According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "invasion" means:

an instance of invading a country or region with an armed force.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "armed force" means:

a country's army, navy, and air force.

According to the US government,

The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force and Coast Guard are the armed forces of the United States.

Based on those official definitions, including the one given by the US government, it seems apparent to me that the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO was also an "invasion". I would imagine that at least some sources, official or not, would follow these definitions and define the operation as an "invasion".

However, after searching multiple keywords on Google, I find that no source has defined or used the word "invasion" to describe the Yugoslav war. It is kind of weird that all media holds a similar view on the definition of a war. Are there any reasons behind this? Is it because there is a negative connotation attached with "invasion"?

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    The definition of Invasion refers to Invade so you should get your definition of that before you went to looking up the dictionary definition of Armed Forces.
    – Eric Nolan
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:15
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    "I find that no source has defined or used the word "invasion" to describe the Yugoslav war." You mean no Western sorce?
    – convert
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:38
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    @convert No English source (which I can read)
    – dodo
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 12:23
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    I think this question could be made better by defining invasion according to who. As is, this is a question for the English stack exchange. Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 16:55
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    I have a standing policy to -1 any post that relies on the supposed authority of an English dictionary. English dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive, and their entries are meant for people who have no clue what the word means. Anyone who has heard a word 10x or more in context knows far more about the nuances of meaning in that word than any reasonably-sized dictionary entry could possibly convey. I am far more of an expert on what that word means than Webster is, and likely so are you.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 14:08

4 Answers 4


Invasion is the combination of "in" (obvious) and "vadere" "to walk, wander, go...". Though figuratively it's used for a lot of things where someone/something breaches the boundary of something/someone else. Invasive species, needles as invasive treatment, invasions of privacy and so on.

The Wikipedia definition:

An invasion is a military offensive in which large numbers of combatants of one geopolitical entity aggressively enter territory owned by another such entity, generally with the objective of either: conquering; liberating or re-establishing control or authority over a territory; forcing the partition of a country; altering the established government or gaining concessions from said government; or a combination thereof.

makes it sound as if the standard definition for a (military) invasion is still that of ground troops entering another country. And as such Wikipedia's list of invasions does not list this incident.

TL;DR: you can probably find a definition of invasion which makes it sound "technically true", but practically speaking its usage is mostly for ground gaining assaults, where soldiers enter another country, not aircraft entering and leaving a country.

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    I'm of the opinion that (English) dictionary authority posts are inherently invalid, but this is in fact a good use of a dictionary definiton to point that out, so +1.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 14:17
  • NATO forces did enter territory owned by another country. There nothing there that limits "territory" to "ground", air counts.
    – terdon
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 11:13

Well, some in Serbia are calling it "НАТО агресија" (NATO aggression), if that's what this is about.

As, far as English goes, I don't think it's because of the negative connotation of "invasion" because the (ground) invasion of Iraq is commonly referred to that way. It has more to do with English language idioms like preferring "air campaign" (somewhat air brushed) or just "bombing". Nowadays "air invasion" seems more commonly used to refer to deploying paratroopers/gliders, e.g. in Burma.

OTOH back in the 1940s it seems it was (sometimes) used with this other (bombing) meaning e.g. by the NYT in March 1944 referring to the US bombing of Berlin, so I'm not seeing a negative connotation. It probably has more to do with evolving usage over time.

Nowadays some dictionaries define invasion by adding "take control", e.g. Cambridge's

an occasion when an army or country uses force to enter and take control of another country

Merriam-Webster gives

especially : incursion of an army for conquest or plunder

Of course, dictionaries are not necessarily covering the full range of usage, but that seems to suggest that bombing campaigns are not commonly described as invasion.

The question should probably best migrated to English SE, by the way.

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    I think the key point is that an invasion requires an attempt to seize control of territory... I don't agree with the dictionary definition that requires it be the whole country though Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 16:10
  • Words carry meaning that's why you need to choose carefully your words when creating your narrative/propaganda of events. Personally, I can use the expression AIR RAID.
    – jean
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 12:29

Following the Cambridge Dictionary (here), "invasion" is an occasion when an army or country uses force to enter and take control of another country. Merriam Webster also writes "incursion of an army for conquest or plunder", hence assumption of control of a place or people by military force.

I would have some doubts if it is possible to "take a control of another country" by just attacking from the air. Some people below the aircraft would be killed but not "taken under control", this is not the same.

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    if your air campaign can force the target country to obey your requirements for you stopping the air campaign, that'd be taking control of another country, maybe depending on what you mean by "taking control" and what the requirements are. The US pretty much bombed Japan into submission at the end of WW2 to save them the manpower cost of a ground invasion, they were then able to (under the terms of the surrender) just walk in unimpeded afterwards for example.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 7:21
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    If taken so broadly, about everything can be called "invasion". Economic sanctions, ultimatums, blowing pipes that are not inside the country, offering investments, offering EU membership, spiritual leaders talking to they communities in the country - everything that pushes toward some requirements to be obeyed, successfully or not. Then the meaning of the word becomes to broad for saying anything with it.
    – Stančikas
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 8:36
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    Which is exactly what happens a lot in political discourse...
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 10:08
  • Goering thought otherwise, but that didn't work out very well for him. It is now standard military theory that in order to actually take territory requires at least some boots on the ground. The US military is certianly up on the theory, so its quite fair to say that if they want to invade, there will be US ground forces involved. If there aren't, that's not what they are doing.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 14:21

There are invasions and there are invasions. In principle, everything where something intrudes into space of something else is some kind of invasion. So call it an invasion, if you like. It wouldn't be totally wrong. But there is also the convention that a military invasion typically includes boots on the ground and that wasn't the case then.

Your used definition of invasion is very probably too much shortened and therefore insufficient to completely characterize what an invasion is. Some issues your definition is missing:

  • the intent to really control that area (not just destroy some things)
  • the intent to stay for a longer time (not just flying over)
  • the ability to effectively control the ground (surveillance, application of immediate and extremely localized force) (not just flying over and destroying some things).

That's why for example the List of invasions on Wikipedia does not contain any entry without the involvement of ground forces, as far as I can see, and specifically does not contain the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. NATO itself called it an intervention.

The NATO air attacks attacked military infrastructure first but later also civilian infrastructure. That is surely an attack but falls short of an invasion in that NATO never controlled any of the ground facilities. It could only destroy some of them. In the end, Milosevic agreed to a peace deal, but it's not absolutely clear how much the air bombing campaign added to that and other diplomatic influences or the mood in the Yugoslavian population contributed.

I personally would simply call it a bombing campaign against critical military and civilian infrastructure by NATO and would prefer not to label it invasion because that would be more confusing than clarifying even though it might be a bit longer.

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