Everybody knew that the British loved to conquer lots of countries for their precious empire. It's not until somebody sits down and actually counts all of them that we realize just how many. Historian Stuart Laycock was happy to volunteer for the job and presents his findings in a new book All the Countries We've Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To. The book stays true to its title and finds in a survey of 200 of the world's countries through that, in one shape or form, Great Britain has invaded all but 22 of them. That amounts to about 90 percent of the world's countries.
It's easy to scratch your head at this figure. In fact, it's encouraged. How on Earth could the Brits even have time to invade all those countries? We know that "sun never sets on the British Empire" slogan, but this is ridiculous. In a review, The Telegraph's Jasper Copping walks through Laycock's methodology, and it sounds like the author took some liberties with the definition of "invasion." Or at least, he defined it pretty broadly. In order to count for an invasion in Laycock's book, the British only needed to achieve "some sort of military presence in the territory -- however transitory -- either through force, the threat of force, negotiation or payment," Copping explains."Incursions by British pirates, privateers or armed explorers have also been included, provided they were operating with the approval of their government."
Well in that case, we've got a pretty good runner up candidate for the busiest empire award: The United States. Measuring the extent of America's presence around the world is a tricky challenge, one that disserves a book of its own. After all, to really to the task justice, you'd have to take into account not only boots-on-the-ground military invasions but all of the soft power that the U.S. uses to look after its interests abroad. But sticking to Laycock's formula as closely as we can, Department of Defense records show that the U.S. has military personnel of some kind in a whopping 153 countries around the world. That's a pretty heft majority of the 190 countries that the U.S. maintains diplomatic relations with. Though that presence is small in some of those countries -- there's only one troop in Gabon -- it's a presence.
So the British have invaded 90 percent of the world's country, and we've invaded 80 percent. As Copping points out, though, very few of those countries the British invaded formally became part of the empire. And "formal empire" isn't a word that very easily translates into contemporary U.S. history, so we'll just let the Brits enjoy their biggest empire award. It was fun while it lasted, wasn't it, chaps?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.