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The following map has been around on the internet for a while and claims that Britain has invaded almost every country in the world (source): enter image description here

I received it most recently in a tweet from @Amazing_Maps.

I have reason to doubt it, or at least the definition of invasion. In several of the European examples Britain was a liberating power not staging a takeover (as much of the comment implies). Lots of European countries were "invaded" by coalitions involving Britain during the Napoleonic wars and the two world wars (as were countries on other continents). And when was the last time we invaded Finland?

So is it accurate on a strict definition of invasion (colonial takeovers, for example) or even on any looser definition?

  • A strict definition of invade is "To enter in a hostile manner, or with armed force; to make an inroad or hostile incursion into." (OED) – user5582 Dec 23 '13 at 20:17
  • @Articuno I was hoping to differentiate between invasions of countries defending themselves and invasions to displace another power hostile to the country being invaded. – matt_black Dec 23 '13 at 20:28
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    Why do you want to make that distinction? The claim doesn't. No definition of "invade" that I could find makes that distinction. It's fine if you want to ask that question, but then the reference to this map is a distraction. – user5582 Dec 23 '13 at 20:49
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    @Articuno The claim implies that Britain has been hostile against most countries. If my point is true it is true the map could greatly overstate the countries invaded (though there are more reasons than this to think it overcounts). – matt_black Dec 23 '13 at 20:58
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    @Articuno The general tenor of the twitter comment and the previous comment i've seen on the map is "OMG isn't Britain an aggressive country?" – matt_black Dec 23 '13 at 21:25
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The claim is based on (Laycock 2012). It clarifies the claim:

Out of 193 countries that are currently UN member states, we've invaded or fought conflicts in the territory of 171.

The Telegraph's coverage of this book clarifies further:

Only a comparatively small proportion of the total in Mr Laycock's list of invaded states actually formed an official part of the empire.

The remainder have been included because the British were found to have achieved some sort of military presence in the territory – however transitory – either through force, the threat of force, negotiation or payment.

Incursions by British pirates, privateers or armed explorers have also been included, provided they were operating with the approval of their government.

So, many countries which once formed part of the Spanish empire and seem to have little historical connection with the UK, such as Costa Rica, Ecuador and El Salvador, make the list because of the repeated raids they suffered from state-sanctioned British sailors.

From the introduction in (Laycock 2012), he states what he included and excluded in his count of "invasions".

  • British forces set foot on soil - included
  • Naval actions in other countries' waters - included
  • Air raids - not included
  • Negotiated/paid presence - included
  • Incursions in support of the locals (D-Day, for example) - included
  • British soldiers in foreign armies - not included
  • Pirates - included if they had official approval

Thus, the author is using a different definition of "invade" than commonly accepted:

To enter in a hostile manner, or with armed force; to make an inroad or hostile incursion into. (OED)

Samples

To give a sampling of the types of activities that (Laycock 2012) counts, I'll give summaries of the first few countries alphabetically:

  • Afghanistan - An 1838 attempt at regime change by a 21,000 person British army, among other events.
  • Albania - Royal Navy captured a French corvette on the Albanian coast in 1809. British troops landed in Albania in 1915 to help the Serbian army evacuate. In 1918, the Second Battle of Durazzo. Others.
  • Algeria - The British navy battled the Barbary Corsairs, based in Algeria, in 1682. Britain attacked Algeria in 1816, attempting to end the slave trade. In 1942, Operation Torch.
  • Andorra - One of the 22 countries that the author did not count as invaded. He noted that some British airmen used Andorra as an escape route from France.
  • Angola - "650 British troops on UN duty set foot in Angola in 1995 as part of Operation Chantress to help protect a ceasefire. A friendly invasion."
  • ... and so on. I don't think I can reproduce much more of the book without implicating copyright.

Summary: it depends on definition

Whether one considers this claim true depends on whether one accepts the loose definition of "invade" used by the book's title and headline writers.

Addressing the specific doubts in the question

"And when was the last time we invaded Finland?"

In the Continuation War, the United Kingdom "declared war on Finland on 6 December 1941".

References

Stuart Laycock. All the Countries We've Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To. History Press Limited, 2012

Jasper Copping. British have invaded nine out of ten countries - so look out Luxembourg. The Telegraph. November 4, 2012.

  • Britain and France also blockaded Finland during the Crimean War. And in Finnish tradition or myth, an Englishman called Bishop Henry took a leading part in the Swedish crusade against Finland. – Henry Dec 23 '13 at 21:29
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    How is entering a country with strong protest of it's government with a military force not entering with hostility? If I enter your home and sleep a night in it against your protest, I wouldn't say that appropriate just because you didn't you weren't strong enough to kick me out. – Christian Dec 23 '13 at 22:09
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    That Britain is counted as having done Japan, while true, shows how useless the book's definition is. – Andrew Grimm Dec 24 '13 at 0:21
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    I don't think we producing any strong evidence to back the claim. For example: a british soldier fighting for a Swedish army doesn't count as a british invasion (heck Ireland has invaded half the planet on that definition); declaring war on a german ally doesn't count as invasion; and Finland was pert of the Russian empire during the Crimean war not an independent country and, anyway, blockade <> invasion. Is this what all the examples are like? – matt_black Dec 24 '13 at 0:29
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    @matt_black I agree. And, I say in the answer that this comes down to definitions. He admits that his criteria included any situation where Britain "established some sort of military presence in the territory – however transitory – either through force, the threat of force, negotiation or payment". According to that definition, this claim is true. According to your definition, the claim is false. How do I make that clearer? – user5582 Dec 24 '13 at 1:09

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