Limited Military Intervention

Military Deployments in Support of Diplomacy
Evacuation and Rescue Missions
Sanctions Enforcement
Limited Air Strikes
Support for Allies in Small Wars and Insurgencies
Waging Small Wars with U.S. Forces


Military intervention comprises violent and nonviolent operations to protect or advance U.S. national interests. But this chapter includes only those operations in the middle ground above the level of a covert or unconventional action and below the level of a major war. Thus, the limited military interventions analyzed here include such undertakings as:

* Military deployment in support of diplomacy.

* The evacuation or rescue of U.S. and allied citizens.

* The enforcement of sanctions, embargoes and exclusion zones.

* Limited air strikes.

* Noncombat support for allies in small wars.

* Combat operations by U.S. forces in small wars.

Because limited military intervention differs from full-scale war by involving limited numbers of personnel and is often of shorter duration, it also differs politically. Historical precedent and Supreme Court decisions have given the President significant latitude in initiating interventions without prior congressional approval. Of course, Presidents frequently have consulted with Congress prior to initiating military intervention, and Congress has been able to terminate such operations, particularly by withdrawing funds. Domestic U.S. politics can play an important role in the success or failure of an intervention; the depth and breadth of public support for the operation can vitally influence decisions about operational matters, such as the numbers and kinds of forces deployed.

Though military intervention is a limited instrument, it remains very much a weapon--an instrument with the potential to injure and to kill. Consequently, military intervention is inherently threatening and as such carries particular risks. No matter how benevolent U.S. intentions may be, the very act of wielding a weapon may produce an adverse reaction in others. Even in the case of military intervention to aid disaster victims, there may be some whose interests are threatened by the amelioration of local suffering or simply by the deployment of U.S. forces. When military intervention takes place with the threat of even a low-level use of force--for example, in the establishment of exclusion zones--the danger of violent opposition increases.

As a result, those proposing military intervention need to answer two separate but equally important sets of questions: What do they intend to accomplish by their use of the U.S. armed forces, and how do they plan to do it? What are the possible responses of governments and populations in the region where intervention is planned? Once these questions have been answered, planners can decide whether the aim of military intervention would be worth the likely price of achieving it. In this sense, a proposed military intervention needs to be analyzed as if it were a limited war in two meanings of the term: limited as to resources to be invested, and limited as to goals to be achieved. That is true even in the case of nonviolent operations.

USS Wasp off Haiti during Operation Restore Democracy

Limited military intervention can exert great pressure, particularly against a weak foe. But U.S. military intervention may provoke total resistance on the part of a moderately powerful adversary. Although a commitment to total war on the part of such an adversary does not necessarily guarantee defeat for an intervening power, such a situation does raise the possibility of a military intervention's progressively escalating as the intervening power is forced to commit ever greater resources to accomplish its original aims. Such an increasing commitment can also create a logic of its own, obscuring the goals of the intervention, introducing questions of national prestige and credibility, and evoking a determination to justify heavy casualties by victory. Such a dilemma faced the United States in Vietnam and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, such cases are the exception rather than the rule. Generally, military intervention provides a highly flexible weapon that allows a government an option lying somewhere between the extremes of passively accepting injury to national interests and waging all-out war.


For the past half century, U.S. military intervention has involved so many activities on so vast a scale that categorizing and analyzing them can hardly be attempted in a few pages. Nonetheless, some general patterns do present themselves. It is more difficult to make educated guesses about how American military intervention may evolve in the post-Cold War world. The fundamental nature of warfare seems in the process of a major shift, what is commonly referred to as a "revolution in military affairs." Even small wars and military intervention short of war seem likely to be affected by such developments.

Military Deployments in Support of Diplomacy

Cold War diplomacy was inextricably linked with the threat of force. The Berlin crises of 1948-49 and 1961 offer prime examples. These were resolved not on the battlefield but in secret exchanges between U.S. and Soviet diplomats over the status and survival of the West Berlin enclave. However, U.S. military deployments were an important factor in the West's diplomatic successes. The deployments offered concrete proof of the United States's ability to sustain Berlin and Washington's resolve to go to war to defend the city, if necessary.

The United States so routinely deployed aircraft carriers to back up its diplomacy during the Cold War that listing all the instances would prove tedious. Still, a number of examples stand out: the introduction of a Marine landing team into the Mediterranean aboard the USS Midway in 1948 to support Greece and Turkey; the movement of the USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal during the India-Pakistan war of 1971; and the crossing by Sixth Fleet carriers of the Libyan government's "line of death" in the Gulf of Sidra in the 1980s. On other occasions, the U.S. backed up diplomacy with aerospace assets (e.g., deploying AWACS or fighters to a crisis zone, placing strategic bombers and missiles on alert, and, most famously, organizing the 1948-49 airlift to Berlin). Less frequently, ground forces were employed.

The life-or-death rationale that underlay armed diplomacy during the Cold War is gone. In the post-Cold War world, U.S. leaders must be extremely careful about ensuring public support before threatening or promising the use of U.S. ground forces as a form of diplomatic leverage. To make such declarations, only to discover that Congress does not approve, would be damaging to U.S. credibility. For such deployments to succeed, the President will have to make clear that serious national interests are involved and, thereafter, gain and sustain the support of the public for the duration of the intervention.

Operations in support of diplomacy continued after the end of the Cold War, notable examples being President Clinton's military response to the Iraqi buildup along the Kuwaiti border in October 1994, and similar deployments to Kuwait and Jordan in August 1995. These temporary force movements and exercises demonstrated American resolve to defend Iraq's Arab neighbors against aggression. But one can presume that private warnings conveyed through third parties or secret channels were also important in making U.S. resolve clear to Baghdad.

Secretary Perry's Criteria for Military Intervention

After evaluating the interests at stake and the costs of the operation, the administration will consider many specific factors before deciding whether to commit forces, what objectives to assign to them, and what level of forces to employ. Prominent among these factors are:

* Existing treaty commitments.

* The willingness and ability of like-minded nations, particularly those most directly affected by the conflict, to contribute to the operation.

* Whether, in the absence of coalition partners, U.S. unilateral action is justified.

* Clear military objectives supporting political objectives.

* Judgments about the necessary duration and costs of the operation. In other words, can it be achieved in a reasonable amount of time with an acceptable expenditure of resources and concluded in an acceptable manner.

* The willingness to commit sufficient forces to achieve the defined objectives.

* The extent to which support for U.S. involvement exists among Congress and the American people, and the extent to which such support can be marshaled.

* The acceptability, in the case of multilateral operations, of proposed arrangements for command and control of U.S. forces.

The relationship among the size, composition, and disposition of forces committed and U.S. objectives must be continually reasserted and, if necessary, adjusted.

Source: Report of the Secretary of Defense to the President and the Congress, February 1995.

In striking contrast to the United States's success in deterring aggression against Kuwait were its difficulties in achieving its diplomatic aims in the western Balkans in 1993-94. While U.S. peacekeepers in Macedonia helped prevent the spread of fighting to that country, a lasting cease-fire in Bosnia was achieved only in November 1995 after negotiations in Dayton, Ohio, organized by the U.S. government. Some argue that this delay may have been because Washington announced a priori that it would not deploy large-scale ground forces to the region until a peace agreement had been achieved, greatly reducing the power of U.S. diplomacy. The U.S.-encouraged NATO air strikes in the former Yugoslavia in summer 1995 were an important contributing factor to the Serbian side's decision to agree to peace talks. But as a sign of Washington's commitment, they could not substitute for the placement of U.S. military personnel on the ground. Compare the failed 1993 mission of the USS Harlan County in Haiti with the success of the 1994 Carter-Nunn-Powell mission to Port-au-Prince (backed up by the imminent arrival of thousands of U.S. ground troops).

Given the far greater control ground forces can exercise in a region, compared to air or naval operations, the threat of their deployment is a powerful tool with which to support a diplomatic initiative. However, introducing ground forces greatly ups the dangers (e.g., of casualties and hostages) and therefore the domestic political stakes of an operation. The American public and Congress displayed great unease over the idea of dispatching U.S. ground forces to Haiti. A similar attitude regarding the use of U.S. ground forces to guarantee the peace settlement in Bosnia was overcome only after considerable efforts by President Clinton to persuade Congress and the U.S. public that the deployment was vital to U.S. interests for leadership in NATO and peace in a volatile part of Europe. One reason is the danger that such deployments could bring casualties to which the American public is increasingly sensitive. Another factor is the degree to which U.S. national interests are seen to be at stake. There was little hesitation in sending ground forces to Saudi Arabia in 1990, despite the risk of casualties, because there was a consensus that important U.S. interests were at stake (in contrast to the congressional debate in January 1991 about whether to liberate Kuwait).

Uses of military intervention such as the force movements in the Middle East during the Clinton administration will likely continue even in an age of decreasing overseas presence, information warfare, and cruise missiles. Nothing so demonstrates U.S. determination to honor a diplomatic commitment as the placing of U.S. military personnel in harm's way to fulfill such a pledge.

Military Intervention in Support of Diplomacy: Korea 1993-95

The U.S. armed forces have played a major role in support of diplomatic efforts to end the North Korean development of nuclear weapons. Through both activity and inactivity, the U.S. military--especially the Army and Air Force units stationed in South Korea--has given the United States special political and psychological as well as military leverage with the Pyongyang regime.

The public phase of the crisis began in March 1993 with the North Korean announcement that it would withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and would not allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its suspected nuclear-weapons program. Throughout the spring of that year, U.S. government spokesmen offered high-level talks with the Pyongyang regime. But these offers seemed to accomplish nothing. Finally, in June, the United States offered to cancel the annual joint military exercises in South Korea--exercises that Pyongyang has long denounced as provocative and as preparatory for an invasion of the North. This concession was rapidly followed by North Korean-U.S. negotiations and the announcement in June 1993 that Pyongyang would continue to honor the NPT.

The following month, President Clinton visited South Korea. American forces were presented for his inspection, and the president reassured the South Korean people that U.S. forces would remain in their country as long as they were needed. In September, in order to reassure America's other major ally in the region, the United States and Japan began talks on developing an antimissile system for deployment on Japanese soil. The talks were in obvious response to North Korean testing of missiles that could be armed with nuclear warheads.

Negotiations between the United States and North Korea continued throughout the fall of 1993, with little result. In December, the Defense Department announced it was considering options to strengthen both American forces in South Korea and the South Korean forces themselves. Within days, Pyongyang declared that it would allow inspectors access to its officially disclosed nuclear-program sites. Despite this breakthrough, the U.S. government revealed in January 1994 that it would ship Patriot antimissile batteries to South Korea.

The crisis worsened in the spring of 1994. Pyongyang blocked nuclear inspectors from carrying out their work and renewed its threat to withdraw from the NPT. Washington annouced its intention to seek UN economic sanctions on North Korea, but other major powers were reluctant to support sanctions at that stage. In June, President Clinton began studying plans for a major military buildup in South Korea.

As tensions mounted, former President Jimmy Carter visited both halves of Korea and returned to the United States announcing that he had found North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung reasonable and willing to negotiate. Although Kim died in July 1994, U.S.-North Korean talks continued to press on into the fall, culminating in an agreement in October 1994. Pyongyang would suspend its nuclear program, in return for which the United States would provide oil as a short-term fix to North Korea's energy problems and create an international consortium to provide proliferation-resistant light-water reactors to replace the North's graphite-moderated reactors.

In the spring of 1995, repeating the pattern of the crisis since it had begun, the North Koreans rejected the delivery of South Korean nuclear reactors. These formed an essential part of the aid package assembled the previous fall. U.S. diplomats insisted that the Pyongyang regime accept the reactors, and in May, the North Koreans acquiesced. For the time being, the crisis subsided.

Without knowing the ultimate resolution of the delicate situation on the Korean peninsula, it is still obvious that the U.S. military presence provides the security foundation on which rest U.S. diplomatic efforts to prevent Pyongyang from building nuclear weapons. Looming over every other reality was the unmentioned stick of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The final argument for American diplomats in their negotiations with the North Koreans was that even if Pyongyang produced a few warheads and married them to ballistic missiles, the United States could obliterate North Korea if it came to nuclear blows.

Evacuation and Rescue Missions

U.S. armed forces frequently engaged in evacuation and rescue operations during the Cold War: to pull Americans away from hostile mobs during the Middle East wars and crises from 1948 to 1991; to protect missionaries in the Congo during the bloody chaos following independence in the early 1960s; and to evacuate hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians from Indochina in 1975. These missions were in support of humanitarian ideals, the centuries-old European principle of protecting Western nationals abroad (if necessary by armed force), and the U.S. Cold War policy of offering refuge to those who had placed their lives at risk by opposing communism.

More recent examples of this form of military intervention include the evacuations of imperiled foreigners from Liberia, Somalia, and Rwanda. The anarchy that led to these missions adds weight to the widespread expectation that other states throughout Africa and southwest Asia will fail over the coming decades. If these pessimistic predictions prove correct, U.S. armed forces will most likely be called upon to engage in numerous evacuation and rescue missions for Westerners over the next quarter of a century.

On the other hand, the collapse of the Soviet empire has ended the U.S. policy of rescuing anti-communist refugees. Furthermore, hostility is growing within North American and Western European public opinion to offering assistance to refugees and would-be immigrants from Third World and Fourth World countries. This raises questions about the future willingness of the U.S. government to employ armed forces to rescue non-American citizens or citizens of countries closely allied to the United States.

Other problems facing the implementation of such missions in the future may arise from logistics and transportation availability. The armed forces of the United States and its allies are shrinking. Washington is also in the process of reducing the number of its overseas bases, so that, in several decades' time, the U.S. military may no longer have bases on foreign soil. For these reasons, the future ability of the American military to launch successful evacuation and rescue missions may be somewhat circumscribed. Particularly large operations may require cooperation between U.S. and foreign militaries.

However, compared to all other countries, the sea and air transport resources of the U.S. armed forces remain enormous,
although many Air Force C-141 transports are reaching the end of their operational lives. In order to project military force, the U.S. armed forces is likely to retain such lift capability through modernization and upgrading. It will therefore also be available for evacuation and rescue operations. Thus, U.S. superiority in the ability to evacuate large numbers of people by ship or aircraft is certain to endure for decades to come. In cases where a relatively small number of people are involved, it may be possible for such missions to be conducted by other countries' armed forces. But when a sizable number of people require rescue or evacuation, U.S. participation will be necessary.

U.S. Marine on patrol in Somalia during Operation Resote Hope in Somalia

The rescue of U.S. military personnel under combat conditions, particularly downed flight crews, will also continue to be carried out on a fairly frequent basis. The June 1995 extraction from Bosnia of Air Force Captain Scott O'Grady by U.S. Marines offers one recent example of this type of operation. Since the United States remains committed to various surveillance, exclusion, humanitarian, peacekeeping, and covert operations involving manned aircraft and special-operations units, the rescue of their personnel will almost certainly be required from time to time. The practice by certain societies of abusing U.S. military prisoners to put psychological pressure on the U.S. government and public will only make such rescue operations more imperative.

Sanctions Enforcement

During the Cold War, the United States generally was not able to gain adherence to sanctions such as exclusion areas, in which certain types of activity (e.g., moving military units) are prohibited, or embargoes, which prohibit the import or export of certain types of materiel (e.g., arms or petroleum). Any U.N. Security Council resolution to create such zones favored by the United States was almost certain to be vetoed by the Soviet Union. And without U.N. approval, it was virtually impossible to create the legal and moral authority to establish such restricted areas. However, in a few cases in which the Soviets favored such U.N. resolutions and the United States chose to agree, exclusion zones and embargoes were established. The major cases were the embargoes on arms sales to Portugal during the final years of its colonial wars in Guinea, Angola, and Mozambique, and to South Africa because of its policy of apartheid. After its 1965 unilateral and illegal declaration of independence from Britain, the white minority government in Rhodesia was placed under a near-total embargo.

Despite U.S. adherence to these U.N. resolutions, the role of the U.S. military in enforcing them was minimal. In a small number of cases during the decades of East-West confrontation, the United States chose to use its armed forces unilaterally to enforce blockades or exclusion zones, even at the risk of war. The most famous case was the blockade of Cuba in the fall of 1962; another was the counterinvasion patrol in the Formosa Strait from 1950 to 1972.

In the early 1990s, the permanent members of the Security Council cooperated far more, with the result that exclusion-zone and embargo resolutions became fairly common. Examples included the no-fly zones established over Bosnia and Iraq, and the embargo on arms deliveries to Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia-Montenegro. Decision makers often turn to sanctions because they represent a stronger step than a diplomatic démarche but avoid the drawbacks and risks of military force. Unlike the latter, sanctions can easily be ratcheted up or down. Sanctions also can be used to weaken the military capabilities of a target state, thus improving chances for success should military force become necessary.

Although other U.S. government agencies take the lead on sanctions policy, military forces play the dominant role in enforcing embargoes and exclusion zones. The ever-increasing C4I and surveillance capabilities enjoyed by the U.S. armed forces make such operations easier from a technical standpoint. No other military enjoys a comparable ability to monitor the locations, dimensions, directions, speeds, and communications of ships, aircraft, and land vehicles. Similar capabilities from both technical and human intelligence resources allow the United States to keep track of foreign economic and financial activities, giving U.S. forces unparalleled ability to enforce blockades and exclusion zones.

Coast Guard intercepts an Iraqi ship, 1990mm.

In the enforcement of embargoes, the military's largest responsibility is interdicting goods on land and at sea. In the case of Haiti, for example, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard contributed most of the ships in the U.N.'s maritime interdiction force, while U.S. Army forces, working with their Dominican Republic counterparts, limited smuggling across the land border into Haiti. U.S. forces have also contributed most of the capabilities to enforce the embargo against Iraq imposed in 1990. In the former Yugoslavia, the U.S. Navy helped enforce economic sanctions against Serbia, as well as the arms embargo applying to all the former Yugoslav republics. At the same time, DOD contractors, mostly retired U.S. military personnel, helped monitor border traffic between Serbia and Serb-occupied areas of Bosnia, thereby slowing the flow of fuel, arms, and other war materiel to Bosnian Serbs.

The effectiveness of sanctions could be enhanced by more aggressive interdiction, more precise focus of sanctions within the target state, and mitigation of unintended economic and political consequences. For example, interdiction missions could be strengthened by using nonlethal technologies to stop ships, planes, and other forms of transport. More precise focusing of sanctions within a target state could be achieved through direct action, such as sabotage of transportation nodes, or through forms of information warfare, including the disruption of communications, especially those affecting the banking and trading system. More precise focusing might also be feasible by imposing sanctions in ways that would damage the interests of political elites in the target state more than ordinary citizens. Lastly, psychological operations could be used more effectively to mitigate the unwanted side effects of sanctions by garnering support for U.S. policy from within the target state as well as without. Greater consideration could also be given to using psychological operations as a means of maximizing popular resistance against the leadership of a sanctioned regime.

Sanctions work most effectively when they are accompanied by other, forceful military initiatives. In the case of Haiti, the deployment of U.S. forces offshore helped keep pressure on the Cédras regime via threats of direct U.S. military intervention. Deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq serves a similar purpose, with the U.S. military having the additional important role of protecting the Kurdish population, which is an important source of opposition to Saddam's regime.

When using U.S. forces to support sanctions, U.S. policymakers sometimes face conflicts between political and military objectives. For example, stopping intercoastal smuggling between Haiti and the Dominican Republic was a top U.S. priority. However, devising adequate rules of engagement for the maritime patrols proved very difficult, because most smuggling took place on small boats piloted by Haitian and Dominican civilians. The dilemma was that stopping this trade required strong action, including warning and disabling shots that would have produced conflict and casualties, including casualties for U.S. forces. In the end, the United States decided against strong action to block intercoastal smuggling, because the political and diplomatic fallout could have undermined support for the sanctions.

Lastly, U.S. military forces help mitigate the effects of sanctions so that U.S. policy gains are maximized. In Haiti, for example, U.S. forces delivered aid and improved Haiti's ability to absorb the aid through civil affairs programs, thus significantly improving Haiti's economic condition.

Limited Air Strikes

Bombardment by non-nuclear explosives, particularly air-delivered bombardment, has become increasingly attractive to the U.S. government in applying military force while minimizing risk. Such operations present a smaller likelihood of U.S. casualties than those involving ground forces in contact with the enemy. The chances of U.S. forces suffering loss or capture in bombardment operations have been further reduced since the end of the Cold War. The collapse of Soviet military power has granted overwhelming superiority over any conceivable foe of the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy.

Area bombing, naval gunfire, and rocket fire have been superceded by the use of "smart bombs," cruise missiles, and other precision-guided munitions. Accurate strikes on military targets reduce the possibility of collateral damage, that is, unintended civilian casualties or destruction of non-military targets. The growing ubiquity and versatility of television technology and the appearance of international broadcasting networks have given the public the ability to observe the results of bombardments carried out by their forces. Precision strikes greatly lessen the chances that television viewers will be presented with disturbing images of civilian dead, wrecked hospitals, or burning houses of worship caused by U.S. bombs. The reduction of such damage by bombardment, compared with that inflicted by U.S. forces in World War II or even the Vietnam War, also lessens the chances that outraged international opinion can be mobilized against the U.S. government.

Small Wars Waged by U.S. Forces: Panama 1989

Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega enjoyed a complicated relationship with the United States throughout the 1980s. On the one hand, he assisted the Reagan administration in the covert war against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and was a source of intelligence for the CIA. But Noriega also sold weapons and provided intelligence to various communist and Middle Eastern enemies of the United States. Worse, from Washington's viewpoint, beginning in 1985, he was seen as a threat to Panamanian democracy after having pressured the elected president to step down because the military could no longer work with his presidency. At the same time, General Noriega was clearly identified as a major actor in drug and money-laundering activities. From late 1986 until late 1989, the objective of the United States' Panama policy was deceptively simple: Noriega must go. The question was how to accomplish this end.

The U.S. was not ready to use force to remove Noriega. Unlike Marcos, Somosa, and Duvalier, Noriega was the general in charge of the armed forces, and he was not ready to retire. A crisis developed between 1987 and 1989 during which Noriega was indicted in Miami on twelve counts of racketeering and cocaine trafficking; the Panamanian president was ousted by the military; and the United States applied various alternatives to force--diplomatic, economic, and legal measures--to remove the general, without success. At the same time, the U.S. government ruled out U.S. military intervention except to protect the Panama Canal from attack and to protect U.S. lives. However, beginning in the spring of 1988, the Reagan administration did begin to reinforce U.S. forces in Panama, and contingency planning began in earnest.

In May 1989, Noriega allowed national elections, convinced that his puppet candidates would win. The Panamanian people disagreed. Although Noriega's candidates were proclaimed the winners, international observers announced that the Noriega regime had stolen the election by fraud. President Bush recalled the U.S. ambassador to Panama and persuaded every Latin American government--save those of Cuba and Nicaragua--to condemn the Noriega regime. While a war of nerves between the United States and Panama intensified during the summer of 1989, the Organization of American States tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with Noriega, attempting to persuade him to relinquish power. In September, President Bush announced that the United States no longer recognized the Panamanian government as legitimate, while at the same time reinforcing the U.S. presence in Panama.

A final Panamanian move to unseat Noriega, a coup attempt against the dictator by disaffected members of the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF), failed in early October 1989. After this pivotal event, the Bush administration looked at its military options in a different light. On December 15, Noriega ordered his National Assembly of Representatives to declare Panama in "a state of war" with the United States. The next day, PDF forces opened fire on a car carrying four American servicemen, seriously wounding one. Late on December 17, President Bush ordered Operation Just Cause to be launched early on December 20, 1989.

Just Cause was carried out by a joint all-service task force based on two Army divisions, an independent Army brigade, a Marine Expeditionary Brigade, and smaller elite Special Forces and Army Ranger units. The task force was overwhelmingly superior in size, capability, and training to the PDF. By the end of daylight on the second day of the operation, SOUTHCOM forces had effectively crushed all resistance. By December 25, military operations were over--with the exception of efforts to capture Noriega. On December 24, he had taken refuge in the quarters of the papal nuncio.

Noriega was subjected to an intense psychological operations effort to break his morale and induce his surrender. Finally, on the evening of January 3, 1990, Noriega walked out of the nunciature and delivered himself to the Special Forces unit that had surrounded his hiding place. The Panamanian government that had been elected but prevented from taking office in May 1989 already had been installed by the American forces and recognized by Washington two weeks earlier. Operation Just Cause cost the U.S. military 23 dead and 324 wounded. The PDF lost over 300 men and had about 125 wounded. At least 200 Panamanian civilians were killed in the fighting and over 1500 were wounded.

Just Cause represents an excellent example of a small war. U.S. casualties were relatively light, operations were concluded in a very short time, all objectives were met, and the war received the overwhelming support not only of the American people but of Panamanians as well. However, Panamanian civilian losses were high. Although U.S. firepower was carefully planned and skillfully executed in an effort to keep casualties to a minimum, suppressive fires were heavy. In the densely urbanized areas where much of Just Cause was conducted, this inevitably led to the death or injury of many noncombatants.

Given the increasing urbanization of the world population and the growth of slum cities throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, Just Cause may indicate some sobering trends in the evolution of warfare. The application of heavy firepower in huge slums constructed from cardboard, plywood, and sheet metal may produce horrific civilian casualties. For psychological and political reasons, U.S. armed forces may need to rethink their doctrine for urban warfare.

However, the rapid improvement over the past several decades in the accuracy, range, and power of bombardment by non-nuclear munitions has created unrealistic attitudes in the minds of some about the capabilities of such weapons. From the time when rapid-fire, long-range, high explosive artillery was developed in the late nineteenth century, through the creation of strategic aerial bombing forces in the 1930s, to the contemporary use of cruise missiles, expectations have arisen about the ability of such weapons to make wars both short and free from high casualties. Strategic bombing theorists such as Giulio Douhet argued that no modern state could long withstand massive attacks on its urban centers. Aerial warfare prophets predicted that bombardment of enemy cities would rapidly lead to panic, the collapse of morale, and the crumbling of all resistance in a matter of days.

In fact, as the results of aerial bombing campaigns from the Second World War to the Gulf War have demonstrated, such operations can be an effective form of attrition warfare, slowly wearing down enemy will and destroying his means to resist. But human beings, whether military or civilian, have shown themselves to be far tougher psychologically under bombardment than had been supposed. Eventually, people may crumble under the weight of heavy sustained bombardment. But such resistance can last for years. In the interim, anger at the losses inflicted by the bombardment can actually increase determination to hold on and fight back.

Furthermore, lengthy bombardment operations by manned aircraft inevitably result in the destruction of aircraft and the death, injury, or capture of aircrews. For this reason alone, the use of unmanned means of bombardment has become increasingly attractive to the U.S. government. But even in bombardment operations in which U.S. forces risk little or no chance of casualties, such campaigns can still evolve into a test of wills between the U.S. and enemy public. The enemy may employ psychological warfare to induce doubts about the justice of the U.S. cause or guilt over the suffering being inflicted and thus persuade U.S. public opinion to end the bombardment. Even cruise missiles can go astray or be misguided due to faulty intelligence.

Given continuing improvement in guidance and explosives technology and the unwillingness of the U.S. public to suffer heavy casualties in limited war, bombardment will be an even more attractive option than in the past. Such operations may prove highly effective under appropriate circumstances. But they will not solve every military problem, nor will they be carried out without loss of innocent life.

Missile launching from USS Arleigh Burke

Bombardment can be a useful instrument when applied with appropriate expectations of its utility. When used in concert with other instruments, it can be a key factor in bringing an adversary to the negotiating table or causing him to cease hostile behavior. The bombing of the Bosnian Serb facilities in the late summer and early fall of 1995 did not stop the hostilities, but, coupled with the economic embargo on Serbia and with diplomatic pressure, did play a key role in bringing Serbia and its Bosnian Serb allies into serious peace negotiations.

Support for Allies in Small Wars and Insurgencies

Post-World War II, Soviet expansion and the resulting U.S. strategy of containment led to numerous violent conflicts along the East-West divide and throughout the so-called Third World. In only a few cases, notably in Korea, was there a classic military confrontation of invasion and defense. Insurgency, an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict, was the principal means by which the Cold War struggle was fought on the peripheries of its major theaters. In these small wars between U.S. and Soviet allies, the U.S. role took such forms as small-scale training and advisory roles, sometimes coupled with large aid flows (from the Greek civil war of the 1940s to El Salvador in the 1980s), or large-scale semi-covert operations with little if any involvement by the U.S. military (as in Afghanistan and Nicaragua).

After the national U.S. debate of 1946-49 was resolved in favor of containing Soviet expansion, public support for military assistance to embattled anti-communist governments became virtually pro forma for twenty years. In general, the deployments of small numbers of U.S. troops to various anti-communist conflicts were not weighed on a case-by-case basis. Instead, they were regarded as part of the overall anti-Soviet effort that the country had resolved to wage indefinitely.

But the trauma of Vietnam destroyed this consensus. As in other conflicts, the commitment of U.S. troops to the defense of the Republic of Vietnam began as an advisory and training effort. The U.S. resources invested in the struggle grew to enormous levels, with nearly 60,000 battle deaths, exceeding those suffered by U.S. forces in any other war save the Civil War and World War II. Following the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, no U.S. administration could continue to count on automatic public acceptance of military support for U.S. clients in small anti-communist conflicts.

The possibility of the establishment of communist regimes in Central America in the 1980s did persuade a majority of the U.S. public to support a small-scale and temporary military presence in Honduras and El Salvador. But with the memory of Vietnam still fresh, such support was given reluctantly and was carefully circumscribed. After the collapse of the Soviet threat in 1989-1991, the rationale for such use of U.S. armed forces disappeared altogether. Unless and until the United States finds itself engaged in a protracted struggle with another world power, it seems certain that the American people will accept the deployment of military advisory and training missions to countries at war only after careful consideration of the particular circumstances and the U.S. interests involved.

Insurgencies remain capable of adversely affecting U. S. interests. When they do, Washington can provide the party it is supporting with advice, financial and material support, training, and, as a last resort, advisors or other U.S. military personnel operating with indigenous forces. In the past, based on theories of conflict and development espoused by social scientists and economists, U.S. counterinsurgency efforts placed great emphasis on addressing the insurgency's supposed socioeconomic causes. Experience and further reflection have indicated that such theories were inadequate. The grievances expressed by those involved--typically political--are also important causes of the insurgencies.

Civilian Resistance

Civilian resistance by means of mass nonviolent direction, sometimes called "people power," has often been regarded by national security analysts with skepticism. They have seen it as perhaps playing a role in peripheral situations but not as an important factor when vital interests are at stake. In fact, mass demonstrations, strikes, and boycotts have played a major role in shaping the post-Cold-War international system. Civilian resistance was a prominent feature of the East European revolutions that ended communist rule in 1989-1991 and in reversing the 1991 Russian coup, which were events as important as any in recent decades. Since the late 1980s, civilian resistance has been relatively successful against authoritarian rule from the Philippines to South Africa. However, as of late 1995, it has been unsuccessful in Burma, Tibet, and China. Whether for good or ill, direct action by civilians has become part of the strategic mix.

Civilian resistance has rarely been discussed as something that can be encouraged and planned, either by governments or even by the participants. Nonviolent struggle is often assumed to be determined by structural factors and by the interaction of the opponents' will to repress and the civilians' capacity to suffer. But these assumptions mislead. Closely studied cases of the last fifteen years show that civilian resistance, like any other form of political behavior, depends on the quality of the strategic choices made by participants, and therefore on the advice and support they receive. The "people power" defense of Cory Aquino's 1986 election in the Philippines was successful in part because of the years of deliberate organization and training by social activists and in part because the U.S. government showed that it had stopped supporting Ferdinand Marcos. Student insurrectionists in Beijing's Tiananmen Square were not aided by their mistakes in tactics (not dispersing when faced with overwhelming odds) and strategy (failing to guarantee strong reaction in China to a massacre). The U.S. government cannot create civilian resistance, nor is it likely to directly sponsor groups to wage popular struggles abroad. But it can make use of civilian resistance by considering how to provide such movements with strategic support. More skillful assistance to the Civilian Crusade in Panama in 1987 might have obviated the need for the subsequent Operation Just Cause or rendered that operation less costly to all concerned. In some circumstances, encouragement and material support for civilian resistance can be an alternative to military deployment in a peace operation, accomplishing the same goals at lower cost and with less violence.

In addition to addressing grievances, techniques that the United States can use for countering insurgency include penetration of the insurgent organization and aggressive patrolling, if the insurgents are operating in small units. If the insurgents are operating in an urban area, the emphasis should fall on penetrating their networks. Although shanty towns may appear to provide insurgents with the same advantage that mountains and dense forests do in a rural setting, an urban setting allows the government to concentrate its resources, while the insurgent must operate in a limited area. Although some U.S. technical support may help the government in these situations, what is most needed in the urban setting is old-fashioned police intelligence work. That is within the capabilities of even a poor government, as long as it is committed to supporting such police work. If the government is not, the United States is unlikely to have sufficient leverage to make the government change its mind.

If the promises held out by exponents of information warfare prove correct, it may be possible in coming years for small teams of American advisors to use enormous information resources in the defense of an embattled ally. Enemy forces might be located and subjected to devastating fire with few or no Americans exposed to risk. In such cases, U.S. military technology might make the direct involvement of U.S. forces larger than advisory teams in small wars unnecessary--unless, of course, U.S. opponents were to acquire similar capabilities.

Waging Small Wars with U.S. Forces

The United States engaged directly in numerous small wars before 1941, but very few thereafter. After the establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947 and the creation of a system of peacetime alliances in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Washington had new alternatives. When the U.S. government decided to solve a problem with a small measure of military intervention, covert action or the use of surrogates generally replaced the customary landing of Marines. Furthermore, during the struggle with the nuclear-armed Soviet Union, the direct engagement of U.S. forces carried risks that did not exist in pre-Cold War years. As a result, Washington tended to avoid such interventions for fear of provoking a Soviet response, which would in turn create the possibility of a high-stakes American-Soviet confrontation.

The War Powers Resolution

Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress is empowered to declare war and to raise and support armies (Article I, Section 8) whereas the President is their Commander-in-Chief (Article II, Section 2). The framers of the Constitution understood that there would be emergencies when the President would have to take military actions without the consent of Congress, but they did not spell out what these might be, or whether these should be limited in duration. This uncertainty, and the reluctance of the courts to adjudicate, has resulted in a continuous tug-of-war between Congress and the President over his authority to deploy U.S. forces abroad and send them in harm's way. This dispute culminated in the enactment of the War Powers Resolution in November 1973, over President Richard Nixon's veto.

In the absence of a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization for the action taken, the Resolution establishes three basic procedures:

* Consultations. Over the 22 years since the Resolution came into effect, the requirement that the President consult with Congress, "in every possible instance" prior to introducing U.S. forces to hostilities or imminent hostilities abroad, has not been a burden. This is in part because the President is allowed discretion to determine whether prior consultations are possible, and in part because he has often limited consultations to informing Congressional leaders of the action he was about to take.

* Reporting. The Resolution requires reporting to Congress within 48 hours of introducing U.S. forces to hostilities or imminent hostilities [Section 4(a)(1)] and of other deployments of U.S. combat forces abroad [Sections 4(a)(2) and 4(a)(3)]. A report under Section 4(a)(1), but not under the other sections, starts a 60-day clock that will result in mandating withdrawal of the U.S. forces upon expiration of that period, unless Congress has declared war, or specifically authorized the action, prior to that deadline. Out of some 40 reports submitted in 1973-1995, only the 1975 report on the Mayaguez incident specifically cited Section 4(a)(1).

* Termination. As just mentioned, the Resolution provides for mandatory withdrawal of U.S. forces 60 days after submission of the report (90 days, if the President certifies it is necessary), if Congress does not declare war or approve the engagement of the U.S. forces within that deadline. This provision has been criticized as encouraging a foreign power to wait out the deadline, hoping that Congress will fail to act. It is also alleged to be unconstitutional, because the President would be deprived of the opportunity to veto the withdrawal. A similar criticism is made of the provision in the War Powers Resolution which authorizes the Congress to mandate withdrawal of the U.S. forces at any time by Concurrent Resolution, because a Concurrent Resolution does not require the President's approval.

Concerns with the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution have been voiced by every President since 1973, as well as by many members of Congress. In February 1995, the House passed a bill repealing much of the War Powers Resolution while placing strict limitations on U.S. participation in U.N. peacekeeping; a similar bill was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kansas).

Congress is well aware that by controlling appropriations, it can preclude continuation of a military operation over a substantial period. However, Congress has been reluctant to use the power of the purse to stop operations such as the deployment of 20,000 troops to Bosnia in late 1995. The FY 1996 Defense Appropriations Act did contain a provision prohibiting any transfer of funds to finance this deployment unless expressly approved by Congress, but the the provision was not legally binding because it was only a "sense of Congress."

Occasionally, the U.S. government decided that it had no choice but to directly involve U.S. forces in a small war. This occurred in Lebanon in 1958, the Dominican Republic in 1965, Grenada in 1983, Lebanon in 1983-84, Libya in 1986, the Iran-Iraq War in 1987-89, and Panama in 1989. Since fighting alongside even token allied forces tended to reduce outcries at home and abroad over "American imperialism," Washington sought and frequently obtained the assistance of allies in these wars. But if a situation were deemed critical enough to warrant the use of U.S. forces in combat, Washington could and did act unilaterally. As the cases above illustrate, this tendency increased substantially after the Reagan administration's buildup of armed forces, and after the decay of Soviet power became evident.

Marines landing in Vietnam

A number of factors--the end of containment, heightened American isolationism, the realignment of the balance of power between the President and Congress, and the increased American sensitivity to suffering or inflicting casualties--suggest that there will be a great reluctance to engage in small wars in the immediate future. That is especially true in regard to the commitment of U.S. ground forces. One of the arguments in favor of engagement in a small war is the avoidance of fighting a major war by not allowing a problem to grow out of hand. But the U.S. withdrawals from Lebanon in 1984 and from Somalia in 1994--even if aberrations--tend to undermine this argument. Public outcry over U.S. casualties in wars with little popular support led to these withdrawals. And the lack of disastrous consequences following these U.S. retreats prompted questions about the rationale for the commitment of U.S. troops in the first place.

These questions were raised anew by the tortured debate over U.S. policy toward the war among the former Yugoslav republics. The outcome of the U.S. military's involvement in peacekeeping in Bosnia is likely to influence U.S. thinking about engagement in small wars for some time to come.

A second influential consideration is financial cost. Naval and air interventions in small wars have the advantage of being less likely to result in heavy casualties than ground intervention. This is particularly true given the superiority in both size and capabilities that the U.S. Navy and Air Force enjoy over their foreign counterparts. However, ships and aircraft seem increasingly vulnerable to mines, precision-guided munitions, and missiles. The damage suffered by the USS Stark, and the casualties among its crew, during American intervention in the Iran-Iraq war may be a portent. As the size and budgets of U.S. sea and air forces continue to decline and the cost of naval and air weapons rises, their use in small wars may become increasingly problematic. The loss of a single B-2 bomber would cost the Air Force well over $1 billion, when all costs are considered. Furthermore, such an aircraft would literally be irreplaceable. For the Navy to lose a single aircraft carrier would not only mean the loss of billions of dollars and possibly scores of high-performance aircraft; it could put at risk the lives of thousands of embarked personnel. Nearly a decade would pass before a functioning replacement for such a ship could be deployed. Along with the public concern about casualties, the services' concern about losing extremely valuable weapons platforms and their highly trained crews is likely to influence the involvement of the United States in future small wars.


The future of limited military intervention is difficult to predict. On the one hand, there is no longer a fear of Soviet intervention or gain that may lead the U.S. to intervene in the event of turmoil in far-off countries with which the U.S. has no security alliance. On the other hand, such turmoil seems to be more common (though now mostly for ethnic or religious reasons, rather as an ideological battle between the Free World and communism).

As a form of diplomatic leverage, the threat (or promise) to use U.S. ground forces becomes more credible if there is substantial U.S. public support for the operation in question. That support depends upon the perception that U.S. interests are at stake. Another major factor is the number of casualties that may be sustained; it would appear that the U.S. public is becoming less willing to see casualties.

Since state failure and internal turmoil seem likely to become more common in the post-Cold War world, the U.S. military is likely to be tasked more often to perform evacuation and rescue missions. The ability to conduct such missions will be the by-product of maintaining a worldwide sea- and airlift capability necessary to project power.

Because sanctions, embargoes, and exclusion zones will be used more often in the post-Cold War world, the military will be tasked to enforce these measures. More aggressive interdiction can make sanctions more successful. Nevertheless, sanctions work most effectively when they are accompanied by other, forceful military initiatives.

While limited air strikes (or naval bombardments) are unlikely to cause the target country to abandon long-held objectives or to act against vital national interests, they can be effective at inducing a more limited change in policy.

Noncombat support for allies in small wars and especially waging small wars with U.S. forces are likely to be instruments used less often. Small wars during the Cold War were more likely to be ideological confrontations in which the U.S. took one side (at first, usually, the government side, but then late in the Cold War, more often the side of insurgents against communist governments). Post-Cold War, the small wars are more often ethnic conflicts, in which the U.S., if it intervenes, promotes a peaceful settlement; the U.S. is not likely to take the side of one ethnic group against another.

Military intervention will continue to be an instrument of national policy in the international system. With American history as a guide, even a thoroughly isolationist United States would continue to employ its armed forces abroad to defend its national interests. But under what circumstances armed forces will be used remains at present very unclear.

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