We’ve all been there. You’re driving along at the head of your armed forces, minding your own business, when all of a sudden you accidentally drive into another country and de-facto invade your neighbors. Whoops! What a hilarious mistake, huh? Hard to believe it could actually happen in real life.
Well, hold onto your backsides, everyone, because it could and it does. While not exactly common, it turns out there are just enough blundering generals out there, and just enough borders not demarcated clearly enough, to result in a handful of nations over the years inadvertently wandering onto their neighbor’s lawns and nearly starting an actual war. In fact, there’s precisely 10 of them. What a coincidence…
10. A Google Maps Error Causes Nicaragua to Invade Costa Rica
2010 nearly saw perhaps one of the cruddiest “firsts” in internet history – the first Google Maps war. In November, Nicaraguan military commander Eden Pastora was leading his men on patrol near the Costa Rican border when he saw a sight that made him spit. There, flying brazenly on the Nicaraguan side, was a Costa Rican flag. Pastora knew it was on the Nicaraguan side, because he double-checked with Google Maps. So he rounded up his men, had them march over to the flag, tear it down, and send up a Nicaraguan one in its place. At which point, things got all sorts of embarrassing.
It turned out that Costa Rican flag flying in Nicaragua had been no such thing. It had been a Costa Rican flag flying in Costa Rica, put up by that country’s government, and now just torn down by an invading Nicaraguan force. Thanks to a lack of good data on the disputed border, Google Maps had miscalculated the true position by nearly 3 kilometers. Commander Eden was now technically leading an invasion force. It took a grovelling apology from Nicaragua, an admission of error by Google, and a UN diplomatic intervention to stop this dumb mistake from spiraling into an actual war.
9. Northern Irish Police Accidentally Blockade a Road in the Republic of Ireland
If you’re not up on your Irish and British geography, you should know that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are two very different places. One is a constituent part of the United Kingdom, while another is the Ireland you’re always hearing about from drunken co-workers around St. Patrick’s Day. Thanks to a history between the two best described as “troubled,” the border between each is non-existent. Great if you’re a resident wanting to live in or trade on the other side, less good if you’re a slightly dim cop without a working sat-nav.
Well, meet two of those cops. In 2010, officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) accidentally drove 100 yards into the Republic. Apparently unaware they had no official powers or jurisdiction and should probably get the heck out, they then set up a roadblock and started searching Irish cars.
As far as invasions go, it wasn’t exactly “Germany invades Poland.” Someone pointed out that the cops had messed up and they quickly retreated. Still, it did cause a diplomatic incident between Dublin and Belfast.
8. Venezuelan Troops Unintentionally March into Colombia, Destroy Some Bananas
Despite their long, shared history, Colombia and Venezuela are not friends. Colombia has long resented Venezuelan support for leftist rebels fighting the Colombian state, while Venezuela has long resented Colombia’s role as a major US supporter in the region. So any disputes between the two nations can have the potential to turn very nasty indeed. Disputes like that time a bunch of Venezuelan soldiers marched across the border, set up camp in Colombia, and destroyed a banana plantation.
The reason for the incursion was, umm, bad weather. See, parts of the ultra-remote Colombia-Venezuela border are marked only by natural features, such as rivers. In 2017, heavy rainfall led to one of these rivers swelling and changing course slightly, making the plantation appear to be in Venezuela. So the troops considered it totally legitimate for them to set up camp there, despite the fact that a natural border shifting does not actually mean the political border shifts with it (as to why they destroyed the plantation, that can best be summed up with a confused shrug). The incident triggered a war of words between Bogota and Caracas. Luckily, a war of words was all it was.
7. British Marines Aim for Gibraltar, Miss and Attack Spain
Gibraltar is a big lump of rock off the coast of southern Spain that has belonged to Britain for 300-odd years. Occasionally, the UK military uses it to stage exercises, nearly always being extremely careful not to needlessly provoke Spain, which still maintains a claim on the rock. We say “nearly always,” because there’s at least one case on record in which that careful attitude went not just out the window, but out the city, out the stratosphere, and out of the planet’s orbit. In 2002, British marines stormed a beach in Gibraltar, firing off mortars and waving machine guns. It was only when they saw the dumbfounded fishermen that they realized they’d accidentally landed in Spain.
Madrid responded with commendable grace, sending only a pair of local cops to quietly ask the presumably-embarrassed marines to politely leave. Which they did, quickly realizing that the gigantic Gibraltar-shaped rock nearby was evidently where they were meant to be. Still, the “invasion” did complicate negotiations between Spain and Britain on the future of Gibraltar.
6. China’s Army Mistakenly Starts a Construction Project in Bhutan
Pity poor Bhutan. A tiny and impoverished Himalayan country, it has the misfortune to be stuck between two regional heavyweights: China and India. Both countries have some serious issues regarding their borders with one another, and microscopic Bhutan keeps getting caught in the middle. In Summer 2017, they got embroiled in yet another China-India face off. Chinese army engineers accidentally wandered into Bhutan and starting building a road. Rather than let Bhutan take care of it, India marched right on in to stop them itself.
The result was a tense standoff on Bhutanese soil that went largely underreported, but could have had crazy catastrophic consequences for everyone involved. The last time China and India got into a border dispute, it resulted in the Sino-Indian War of 1962, which left a bare minimum of 2,000 dead and many more wounded. We’re glad to report that cooler heads prevailed this time.
5. Australia’s Calculating Blunders Lead to Six Separate Invasions of Indonesia
If land borders are vague and ill-defined enough to result in accidental invasions, just think how much more difficult maritime borders must be to handle. In the wide blue emptiness of the ocean, it can be all too easy to cross into another country’s sphere of influence once or twice, or even three times. Heck, even four unintentional incursions doesn’t seem too hard to believe. But six? That requires either a special dedication to annoying your neighbors, or being repeatedly drunk at sea to the point of incapacity. Meet the nation combining dangerous alcohol consumption with cheerfully incompetent sailing: Australia.
In 2014, an internal inquiry by Australia’s navy found that its ships had repeatedly miscalculated local maritime borders, leading to six separate incidents where ships accidentally invaded Indonesia’s waters. While we can’t prove the sailors were actually necking cans of Foster’s and playing boomerang instead of navigating, we also technically can’t prove that wasn’t what was happening, so we choose to believe it. And, really, isn’t that better than believing Australia’s state of the art warships are currently captained by people who can’t even figure out how to use a sat-nav?
4. Russia “Accidentally” Invades Ukraine (again)
So, this one should probably be taken with a pinch of salt, largely because of who it involves and when exactly it happened. In 2014, so the story goes, a group of Russian soldiers were on patrol near the country’s borders when they lost track of their location and went blundering on into a neighboring country. Cue many red faces and Vladimir Putin being forced to apologize. Sounds legit, right? So why are we treating this entry as any different to the others? Because of which neighboring country the Russians “accidentally” wandered into: Ukraine.
If you’ve recently awoken from a medical coma induced in late 2013, you may be surprised to hear that Russia isn’t exactly a trustworthy actor when it comes to Ukraine. Moscow annexed the Crimea in early 2014, and sent in troops to help prop up two breakaway republics in Eastern Ukraine soon after, helping fuel a civil war that is still ongoing and has killed well over 10,000 people. At the time of their “mistake,” the Russian troops were supposed to be observing a ceasefire, so it’s certainly possible they were in Ukraine by accident. However, it’s also possible that Putin is a big liar, liar with his pants on fire, determined to use those burning pants-flames to reignite conflict in Ukraine. Hmm… what to believe?
3. Mexico and the US Repeatedly Violate One Another’s Territorial Integrity
With all the fuss in the news over it, you would think the US-Mexican border was an impenetrable, fortress-like wall that can’t be crossed without a zillion security clearances. Well, apparently not, because Federal agents for both the US and Mexico are apparently frolicking back and forth across it like each side is trying to rack up more incursions than the other. By some counts, Mexico and the US are technically invading one another at a rate of nearly once a week. A 2014 analysis of figures put unauthorized Mexican military crossings of the border at 500 in the previous decade.
To be completely fair, this isn’t totally one sided. The same report revealed that US agents also go scampering into Mexico in pursuit of criminals, resulting in a border that looks like a Swiss cheese. While all this is unlikely to ever lead to an actual war, it does make for some uncomfortable situations. US agents have gotten into standoffs with Mexican troops, and border vigilantes have nearly been blown away by Mexican soldiers mistaking them for drug runners.
2. Switzerland Repeatedly Invades Liechtenstein
Micronation Liechtenstein is so small that it relies on the Swiss postal service to keep its residents connected to the mail. That’s not some super-lame reformulation of the classic “yo momma’s so fat that…” joke. It’s the literal state of relations between the two countries. Liechtenstein (population: 37,666) relies on Switzerland for everything. It doesn’t even have its own airport. The Swiss, in turn, see Liechtenstein as almost a little brother, practically an extra canton in their mountain nation. All of which may help explain why the Swiss army keeps accidentally invading Liechtenstein – even the army doesn’t realize it is a separate nation.
And, boy, do they ever keep invading. Most famously, in 2007, 150 Swiss soldiers crossed the border in the dead of night before realizing their mistake and hot-footing it back. So sleepy and lacking in border guards is Liechtenstein that no-one realized the invasion had happened until the Swiss foreign ministry called up the next day and confessed. But there have been other dramatic incursions, too. In 1968, Swiss soldiers accidentally shelled a Liechtenstein ski resort in a live fire exercise; a few years later they were training with flamethrowers and accidentally burned down a Liechtenstein forest. In 1995 Swiss soldiers even occupied a house across the border, only to be chased off by the village mayor. Well, you know what they say, Liechtenstein: with friends like these, who needs enemies?
1. The US Accidentally Builds the Anti-Canada Fort Blunder in Canada
Weird as it sounds now, there was a time in American history where the biggest threat to the US was Canada putting aside its maple syrup and hockey violence and invading. The War of 1812 had seen British Canadians burn down the White House, and the US wasn’t too keen on having that happen again anytime soon. So James Madison ordered the construction of an impenetrable fort right at the point where Canada bordered New York state. Construction began… at which point it became clear that somebody, somewhere had made a major blunder. Rather than building their anti-Canada fort on the US-Canadian border, Madison’s government had gone and built it in Canada.
Thanks to an inaccurate survey, it turned out that the US border was actually a mile south, meaning the US had technically invaded Canada. Rather than sparking a new war, though, it sparked a resigned sigh on the Canadian side, and an eventual offer to move the border so so-called Fort Blunder (in actuality, Fort Montgomery) was really in the USA. That’s exactly what happened in 1842, and the border was shifted one mile north to save American face. Wow, Canada. Even when people invade you, you’re just so darn polite.