudence is a social structure. If you cannot maintain it, it doesn't matter if you declare yourself sovereign or not.

When facing extreme internal strife or substantial external opposition (such as from your "Evil" empires), a nation may have to admit that their sovereignty is an illusion. What good is a law that gives murderers 20 years in prison when outsiders come in, rape pilliage and burn, and then leave before your police can come attempt to arrest them? In these situations, a nation may elect to give up their illusion of sovereignty in exchange for support from a larger more solid political state, such as a "good" empire.

Some may say that it is better to stand up for your political ideals, but as a general rule of thumb, when people can't put bread on their tables and when men cannot protect their wives, you'll find those people are more than ready to give up a few minor ideals in exchange for tangible support.

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This is happened actually several times throughout history. Typically if you choose to join an Empire it's because you fear being taken over and forced against your will to join another Empire. Typically this would involve lots of Destruction and loss of life, and in extreme cases slavery and/or relocation. So naturally it would be far better enjoying of your own free will an Empire that you have some familiarity with. If you're "bad" Empire is going around enslaving and causing destruction, the natives may choose to join your "good" Empire in exchange for protection against your "bad" in Empire.

There also may be some new trade opportunities and other Financial benefits for joining your good Empire this might cause some natives to join for trade reasons especially if they get to keep their autonomy to a degree.

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Take Italy as example, if politicians gets too corrupted by multinationals, it is likely citizens want italy to join another country with stricter rules about corruption and what can multinationals do on citizens:

A country without corrupted politicians

  • Citizens get 100
  • Multinationals get 50
  • Politicians get 10

A country with corrupted politicians

  • Citizens get 10
  • Multinationals get 100
  • politicians get 50

A tradeoff to save the situation

  • Citizens get 70
  • Multinationals get 70
  • Foreign politicians get 20
  • Old politicians get 0

Preventing corruption at beginning was much better choice, but you know, only a big force can change a big system.

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The answer depends heavily on how your empire operates on a political level. Are there pieces of the Empire that operate independently, but still contribute to the whole (e.g. various stages of the Holy Roman Empire)? Is it a collection of semi-independent pieces that are under the ultimate authority of a central government (The US, while not technically an empire, falls into this category, as the states have a large amount of rights, but cannot typically fight wars on their own), or some other system?

The logical way I'd approach this is to have the Good Guy Empire (GGE) be at war with the Bad Guy Empire (BGE). One of the big battles takes place over Indigania (IG), and many of the escape pods land on the planet, of both sides of the fight. The BGE's people are hostile to the natives, taking the goods that they need, and trying to escape (insert necessary level of evil). The GGE's people treat the natives kindly, and await rescue (insert heartwarming scene of soldier sharing chocolate bar with IG children). GGE rounds up the bad guys, rescues the good guys, and leaves the planet.

BGE decides later to annex/conquer/destroy the planet as part of the evil plan of the week. While this operation is underway, the IG signal the GGE with technology left behind in the escape pods. GGE comes flying to the rescue, defeats BGE again. The IG leadership decides that they need protection they cannot provide themselves, and enters into an alliance with GGE, providing raw materials, recruits, basing rights, etc in exchange for defense from BGE. Maybe eventually they will become a real part of the GGE, but for now are a protectorate.

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The largest and most powerful empire in world history is the United States of America.

You may be thinking of empires as largely defined by territory. This is convenient for historians (and history teachers) as lines on a map over time are an easy way to explain the rise and fall of great powers. However, this is only one way to describe a type of empire.

However, America as an empire is not strictly defined by its borders. Yes, there was a lot of conquering and wiping out of indigenous populations, and yes, there were quite a few military expeditions that granted the U.S. control over a sovereign territory (the Philippines come to mind), but the true power of the American empire is economic.

Why send the Marines when you can use the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to force other countries into accepting your economic dominance?

The typical modus operandi for American economic dominance works like this: pressure the authorities in another country to accept trade agreements which "open up" and "deregulate" foreign markets, in exchange for access to the wealthy American market for exports and cheap American credit lines. What this usually means is remove protections and subsidies for domestic corporations and force them to compete on even footing with the vastly superior resources of American corporations and banks. Before long, the local economy is gutted and dependent on America both for imports (for domestic goods that cannot be produced locally) and exports (as a way to make money at all).

As a result, one may find no other solution than to accept the terms and succumb to the host's economic empire. Even if no shots have been fired and no borders redrawn, the empire now has the smaller state firmly in their grasp.

And if all else fails, get the CIA to overthrow democratically elected governments formed on the basis of getting a better deal for their labor.

Exception to my header: other nations are figuring this out.

Just because the U.S. is the world's largest and most powerful economic empire doesn't mean the position is eternal, nor is it exclusive. Other nations, in particular China and Russia, have been using the same tactics to expand their economic clout without military action (if you forget about Crimea).

Something to consider as a parting thought: if every nation in Europe suddenly boycotted Russian oil and natural gas, that would be as much a blow to the Russian economy and their basis of power as military conquest in oil-rich Siberia. Some 50% of the Russian government's budget is dependent on oil exports.

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Not really sure why you are struggling to come up with a reason - if a society doesn't happen to have a strong nationalist emotion, then they may think it makes sense to join.

For example, a powerful empire brings advanced science, technology and economics, access to new trade partners and the resources and expertise to develop a decent infrastructure within the nation, especially if they are as you say they are "good" and aren't just there to pillage the local natural resources and make slaves of the natives.

It also, as others have said, brings protection from other nearby nations and the "evil" empires.

Also they might not currently have a strong king / president / dictator / government who is desperate to hold onto their position. (In fact they may well have one who is happy to have the Empire lighten the weight of their crown)

Look at it this way, why do states / provinces / counties not want to break away from their federations / countries in real life?

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Check out Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. They're tiny countries, they're much poorer than the mainland, they're economically dependent on exports to the mainland for development, and their connections to the US means their exports can have "made in the USA" tags for sale in the US, which helps with sales for some reason :). As a result, their leaders see very little to lose from integration with the US, and quite a bit to gain, so they pursue greater integration.

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Perhaps the colony doesn't necessarily need to be part of the empire to be defended by it? This was the case with the Occupation of Iceland during the second world war.

Britain stationed troops in Iceland to defend against a possible German invasion. Britain did not attempt to integrate Iceland into the British Empire, promised non-interference in Icelandic affairs, and left shortly after the war.

The occupation was unpopular, but tolerated, and saw little resistance.

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    $\begingroup$ Combine that with the US Occupation of Iceland during and after the 2nd world war. The US had basing rights there for a long time, and the US culture invaded, but the US itself did not. $\endgroup$ – Marshall Tigerus Aug 24 '16 at 16:39
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it would join a benevolent empire to get protection from malevolent neighbours. To get access to trading regulations etc. From what I heard nations were happy to join China because it was more beneficial to be part of the Chinese Empire than to be outside it.

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