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One of the most powerful foreign policy tools that the United States possesses is military force. In this lesson, you’ll learn about the capabilities of the United State military and how it can be used to advance national interest.

Types of Military Force

Imagine, if you will, that you are the President of the United States, which also makes you the commander-in-chief of its armed forces. You control what is arguably the most powerful military on the planet. There is not a corner of the world that your forces cannot touch. Your military forces even reach into the space above the planet, where satellites give you intelligence that leaders and generals of the past could only dream of.

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You have different types of military forces at your disposal to protect the national interest, which is a country’s strategic, political, security, economic, and ideological goals. Let’s take a look.You have conventional forces at your disposal. Conventional forces include the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. They are typically deployed in the open field against similar forces, just like in World War II.

When finesse is required more than brute force, you have special forces, which are highly trained units that are used to engage in unconventional missions. An example of a special forces operation is the Navy SEAL team operation that captured Osama bin Laden. These forces sometimes coordinate with covert operational teams from the Central Intelligence Agency.You are also a member of an exclusive club with possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are so powerful that they have the ability to destroy entire populations. WMDs include chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Most states consider the use of WMDs as unthinkable and deter others from using them. For example, during the Cold War, the idea of ‘mutual assured destruction’ (MAD) was a strategy employed where both the U.S. and U.


had sufficient stockpiles of nuclear weapons to ensure that both sides would be utterly destroyed if anyone used the nukes, thereby deterring each side from doing so. Of course, certain rogue states may not act rationally, and nuclear proliferation is a grave national security concern. Now that you know about your tools, let’s see how they may be used to protect the national interest.

Providing for National Security

Maintaining the defensive security of the country is a vital national interest of the United States and one of the most important duties of the president. In today’s world, the United States has to concern itself with a variety of threats to its physical security from rival states. The United States must also protect itself from rogue states that ignore the customs and principles of international law, such as North Korea.The country also needs to concern itself with non-traditional threats.

Terrorism is often viewed as more dangerous today to the national security than traditional geopolitical conflicts between two countries. Another growing threat is cyber-attacks from professional hackers employed by rivals seeking to gain sensitive information vital to national security.In response to the perception that the world is a more dangerous place, the U.S., under the George W. Bush Administration, instituted a Preemptive Defense Doctrine. This doctrine basically states that the U.

S. will no longer be merely reactive to acts of aggression but may commence use of force against threats as they emerge. In other words, if you are president and you believe that there is credible evidence of a threat to the security of the country, you may utilize military force before force is used against the U.S. This doctrine formed the basis of the U.S.

action against Iraq in the Second Iraq War, based on the assumption, later proved to be erroneous, that Iraq possessed WMDs.

Protecting Economic Interests

Military force can also be used to protect trade and American economic interests abroad. The projection of U.S. naval power helps ensure relatively safe shipping lanes. Some have even argued that the two Iraq Wars were undertaken to protect access to oil. From a broader perspective, the projection of U.

S. power abroad tends to provide a stabilizing force. Stability encourages trade and commerce, which enhances economic growth and prosperity, both of which are in the national interest.

Political and Ideological

Military force can also be used to advance political objectives.

The most obvious example of use of military force for a political objective is the acquisition of territory. Historical examples of U.S. force used to acquire ground include the Mexican War and use of military force against Native Americans during the westward expansion to the Pacific coast. Use of military force has more recently been used for less controversial and perhaps nobler purposes, including:

  • Participation in peacekeeping activities, such as in Somalia and Bosnia
  • Enforcing international law, such as liberating Kuwait from the unlawful invasion from Iraq in the Persian Gulf War
  • Participating in humanitarian efforts in response to war-torn areas or national disasters, such as aid in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti
  • Protecting human rights, such as to stop the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in the 1990s
  • Providing military support and advice to regimes friendly to U.S.

    interests, such as Israel and South Korea and the Iraqi government that replaced Saddam Hussein’s regime

Military force can be used to advance ideological interest. The Cold War, in fact, is the perfect example of an ideological war. The United States would support regimes that supported its ideology while the U.S.

S.R. would support regimes that supported its ideology. The superpowers would not engage in direct conflict but rather use client states – a country that is dependent upon another, more powerful country – to do so. The perfect example of such a proxy war was the Vietnam War.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review what we’ve learned. One of the most powerful policy tools that the United States has to secure its national interests is its military. The United States can effectively deploy conventional forces, special forces, and WMDs to protect its national interests. Military force has been used by the United States to provide for the national security, including the use of the Preemptive Defense Doctrine, to protect its economic interests and pursue its political and ideological objectives.

Learning Outcomes

When this lesson is over, you should be able to:

  • Determine the military forces of the United States
  • Describe the modern purposes of the U.S.


  • Recall the various military doctrines applied by the U.S. such as the Preemptive Defense Doctrine

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