U.S. has used force more than 200 times

Published Jan. 16, 1991|Updated Oct. 12, 2005

Since its independence, the United States has used force on more than 200 occasions to secure its interests. Force has been used to win territory; to win submission to America's might; to redress insults to the American flag and American citizens. And force has been used to stem communism and to ensure upheavals in other nations don't damage American economic interests and property. Sometimes, military action has been taken without the president's approval. But most of the time, Congress hasn't been asked. Congress has exercised its constitutional privilege of authorizing war on only six occasions: The 1812 war against Britain; Mexican War in 1846; Spanish-American War in 1898; World War I; World War II; and recently against Iraq for its occupation of Kuwait.

Here is a list of major U.S. military actions as compiled by the Congressional Research Service.


1798-1800 Undeclared Naval War with France. This contest included land actions, such as that in the Dominican Republic city of Puerto Plata, where Marines captured a French privateer under the guns of the forts.

1801-05 Tripoli. The first Barbary War, when the SS George Washington was ordered to hoist the flag of Algerian pirates and a local ruler ordered Americans to sail to the Turkish sultan in Constantinople with tribute. A few Marines landed and peace was won on America's terms. Tripoli declared war but not the United States.

1806 Mexico (Spanish territory). A platoon of troops invaded Spanish territory at the headwaters of the Rio Grande deliberately and on orders from a general.

1806-10 Gulf of Mexico. American gunboats operated from New Orleans against Spanish and French privateers.

1810-1813 West Florida (Spanish territory). The president ordered Gov. Claiborne of Louisiana to send troops to occupy territory as far east as the Perdido River. No resistance was met. Amelia Island and parts of east Florida also under Spain were occupied too.

1812-15 Great Britain. Formally declared. America declared war because Britain's naval blockade of France severely hurt American shipping and trade. America suffered 6,700 casualties.

1814 Spanish Florida. Gen. Andrew Jackson took Pensacola and drove out the British with whom the United States was at war.

1814-25 Caribbean. Engagements between pirates and American ships or squadrons took place repeatedly, especially ashore and offshore around Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, and Yucatan. Three thousand pirate attacks on merchantmen were reported between 1815 and 1823.

1815 Algiers and Tripoli. The second Barbary War, declared by the opponents but not by the United States. Congress authorized an expedition. A large fleet under Stephen Decatur attacked Algiers and obtained indemnities. He also obtained indemnities from Tunis and Tripoli.

1816-18 Spanish Florida, First Seminole War. The Seminole Indians, whose area was a resort for escaped slaves and border raiders, were attacked by troops under Generals Jackson and Gaines and pursued into northern Florida. Spanish posts were attacked and occupied, British citizens executed. There was no declaration or congressional authorization of these attacks.

1818 Oregon. The USS Ontario, dispatched from Washington, took possession of the Columbia River. Russia and Spain had claims to the area.

1820-23 Africa. Naval units raided the slave traffic, now outlawed by Congress.

1822-1824 Cuba. United States naval forces attacked Cuba several times in pursuit of pirates.

1824 Puerto Rico (Spanish territory). Commodore David Porter with a landing party attacked a town that had sheltered pirates and insulted American naval officers. He forced an apology.

1825 Cuba. American and British forces attacked to capture pirates.

1827 Greece. Landing parties hunted pirates on some islands.

1832 and 1838 Sumatra. To punish natives of a town for their raids on American ships and seamen.

1833 Argentina. A force was sent ashore at Buenos Aires to protect the interests of the United States and other countries during a rebellion.

1835-36 Peru. Marines protected American interests during an attempted revolution.

1836 Mexico. General Gaines occupied Nacogdoches (Texas) during the Texan war for independence.

1840 Fiji Islands. To punish natives for attacking American exploring and surveying parties.

1841 Drummond Island and Samoa. To avenge the murders of two American seaman by natives.

1842 Mexico. Commodore T. A. C. Jones occupied Monterey, Calif., on Oct. 19, believing war had come. He discovered peace, withdrew and saluted. A similar incident occurred a week later at San Diego.

1843 China. Sailors and Marines were landed at the trading post of Canton after a clash between Americans and Chinese.

1843 Africa. Four United States vessels demonstrated and landed several parties of Marines and sailors to discourage piracy and the slave trade along the west coast, and to punish attacks by natives on American ships.

1844 Mexico. President Tyler deployed U.S. forces to protect Texas against Mexico, pending Senate approval of a treaty of annexation.

1846-48 Mexico, the Mexican War. President Polk's occupation of disputed territory precipitated it, and war was formally declared. The United States suffered 17,500 casualties.

1849 Smyrna. A naval force gained release of an American seized by Austrian officials.

1851 Turkey. After a massacre of foreigners (including Americans) at Jaffa in January, a demonstration by the Mediterranean Squadron was ordered along the Turkish coast. No shots were fired, though.

1851 Johanna Island (east of Africa). To exact redress for the unlawful imprisonment of the captain of an American whaling brig.

1852-53 Argentina. Marines were landed and maintained in Buenos Aires to protect American interest during a revolution.

1853 Nicaragua. To protect American lives and interests during political disturbances.

1853-54 Japan. Commodore Perry makes several demonstrations of naval strength and lands Marines to force Japan to open its doors and allow commerce facilities for Americans.

1854, 1855, 1859 China. To protect American interests in and near Shanghai during Chinese civil strife.

1854 Nicaragua. A town was destroyed to avenge an insult to the American Minister to Nicaragua.

1855, 1858, 1868 Uruguay. American and European naval forces landed to protect American interests during an attempted revolution.

1856 China. To protect American interests at Canton during hostilities between the British and the Chinese; and to avenge an unprovoked assault upon a boat displaying the American flag.

1857 Nicaragua. To oppose William Walker, an American adventurer who had seized power and wanted to crown himself king of central America. Troops captured Walker and removed him.

1855, 1858 Fiji islands. To seek reparations for attacks on American ships and to chastise the natives for the murder of two American citizens.

1858-59 Turkey. Display of naval force along the coast at the request of the Secretary of State after massacre of Americans at Jaffa and mistreatment elsewhere "to remind the authorities (of Turkey) .


. of the power of the United States."

1860 Angola, Portuguese West Africa. To protect American lives and property when the natives became troublesome.

1860, 1873 Colombia, Bay of Panama. To protect American interests during revolutions.

1863 Japan. To redress an insult to the American flag _ firing on an American vessel _ at Shimonoseki.

1864 Japan. To protect the United States Minister to Japan when he visited Yedo to negotiate concerning some American claims against Japan, and to make his negotiations easier by impressing the Japanese with American power.

1856, 1865 Panama. To protect the lives and property of American residents during revolutions.

1866 Mexico. To protect American residents, General Sedgwick and 100 men in November obtained the surrender of Matamoras. The president ordered him to withdraw and repudiated his actions.

1867 Nicaragua. Marines occupied Managua and Leon.

1867 Island of Formosa (now Taiwan). To punish natives who were supposed to have murdered the crew of a wrecked American vessel.

1868 Japan. To protect American interests during the civil war in Japan over the abolition of the Shogun-ate and the restoration of the Mikado.

1868 Colombia. To protect passengers and treasure in transit during the absence of local police or troops on the occasion of the death of the Colombian president.

1870 Hawaiian Islands. To place the American flag at half mast upon the death of Queen Kalama, when the American consul at Honolulu would not assume responsibility for so doing.

1871 Korea punish natives for attacks on Americans, particularly for murdering the crew of the General Sherman and burning the schooner, and for later firing on other American small boats taking soundings up the Salee River.

1873 Mexico. U.S. troops crossed the Mexican border repeatedly in pursuit of cattle and other thieves. There were some reciprocal pursuits by Mexican troops into border territory. The cases were only technically invasions, although Mexico protested constantly.

1874 Hawaiian Islands. To preserve order and protect American lives and interests during the coronation of a new king.

1882 Egypt. To protect American interests during warfare between British and Egyptians, and the looting of the city of Alexandria by Arabs.

1885 Panama. To guard the valuables in transit over the Panama Railroad, and the safes and vaults of the company during the revolutionary activity.

1888 Korea. To protect American residents in Seoul during unsettled political conditions.

1888, 1891 Haiti. To persuade the Haitian government to give up an American steamer that had been seized and to protect American lives and property.

1888-89 Samoa. To protect American citizens and the consulate during a civil war.

1889 Hawaiian Islands. To protect American interests in Honolulu during a revolution.

1890 Argentina. A naval party landed to protect U.S. consulate and legation in Buenos Aires.

1891 Bering Strait. To stop seal poaching.

1891 Chile. To protect the American consulate and the women and children who had taken refuge in it during a revolution in Valparaiso.

1893 Hawaii. Ostensibly to protect American lives and prosperity; actually to promote a provisional government under Sanford B. Dole. This action was disavowed by the United States.

1894 Brazil. To protect American commerce and shipping at Rio de Janeiro during a Brazilian civil war. No landing was attempted but there was a display of naval force.

1894, 1896, 1898, 1899 Nicaragua. To protect American interests during political unrest.

1894-95 China and Korea. To protect American lives and interests during the Sino-Japanese war.

1895 Colombia. To protect American interests during an attack on a town by bandits.

1898 Spain. The Spanish-American War. Fully declared. America suffered 4,000 casualties.

1899 Samoa. To protect American interests and to take part in a bloody contention over the succession to the throne.

1899-1901 Philippines. To protect American interests following the war with Spain, and to conquer the islands by defeating the Filipinos in their war for independence.

1900 China. To protect foreign lives during the Boxer Rebellion, particularly at Peking.

1901-1902 Colombia (Panama). To protect American property on the Isthmus and to keep railroad lines open during serious revolutionary disturbances.

1902 Colombia. To protect American lives and property during a civil war.

1903 Dominican Republic and Honduras. To protect American interests during revolutionary activity.

1903 Syria. To protect the American consulate in Beirut when a local Moslem uprising was feared.

1903-04 Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). Twenty-five Marines were sent to protect the U.S. Consul General while he negotiated a treaty.

1903-14 Panama. To protect American interests and lives during and after the revolution for independence from Colombia over construction of the Isthmian Canal.

1904 Tangier, Morocco. Demonstration by a squadron to force release of a kidnapped American Marine guard landed to protect the consul general.

1904-05 Korea. Marine guard sent to Seoul for protection of Americans during Russo-Japanese war.

1906-09 Cuba. Intervention to restore order, protect foreigners and establish a stable government after serious revolutionary activity.

1907 Honduras. To protect American interests during a war between Honduras and Nicaragua.

1911 China. Approaching stages of the nationalist revolution. An ensign and 10 men in October tried to enter Wuchang to rescue missionaries but retired on being warned away. Landing forces were sent for protection in some other cities.

1912 Honduras. Small force landed to prevent seizure by the government of an American-owned railroad at Puerto Cortez. Forces withdrawn after the United States disapproved the action.

1912 Panama. Troops, on request of both political parties, supervised elections outside the Canal Zone.

1912 Cuba. To protect American interests.

1912 Turkey. To guard the American legation at Constantinople during a Balkan War.

1912-25 Nicaragua. To protect American interests during political unrest.

1912-41 China. Troops defended American property and interests during several disorders _ the anti-monarchy rebellions, the invasion of China by Japan and World War II.

1913 Mexico. A few Marines landed to aid in evacuating American citizens and others from the Yaqui Valley, made dangerous for foreigners by civil strife.

1914-34 Haiti. To maintain order during a period of chronic and threatened insurrection.

1914, 1916-24, 1965 Dominican Republic. To maintain order during a period of chronic and threatened insurrection.

1917-18 World War I. Fully declared. America suffered 320,000 casualties.

1917-22 Cuba. To protect American interests during an insurrection and subsequent unsettled conditions.

1918-19 Mexico. U.S. troops entered Mexico several times in pursuit of bandits.

1918-22 Soviet Russia. Marines were landed at Vladivostok to protect the American consulate in the fighting that followed the Russian Revolution. Later, 5,000 American troops joined British forces to occupy territory to support czarist and moderate factions. There were 500 American casualties. No war was declared.

1919 Dalmatia. U.S. forces were landed at the request of Italian authorities to police order between the Italians and Serbs.

1919 Turkey. Marines were landed to guard the U.S. Consulate during the Greek occupation of Constantinople.

1919, 1924, 1925 Honduras. Forces are landed to maintain order and defend American property during political turbulence.

1922 Turkey. A landing force was sent ashore with consent of both Greek and Turkish authorities, to protect American lives and property when the Turkish nationalists entered Smyrna.

1925 Panama. Strikes and rent riots led to the landing of about 600 American troops to keep order and protect American interests.

1926-33 Nicaragua. The overthrow of General Chamorro aroused revolutionary activities leading to the landing of American Marines to protect the interests of the United States. United States forces came and went frequently. Their work included activity against the outlaw leader Sandino in 1928.

1933 Cuba. During a revolution against President Gerardo Machada naval forces demonstrated but no landing was made.

1941 Greenland. Taken under protection of the United States in April.

1941 Netherlands (Dutch Guiana). In November the President ordered American troops to occupy Dutch Guiana but by agreement with the Netherlands government in exile, Brazil cooperated to protect aluminum ore supply from the bauxite mines in Surinam.

1941 Iceland. Taken under the protection of the United States, with consent of its government, for strategic reasons.

1941 Germany. The president ordered the Navy to patrol ship lanes to Europe and later to attack German submarines. There was no authorization of Congress or declaration of war. In November, the Neutrality Act was partly repealed to protect military aid to Britain, Russia, etc.

1941-45 Germany, Italy, Japan, etc. World War II. Fully declared. The United States suffered more than 1-million casualties.

1948 Palestine. A marine consular guard was sent to Jerusalem to protect the U.S. Consular General.

1948-49 China. Marines were dispatched to Nanking to protect the American Embassy when the city fell to Communist troops, and to Shanghai to aid in the protection and evacuation of Americans.

1950-53 Korea. U.S. responded to North Korean invasion of South Korea by going to its assistance, pursuant to United Nations Security Council resolutions. Congressional authorization was not sought.

1956 Egypt. A marine battalion evacuated U.S. nationals and other persons from Alexandria during the Suez crisis, when Israel, Britain and France attacked Egypt.

1962 Cuba. President Kennedy instituted a "quarantine" on the shipment of offensive missiles to Cuba from the Soviet Union and warned that any missile launch would cause American nuclear retaliation.

1962 Thailand. Marines landed to support that country during the threat of Communist pressure from outside.

1962-75 Laos. The United States gave military support to fight communism.

1964, 1967 Congo. The United States sent transport planes to airlift Congolese troops during rebellions and to transport Belgian paratroopers to rescue foreigners.

1964-73 Vietnam. U.S. military advisers had been in South Vietnam for a decade, and their numbers had been increased as military position of Saigon government became weaker. After the attacks on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, President Johnson asked Congress for a resolution expressing U.S. determination to resist communism in southeast Asia. After this resolution, and following a Communist attack on a U.S. installation in Vietnam, the U.S. escalated its participation in the war. By the end of the war, 58,000 Americans were killed and 365,000 were wounded.

1970 Cambodia. U.S. troops were ordered into Cambodia to clean out Communist sanctuaries from which Viet Cong and North Vietnamese attacked U.S. and South Vietnamese forces in Vietnam.

1975 Evacuation from Vietnam and Cambodia. U.S. naval vessels, helicopters, and Marines were sent to assist in evacuation of refugees and U.S. nationals.

1980 Iran. President Carter reported the use of six U.S. transport planes and eight helicopters in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue American hostages being held in Iran.

1981 El Salvador. Additional military advisers were sent to El Salvador to assist in training government forces against guerrilla warfare.

1982-1983 Lebanon. President Reagan dispatched 1,200 Marines to serve in the multinational force to assist in the withdrawal of members of the Palestine Liberation force from Beirut. They left after a terrorist on a suicide mission killed 241 in an attack on the Marine headquarters in Beirut.

1983 Chad. President Reagan deployed troops to help Chad resist Libyan and rebel forces.

1983 Grenada. After a military coup, President Reagan sent Marines and troops to overcome the Grenadian army and Cuban military advisers.

1986 Libya. U.S. forces conducting naval exercises in the Gulf of Sidra were attacked by Libyan missiles. In response, the United States fired missiles and later bombed terrorist facilities and military installations in Libya.

1987-1988 Persian Gulf. U.S. helicopters sank Iranian ships laying mines in the Persian Gulf and "neutralized" Iranian oil platforms. The USS Vincennes fired in "self-defense" and shot down an Iranian aircraft, killing 300 civilians. U.S. military escorts also helped tankers transport Kuwaiti and Iraqi oil.

1989 Panama. United States invaded Panama to capture its ruler, Manuel Noriega, and later brought him to Miami to face trial for drug trafficking.