7.3.1 Invasions to Acquire Territory

Invasions to acquire territory are less frequent since the UN was founded, but they still occur; countries do not fear UN intervention.

Land has often been acquired by force historically.  The enormous damage created by the Second World War then led to the founding of the UN, to prevent any further invasions (6.6.6).  Much of its decision-making was in the hands of the Permanent Five (P5) members of the Security Council (America, Britain, China, France, and Russia)  – who were all required to agree before action could be taken.

There have been several subsequent invasions:

●  Israel’s expansion in the ‘six-day war’ in 1967 was an example. The captured land has not been wholly restored, although the Sinai was returned to Egypt two years later as part of the peace deal between the two countries, as shown on BBC maps tracing the conflict.

●  Old boundary disputes keep recurring and are relatively common. The Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) was an example where the border was cited as one of the causes of the dispute.  The UN was very slow to bring an end to this war, which reportedly caused more than half a million deaths.

●  The Argentinean invasion of the Falklands in 1982 was an attempt to shore up General Galtieri’s domestic support, to unify the country by acting as a war leader (6.3.6), but he was defeated.

●  The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which led to what Encyclopaedia Britannica called the ‘Persian Gulf War’, was another example of an invasion. Saddam Hussein’s motives were described as “the apparent aim of acquiring that nation’s large oil reserves, canceling a large debt Iraq owed Kuwait, and expanding Iraqi power in the region”.  That invasion was swiftly quelled with a UN-authorised military intervention.

●  Russia invaded Ukraineon 24 February 2022.  This could be characterised as a military intervention by President Putin to protect himself against NATO’s further expansion eastwards (7.2.7.3), or as part of an attempt to re-establish the USSR, or to make himself popular as a war leader.  Whatever the reason, though, it was an invasion.  He intended to conquer the whole country, but he met with stiff resistance.  He had seized a large part of eastern Ukraine by the end of 2023 and had erected defences to prevent Ukrainian forces from recovering the territory, but he was not advancing significantly further.  His earlier annexation of Crimea is in a different category, because the population didn’t resist in the same way: that was a hybrid war, a combination of political and military manoeuvring, as described later (7.3.5).

These invasions to acquire territory weren’t prevented by the UN.  Ukraine has been left to defend itself (with weapons supplied by the West).  Russia’s veto on the UN Security Council enabled it to break international law with impunity – which illustrates serious problems with the way the UN operates, as described later (7.4.4)

There are other types of territorial dispute between countries which need not be referred to the Security Council.  Land is a source of economic power, most obviously for raw materials and crops, and resource shortages – of food, water and minerals – have the potential to spark conflicts.  There has been sabre-rattling over islands which have valuable natural resources in the South China Sea, for example, as described in a BBC article: Why is the South China Sea contentious?  This type of dispute can be referred to the International Court of Justice for resolution (5.3.6.2), to avoid the use of military force.

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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/731a.htm.