John Lewis Gaddis in Surprise, Security, and the American Experience argues major attacks like the capture of Washington DC in 1814, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 revealed fundamental weaknesses in the contemporary defensive strategy. The American solution was not strict retaliation against the offending state, but a massive and comprehensive expansion of the US’s sphere of security.
This is even more radical than it sounds. Expansion of spheres of security resulted in a vast number of wars. The United States was never an isolationist nation.
Between 1783-1993 the US engaged in 234 military interventions over 216 years in foreign nations ranging from humanitarian missions to ‘small wars’ to major interstate wars. In addition, there were 23 major Indian Wars. The United States engaged in an average 1.19 foreign interventions per year throughout history. The duration of these wars varies, so many wars and engagements overlapped.
This was not a statistic anomaly resulting from increased activity following World War II. From the signing of the Constitution to the Spanish-American War, the US engaged in 1.1 military interventions or wars per year. This excludes Pre-Constitutional Colonial era wars, the Civil War, and near countless small conflicts with American Indian tribes. So this is a conservatively low estimate. The US engaged in over 100 Small Wars involving asymmetrical or guerrilla combat. It typically favored the creation of client states outside of North America.
A few approximate stages:
- 1600-1783 – Colonial Expansion as part of the British Empire.
- 1783-1823 – End of Containment by Spain, France and Britain.
Secured Overseas trade routes. Monroe Doctrine expands US defensive sphere to entire Western Hemisphere.
- 1840-1890. Colonization of the West
Competition with British and Mexican Empires for mastery of North America. Colonization of Sparsely settled West and small wars against indigenous populations.
- 1850-1940. Pacific and Caribbean Expansion.
Expansion of overseas trade and Defensive Sphere over Pacific Ocean and Caribbean. Panama canal and protection of Canal Zone in numerous jungle wars.
- 1941-1999 – Eurasian expansion
Expanded Defensive Sphere to include Europe and Japan because of the Long War and challenges to Democracy.
- 2000-Present – Middle East Expansion
The United States Military has extensive training and experience in waging small wars. Soldiers routinely describe small wars as “Indian Wars” reflecting a cultural tradition that has survived for centuries.
In my opinion, the US is actually less capable waging traditional interstate war. It lacks the prerequisite organization to handle very large armies and immediately confront other large nation-state militaries. The US military tends to be small and elite trained to defeat small war threats. Throughout history, the US Armed Forces consisted of 0.5% to 1% of the population. This only changed during major wars – the Civil War and the World Wars.
The United States has the ability to manage a large number of Client States worldwide and its military is a relatively elite counterinsurgency force.