The Use & Capabilities of U.S. Military Power

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  • 0:01 Types of Military Force
  • 2:14 Providing for National…
  • 3:46 Protecting Economic Interests
  • 4:20 Political & Idealogical
  • 6:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

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. 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.S.S.R. 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.

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