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In general, expansionism consists of policies of governments and states that involve expansion in such context as the military, economy, etc. While some have linked the term to promoting economic growth (in contrast to no growth / sustainable policies), more commonly expansionism refers to the doctrine of a state expanding its territorial base (or economic influence) usually, though not necessarily, by means of military aggression. Compare empire-building, colonialism, and Lebensraum.

Irredentism, revanchism, reunification or pan-nationalism are sometimes used to justify and legitimize expansionism, but only when the explicit goal is to reconquer territories that have been lost, or to take over ancestral lands. A simple territorial dispute, such as a border dispute, is not usually referred to as expansionism.

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