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August 23, 2007

Interesting Assertion

John Quiggin:

In particular, outright invasions of one country by another, with the objective of either annexing the target country or installing a puppet government, have been quite rare in the period since 1945.

Leave aside E Europe in 1945....that leaves Czechoslovakia in 1968...North Vietnam invading S Vietnam, N Korea ditto the South, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, maybe Suez? Iraq II, (hey, we're not being politically partisan here, we're trying to list those wars which were to either annex or install a puppet government, whether we approve of who was doing the installing or not or of what was installed...and allowing either or any side to claim "puppet" status for the result), Uganda (Tanzania and others going after Idi Amin) the Arab wars against Israel (48, 67, 73....have I left one out?), Congo (say, Zimbabwe and others invading), how about Liberia and Sierra Leone? One or two other West African ones...didn't Chad try to invade somewhere? Or was that Ghaddaffi invading Chad? The Falklands (either side can play the annexation argument here)? China and Tibet?

Ethiopia and Eritrea? How about the Cubans in Angola? Or is that getting too close to supporting an insurgency rather than a full on war? South Africa and Namibia? I'm sure there are others, leaving those support for indigenous fighters ones alone (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, half of Africa by the other half etc etc etc) as the original assertion does.

My history isn't good enough to compare this with earlier periods: is "quite rare" the right phrase here?

Update: along with those in the comments: Syria and Lebanon?

August 23, 2007 in Military | Permalink


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Cyprus 1974, don't forget that.

Posted by: Mr Eugenides | Aug 23, 2007 12:53:49 PM

Iraq invading Kuwait which brought about Iraq I?

Posted by: Helen | Aug 23, 2007 1:06:39 PM

The left mindset like Quiggin's thinks only the US 'invades'. Other 'countries' offer 'brotherly help'...

see http://motls.blogspot.com/2007/08/occupation-of-czechoslovakia-in-1968.html

Posted by: Forester | Aug 23, 2007 1:10:49 PM

At least half the examples you have here fail, because they are civil wars (Vietnam, Angola) or limited territorial disputes (Falkland, Suez, Ethiopia, Namibia). The total set isn't large for 60+ years.

Posted by: John Quiggin | Aug 23, 2007 1:14:37 PM

Tim has omitted to mention two of the most notorious cases:

- the invasion and annexation of Tibet by PRC in 1950:

- whatever the motivation, few will seriously dispute the well-documented evidence that Israel initiated the Six-Day War of 1967 on 5th June by pre-emptive air strikes against the Egyptian airforce. Of the territory seized in the course of the war, Israeli military forces are still in occupation of the Golan Heights, previously Syrian territory at the outbreak of war, and of East Jerusalem and the West Bank of the Jordan, previously Jordanian territory:

Posted by: Bob B | Aug 23, 2007 1:37:20 PM

Indonesia invading East Timor

Cyprus has already been mentioned I see

I'm pretty sure some of the French actions in Africa would count (CAR, Ivory Coast?)

The british in Aden and Malaysia?

Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

The Iran Iraq war was fought purely for territory IIRC

Posted by: Francis | Aug 23, 2007 1:42:31 PM

Cyprus obviously fails the stated criterion.

As regards Tibet, it counts against Tim, since both Britain and China invaded in the first half of C20.

Posted by: John Quiggin | Aug 23, 2007 1:55:33 PM

I don't see how the Turkish invasion of Cyprus doesn't count. Or is John Quiggan saying that the leaders of the Turkish part of Cyprus are not puppets of the mainland?

It would also seem to me that some of the Yugoslav breakup events (even though they failed) were attempts at annexing territory from other countries. Bosnia in particular.

Posted by: Francis | Aug 23, 2007 4:28:37 PM

The Somali invasion of Ethiopia qualifies. India and Pakistan have had a few wars concerning disputed territory. China went to war with Vietnam after Vietnam invaded Cambodia, but I recall that being just "to teach them a lesson".

I'm would think there'd be extensive conflict databases somewhere that would cover the data fairly extensively.

One does require some basis of comparison to answer how "rare" it is in the corresponding periods of history during which their was no legal injunction against the acquisition of territory by force.

The qualification that we only count them according to alleged intentions of the parties does throw a stick into the gears, though. Something like this might be necessary:


A while back the UN Association released a study counting 291 interstate conflicts over 126 countries since '45.

I've never seen numbers for the 50 years prior to that, but considering two world wars between multiple participants and various ongoing colonial occupations of states covering much of the globe I wouldn't be at all surprised if the numbers were significantly higher pre-UN than post, and that many of the post-UN interstate conflicts can be traced directly to said colonial conflicts, like, for instance, the multiple wars across Indochina.

Posted by: buermann | Aug 23, 2007 8:35:22 PM

Hungary in '56 forgotten already?

Posted by: dearieme | Aug 23, 2007 8:45:21 PM

>"Leave aside E Europe in 1945"

>>"Hungary in '56 forgotten already?"

The quibble would be that Hungary 1956 restored a puppet government installed in '45. I'd probably still count it.

Posted by: buermann | Aug 23, 2007 9:32:19 PM

Sorry to be snarky here, but the Seffricans didn't invade Namibia they had owned it since 1914 (when they pinched it from the Germans and were given a League of Nations mandate to run the joint).

They did invade Angola though. Several times from 1975 through to 1987.

Posted by: The Remittance Man | Aug 23, 2007 10:35:15 PM

Ditto Francis,

The Brits owned Malaya and Aden. It's kinda dificult to invade your own territory.

Oh and Tim, you forgot the 1956 Arab Israeli fracas.

Sorry, my history buff genes are showing. I'm off to bed now.

Posted by: The Remittance Man | Aug 23, 2007 10:38:59 PM

"Oh and Tim, you forgot the 1956 Arab Israeli fracas."

Usually dubbed the Suez Affair, or something similar, was part of the Anglo-French covert conspiracy with Israel intended to prevent President Nasser of Egypt from nationalising ownership of the Suez Canal.

It led to an ultimatum to Egypt and Israel to draw back from the canal zone and, when that didn't work, to the bombing and invasion of Egypt and the Canal Zone by British forces. However, the Egyptians promptly sank umpteen ships in the canal to block the passage way so no ship was able to use the canal for more than a year while the wrecks were cleared.

US President Eisenhower got (understandably) cross about all this because he hadn't been consulted and so threatened to withhold support for Sterling in the foreign exchange market unless Britain stopped the invasion immediately. The threat was credible because Sterling was under speculative pressure in the markets at the time and the British government was therefore obliged to back off.

The whole business ended in a complete fiasco. Within a few months, Eden, the prime minister, retired on health grounds and Macmillan became PM in his place.

I remember it well because I went to various demonstrations in London at the time. On one occasion, I was charged down by Police horses in Parliament square. RAB Butler, as I remember, described the demostrators in the Commons as "communist agitators", which was laughable as most of the demonstrators were students from university colleges in London. If there had been so many "communist" students, Britain would have long since succumbed to a Marxist revolution.

On another occasion, I went to hear Aneurin Bevan speak in Trafalgar Square, the only occasion on which I saw and heard him speak in public. He did an immensely effective demolition job on Eden's reputation and a listener gained an insight into why he was such an effective - and popular - crowd orator.

A la researche du temps perdu.

Posted by: Bob B | Aug 24, 2007 1:23:51 AM

On Cyprus, there was no attempt to conquer the entire country, or overthrow its government. Since most people seem not to have followed the debate, the reason I'm focusing on this question is that its part of a debate concerning whether the US should feel free to do this when its "vital interests" are threatened.

The discussion above shows that unequivocal cases of this kind are quite rare. As buermann says, the wars of the period 1900-1945 furnish heaps of examples, as does the colonial era of C19.

Posted by: John Quiggin | Aug 24, 2007 1:27:09 AM

Vietnam should certainly be counted, as the 1975 invasion of the Republic of Vietnam by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam fulfills every requirement. Any civil war aspect was over by that point, with the Viet Cong in 1972-1975 being a rebranded foreign insurgency.

Posted by: Dwight in IL | Aug 25, 2007 12:00:23 AM

This debate is really a bit of a distraction. There is no reason to expect a system of international law to work immediately, the question is whether it has come to work with time. Consequently cases like Hungary in 1956 are not that relevant, as the UN was in its infancy.

If we turn the debate to how many cases have occurred in the last 30 years it doesn't seem that people are throwing up many examples. I might have missed some, but all I can see is Iraq invading Kuwait, the Falklands and the Horn of Africa. Given that in the first two cases there was a reaction, with international backing, which saw the wars result in disaster for the initiator I think the real point is clear - International Law may have taken some time to get going, but on this aspect it is now working pretty well.

Posted by: feral sparrowhawk | Aug 30, 2007 11:32:23 AM