Military Intervention by Invasion

A military intervention by invasion risks being unpopular, incurring casualties for the invader, civilian casualties, and adverse publicity.

There are several scenarios in which governments decide to invade another country, with ‘boots on the ground’, in order to protect groups of people:

●  A government might try to protect its own citizens by making a pre-emptive invasion of another country, to neutralise a threat of attack by imposing a regime change. A dramatic recent example, according to one interpretation of that action, was the decision by America and others to invade Iraq in 2003 – as described in the next chapter.

●  Governments have tried to protect their citizens by attacking terrorist bases in other countries to neutralise a threat and to deter further aggression. For example, Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006 in what was described by the Economist as A surge of anger, in response to provocation by Hezbollah.  The more recent Conflict in Gaza, attempting to eliminate Hamas, is another example.  It seems likely that both terrorist groups will survive, though.

●  America’s invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was also intended as an attack against terrorist bases, operated by the Taliban, but it transitioned into a protracted and ultimately futile attempt to impose a regime-change, as described earlier (

●  Some armed interventions are intended to prop up vulnerable ‘friendly’ governments. America has intervened in several such cases: Noam Chomsky, in his 1987 book The Chomsky Reader, lists Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, East Timor, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala as countries in which America had used military force since World War Two.

●  A country might intervene in the affairs of another in order to protect a group of vulnerable people. That was the quoted reason why, as reported by the BBC, Russian tanks enter South Ossetia (which is a province of Georgia) in 2008.

In all these examples of military intervention by invasion, the invader’s population is keenly aware of the action.  The politicians who decide to invade might enjoy a temporary political legitimacy (6.3.6) if the cause is seen as just, but such wars become increasingly unpopular if they drag on.

None of the above interventions was sanctioned by the UN, calling into question their legitimacy and undermining the rule of international law.  They were all examples of realpolitik (



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/edition04/7321a.htm.