Can I legally invade another country?

Let’s say that I and 10,000 wealthy (to afford guns and boats) compatriots have decided to take control of Haiti.

  1. Is it legal for me to maintain a standing army on US soil? Let’s assume that all weapons are legally obtained, are legally licensed and registered to people with permits for them, and that the army trains on a large ranch that is a legal firing range. All soldiers in my army will be US citizens and pay all applicable state and federal income and other taxes.

  2. I and my compatriots then launch an amphibious assault upon Haiti using privately owned and legally registered watercraft from International Waters, eventually succeeding in taking the capital and obtaining the surrender of the current government. Assuming we adhere to all laws of war, firing only on combatant forces, wearing an identifiable uniform, etc, have we broken any laws? Are my compatriots and I liable for murder charges, even though deaths occurred in the context of a military action? What if we renounce our US citizenships before the attack, and/or claim that we are forming a new country, or deliver a formal declaration of war? Is there anything we can do to turn this into a “legitimate” military action?

  3. Let’s say that the US government, being none-too-thrilled with our actions, decides to oust us and replace the previous government. Do we become POWs, or are we considered terrorists or perhaps common criminals? What about if we fight it out rather than surrendering?

Thanks in advance for your information about this question that is ENTIRELY HYPOTHETICAL IN NATURE AND IN NO WAY BASED IN REALITY.

I don’t know of any specific statute you’d be breaking under Federal or state law.

Aggression by states outside self-defense is generally considered to be a violation of international law, and without any evidence that your aggression was somehow justified- ie. you were the deposed leader of Haiti and you were attempting a counter-coup, you might well find yourself on trial as a war criminal.

Of course, you’d be guilty of numerous crimes under Haitian law, including but not limited to: treason, murder, false imprisonment, defacing public buildings or something along those lines, theft (assuming you commandeered vehicles, like you would), and so forth.

Of course, being the new head of government would probably have its benefits as far as immunity to prosecution and so on.

This largely depends on whether you win or not.

You would not technically be obligated to follow any international convetions, since you are not signatory to any of them.

  1. is true.

  2. isn’t, at least in this case. While most international law consists of treaties, trade and postal agreements, and the like, and is considered binding only upon states who are signatory to it, legal norms held by all (or close to all) states are considered binding upon all states. This would include things like nonagression, negotiating in good faith, and nonviolation of sovereignty.

This is called a “filibustering expedition”, and it has been done in real life!


That is technically not true, at least as I see it. As citizens of the United States he would be obligated to adhere to the laws of that country, and since treaties have the force of law he would have to abide by them.

If he declared his independence from the United States, renounced his citizenship, and gained recognition as an independent country that would be true, but barring that he would be subject to all applicable treaties.

dutchboy208 is correct. You don’t have to be a signatory to a treaty to be in violation of international laws against war crimes or crimes against humanity; they fall under the rubric of universal jurisdiction. The Nuremburg defendents, for example, or a terrorist organization like al Quada. The concept originally came from laws against piracy that any nation had an equal right to enforce. You can’t get around U.S. or international law by renouncing your citizenship, either. You can be under the jurisdiction of either or both regardless of citizenship.

IS it worthwhile to this discussion to mention Article I section 8?

No. Not relevant, since it doesn’t actually make it a crime for anyone else to do any of those things, nor does it provide penalties.

Isn’t this more or less what happened with the Bay of Pigs invasion? A group of Cuban-Americans, ostensibly acting as private individuals, attempted an invasion of Cuba.

Key word being ostensibly. The Bay of Pigs disaster didn’t really match the OP because the guerillas weren’t US citizens, weren’t using privately held watercraft, and made no formal declaration of anything.

That said, any government they might have formed had the invasion gone successfully would have been much more likely to win recognition than Alereon’s, because it would automatically have the support of the US. The rest of the world would hardly have intervened to restore democ… er, totalitarian rule to Cuba.

Of course, the Cubans also had the added advantage over Alereon’s hypothetical army of being, well, Cuban. Native insurgents toppling a government are one thing; foreign insurgents toppling a government are quite another. The OP would, in effect, be an occupying force, while the Bay of Pigs guys were Cuban-born and any government they formed would be just as legitimate as Castro’s.

The U.S. Government could come after you under some of these provisions

TITLE 18, PART I, CHAPTER 45, Sec. 956.

And also

TITLE 18, PART 1, CHAPTER 45, Sec. 960

Ignoring the American laws for a moment, what about logistically?
Alereon** and his bunch conquer Haiti. Suffering ten percent losses, there are ~9000 of them left. By offering return of all commandeered vehicles and food packages, he has the support of the natives. Then what?

He holds the small island with nine thousand troops. What would be done about it then, by the world at large?

You guys are forgetting one thing:

Sure you can raise your own personal army, and sure you can sail to Haiti in an attempt to overthrow the “legitimate” government (note the quotes).

But without the support of the American Government, they call these things a “coup d’etat.”

These are technically illegal, if the world community can prove that a private citizen raised an army just for the purpose of accessing to power. Now, if you were a citizen in that country raising an army of it’s own citizens, it’d be something different.

But then again BobT laid out some decent code for you to peruse whilst you spend some time in Leavenworth. :smiley:

Not that I’ve ever tried overthrowing a small nation.

I’m a little surprised by this raise-a-private-army action being called ‘filibustering’. I thought ‘filibustering’ was the act of obstructing proceedings in Parliament or Congress, by blathering on and on and on about all kinds of nonsense, and thus preventing undesired parts of the agenda from happening?

Probably nothing. Haiti is not important and won’t destabilize the region, much less the world. The UN will bicker and argue but unless he manages to piss off a major power (in this case, America is the only close one) he’ll simply take possesion by conquest. He can then have some high-minded-sounding declarations and whatnot and everyone will leave him alone and forget about it, because it wouldn’t be worth the cost of removing him.

IIRC, there was an attempt by a group of mercenaries based in South Africa (under the old regime) to invade the Seychelles and topple its government. The attempt failed, and the mercenaries fled back to South Africa by highjacking a plane.

The South African government was sufficiently embarrassed by the whole affair to arrest the mercenaries and try them for highjacking.

In general, it is a hostile, aggressive and illegal act by State A to host in its territory a private army which attacks State B without lawful justification. State B is entitled to defend itself both against the private army and against State A, and to seek reparations.

I seem to recall that the government of Afghanistan hosted a private army which attacked the US, and the US responded with measures directed both at the private army and at the government of Afghanistan. No doubt some other poster will be along shortly to fill in the details . . .

It would, therefore, be very unwise of the US (or any other state) to have no provisions in its domestic law which enable it to restrain a private army based in the US from attacking another state.

No we aren’t. Read my posts.

At the least, you would be in violation of the Ford Act, which prohibits American citizens from interfering in American foreign policy.

Damn. My ENTIRELY HYPOTHETICAL compatriots are gonna be bummed. Though I suppose we could try to pull smiling bandit’s “do it and hope nobody cares” gambit. Thanks for your replies everyone!