An action that can be interpreted as an incitement to war. For example, crossing a hostile border with a force of armed troops would clearly be an act of war. An outright attack upon a ship of war is also widely recognized as an act of war.

The line between a terrorist act and an act of war can sometimes be fuzzy. Terrorism is generally directed at civilians. Also, there is a serious question of whether an act of war can be committed by any entity except a legitimate government.

The question of what constitutes a legitimate government is left for another node on another day.

artfuldodger: Unfortunately, E2's search function apparently blows goats, especially when it comes to compound words. (This makes it particular unsuitable for the German language, but that's neither here nor there.) I searched for "artful dodger" and you didn't come up. I searched for "artful" and you didn't come up. I searched for "dodger" and you didn't come up. I assumed that a sane search function would have turned up the collision, but I was wrong. Rest assured, I didn't do it just to confuse people ;-)!

So, to abuse the analogy even further, is it an act of war to move into inhabited territory when the inhabitants are, for all intents and purposes, invisible?

This is known in diplospeak as a casus belli, or a "provocation sufficient to cause a war." There is, of course, wide disagreement between nations (especially those in conflict) on what a casus belli is. Some examples, however, are fairly unsdisputed. The first two below are equivalent to artfuldodger's examples:

  • Territorial encroachment: When the military forces of one nation set foot uninvited on another nation's soil.
  • Bombardment: Any ordnance of one nation detonating on another's soil *or* military forces if the latter are abroad.
  • Attack:Any attempted attack on a nation's military forces at home or abroad. This can get problematic: "Hey! No shooting us! We're going to war!" "But I didn't hit anything! It was a warning shot!" "Bullshit, you just missed is all!" ...etc. etc.

Unfortunately, the true definition of a casus belli is 'whatever the leaders of a nation want it to be,' since they have the power and in most cases authority to begin wars.

This question really leads into the more complicated one of sovereignty. What is a nation? What is a sovereign right or title of that nation? What violates that? For the answers, we'll have to go back as far as the birth of modern sovereignty, the Magna Carta...

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