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Instances of Use of United States Forces Abroad, 1798-1993

by Ellen C. Collier



1. This list through 1975 is reprinted with few changes from: U.S. Congress. House. Committee on International Relations [now Foreign Affairs]. Subcommittee on International Security and Scientific Affairs. Background Information on the Use of U.S. Armed Forces in Foreign Countries, 1975 Revision. Committee print, 94th Congress, Ist session. Prepared by the Foreign Affairs Division, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975. 84 p.

2. Other lists include: Goldwater, Senator Barry. War Without Declaration. A Chronological List of 199 U.S. Military Hostilities Abroad Without a Declaration of War. 1798-1972. Congressional Record, V. 119, July 20, 1973: S14174-14183; U.S. Department of State. Armed Actions Taken by the United States Without a Declaration of War, 1789-1967. Research Project 806A. Historical Studies Division. Bureau of Public Affairs; Collins, John M. America's Small Wars. New York, Brassey's, 1990; For a discussion of the evolution of lists of military actions and legal authorization for various actions, see Wormuth, Francis D. and Edwin B. Firmage, To Chain the Dog of War; the War Power of Congress in History and Law. Dallas, Southern Methodist University Press, 1986. p. 133-149.

3. This and subsequent mentions of Presidential reports refer to reports the President has submitted to Congress that might be considered pursuant to the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 91-148, November 7, 1973). For a discussion of the War Powers Resolution and various types of reports required under it, see The War Powers Resolution: Eighteen Years of Experience, CRS Report 92- 133 F; or The War Powers Resolution: Presidential Compliance, CRS Issue Brief IB81050, updated regularly.


Ellen C. Collier


Specialist in U.S. Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division Washington DC: Congressional Research Service

Library of Congress -- October 7, 1993

[Understand that those on the receiving end of the lengthy catalogue of interventions that follows no doubt had a different understanding of their nature than does the U. S. Navy. - RR]



(NOTE: The following represents the views of the author and not necessarily the views of the Naval Historical Center.)



This report lists 234 instances in which the United States has used its armed forces abroad in situations of conflict or potential conflict or for other than normal peacetime purposes. It brings up to date a 1989 list that was compiled in part from various older lists and is intended primarily to provide a rough sketch survey of past U.S. military ventures abroad. A detailed description and analysis are not undertaken here.

The instances differ greatly in number of forces, purpose, extent of hostilities, and legal authorization. Five of the instances are declared wars: the War of 1812, the Mexican War of 1846, the Spanish American War of 1898, World War I declared in 1917, and World War II declared in 1941.

Some of the instances were extended military engagements that might be considered undeclared wars. These include the Undeclared Naval War with France from 1798 to 1800; the First Barbary War from 1801 to 1805; the Second Barbary War of 1815; the Korean War of 1950-53; the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1973; and the Persian Gulf War of 1991. In some cases, such as the Persian Gulf War against Iraq, Congress authorized the military action although it did not declare war.

The majority of the instances listed were brief Marine or Navy actions prior to World War II to protect U.S. citizens or promote U.S. interests. A number were actions against pirates or bandits. Some were events, such as the stationing of Marines at an Embassy or legation, which later were considered normal peacetime practice. Covert actions, disaster relief, and routine alliance stationing and training exercises are not included here, nor are the Civil and Revolutionary Wars and the continual use of U.S. military units in the exploration, settlement, and pacification of the West.



The list indicates approximately 234 times that the United States has utilized military forces abroad in situations of conflict or potential conflict to protect U.S. citizens or promote U.S. interests. The list does not include covert actions or numerous instances in which U.S. forces have been stationed abroad since World War II in occupation forces or for participation in mutual security organizations, base agreements, or routine military assistance or training operations. Because of differing judgments over the actions to be included, other lists may include more or fewer instances. (Note 2)

The instances vary greatly in size of operation, legal authorization, and significance. The number of troops involved range from a few sailors or Marines landed to protect American lives and property to hundreds of thousands in Vietnam and millions in World War II. Some actions were of short duration and some lasted a number of years. In some instances a military officer acted without authorization; some actions were conducted solely under the President's powers as Chief Executive or Commander in Chief; other instances were authorized by Congress in some fashion; five were declared wars. For most of the instances listed, however, the status of the action under domestic or international law has not been addressed. Thus inclusion in this list does not connote either legality or significance.