Since its creation, the United States has made eleven formal declarations of war, yet from 1798 to the present day, this country has used its armed forces abroad hundreds of times.
The Congressional Research Service has compiled a list of America’s use of military force abroad. The report is in a PDF which for the convenience of readers I have converted into five sections: 1798-1899, 1900-1985, 1986-1998, 1999-2004, and 2005-2012.
When viewed in its totality, this record makes clear that military force has in varying degrees always been the prism through which the U.S. government views the world. And keep in mind: this is just a list of the use of armed forces — it does not include the use of the CIA to topple governments, the support of proxy wars, the arming of insurgencies or the supply of the global weapons market which fuels conflict around the world.
- 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. Congress authorized military action through a series of statutes.
- 1801-05 Tripoli.
The First Barbary War included the U.S.S. George Washington and Philadelphia affairs and the Eaton expedition, during which a few marines landed with United States Agent William Eaton to raise a force against Tripoli in an effort to free the crew of the Philadelphia. Tripoli declared war but not the United States, although Congress authorized U.S. military action by statute.
- 1806 Mexico (Spanish territory).
Capt. Z. M. Pike, with a platoon of troops, invaded Spanish territory at the headwaters of the Rio Grande on orders from Gen. James Wilkinson. He was made prisoner without resistance at a fort he constructed in present day Colorado, taken to Mexico, and later released after seizure of his papers.
- 1806-10 Gulf of Mexico.
American gunboats operated from New Orleans against Spanish and French privateers off the Mississippi Delta, chiefly under Capt. John Shaw and Master Commandant David Porter.
- 1810 West Florida (Spanish territory).
Gov. Claiborne of Louisiana, on orders of the President, occupied with troops territory in dispute east of the Mississippi River as far as the Pearl River, later the eastern boundary of Louisiana. He was authorized to seize as far east as the Perdido River.
- 1812 Amelia Island and other parts of east Florida, then under Spain.
Temporary possession was authorized by President Madison and by Congress, to prevent occupation by any other power; but possession was obtained by Gen. George Matthews in so irregular a manner that his measures were disavowed by the President.
- 1812-15 War of 1812.
On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war between the United States and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Among the issues leading to the war were British interception of neutral ships and blockades of the United States during British hostilities with France.
- 1813 West Florida (Spanish territory).
On authority given by Congress, General Wilkinson seized Mobile Bay in April with 600 soldiers. A small Spanish garrison gave way. The U.S. advanced into disputed territory to the Perdido River, as projected in 1810. No fighting.
- 1813-14 Marquesas Islands.
U.S. forces built a fort on the island of Nukahiva to protect three prize ships which had been captured from the British.
- 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 about Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, and Yucatan. Three thousand pirate attacks on merchantmen were reported between 1815 and 1823. In 1822 Commodore James Biddle employed a squadron of two frigates, four sloops of war, two brigs, four schooners, and two gunboats in the West Indies.
- 1815 Algiers.
The second Barbary War was declared against the United States by the Dey of Algiers of the Barbary states, an act not reciprocated by the United States. Congress did authorize a military expedition by statutes. A large fleet under Decatur attacked Algiers and obtained indemnities.
- 1815 Tripoli.
After securing an agreement from Algiers, Decatur demonstrated with his squadron at Tunis and Tripoli, where he secured indemnities for offenses during the War of 1812.
- 1816 Spanish Florida.
United States forces destroyed Nicholls Fort, called also Negro Fort, which harbored raiders making forays into United States territory.
- 1816-18 Spanish Florida – First Seminole War.
The Seminole Indians, whose area was a haven for escaped slaves and border ruffians, were attacked by troops under Generals Jackson and Gaines and pursued into northern Florida. Spanish posts were attacked and occupied, British citizens executed. In 1819 the Floridas were ceded to the United States.
- 1817 Amelia Island (Spanish territory off Florida).
Under orders of President Monroe, United States forces landed and expelled a group of smugglers, adventurers, and freebooters.
- 1818 Oregon.
The U.S.S. Ontario, dispatched from Washington, landed at the Columbia River and in August took possession of Oregon territory. Britain had conceded sovereignty but Russia and Spain asserted claims to the area.
- 1820-23 Africa.
Naval units raided the slave traffic pursuant to the 1819 act of Congress.
- 1822 Cuba.
United States naval forces suppressing piracy landed on the northwest coast of Cuba and burned a pirate station.
- 1823 Cuba.
Brief landings in pursuit of pirates occurred April 8 near Escondido; April 16 near Cayo Blanco; July 11 at Siquapa Bay; July 21 at Cape Cruz; and October 23 at Camrioca.
- 1824 Cuba.
In October the U.S.S. Porpoise landed bluejackets near Matanzas in pursuit of pirates. This was during the cruise authorized in 1822.
- 1824 Puerto Rico (Spanish territory).
Commodore David Porter with a landing party attacked the town of Fajardo which had sheltered pirates and insulted American naval officers. He landed with 200 men in November and forced an apology. Commodore Porter was later court-martialed for overstepping his powers.
- 1825 Cuba.
In March cooperating American and British forces landed at Sagua La Grande to capture pirates.
- 1827 Greece.
In October and November landing parties hunted pirates on the islands of Argenteire, Miconi, and Androse.
- 1831-32 Falkland Islands.
Captain Duncan of the U.S.S. Lexington investigated the capture of three American sealing vessels and sought to protect American interests. 1832 Sumatra. February 6 to 9. A naval force landed and stormed a fort to punish natives of the town of Quallah Battoo for plundering the American ship Friendship.
- 1833 Argentina.
October 31 to November 15. A force was sent ashore at Buenos Aires to protect the interests of the United States and other countries during an insurrection. 1835-36 Peru. December 10, 1835, to January 24, 1836, and August 31 to December 7, 1836. Marines protected American interests in Callao and Lima during an attempted revolution.
- 1836 Mexico.
General Gaines occupied Nacogdoches (Tex.), disputed territory, from July to December during the Texan war for independence, under orders to cross the “imaginary boundary line” if an Indian outbreak threatened.
- 1838-39 Sumatra.
December 24, 1838, to January 4, 1839. A naval force landed to punish natives of the towns of Quallah Battoo and Muckie (Mukki) for depredations on American shipping.
- 1840 Fiji Islands.
July. Naval forces landed to punish natives for attacking American exploring and surveying parties.
- 1841 Drummond Island, Kingsmill Group.
A naval party landed to avenge the murder of a seaman by the natives.
- 1841 Samoa. February 24.
A naval party landed and burned towns after the murder of an American seaman on Upolu Island.
- 1842 Mexico.
Commodore T.A.C. Jones, in command of a squadron long cruising off California, occupied Monterey, Calif., on October 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 from the St. Louis were landed after a clash between Americans and Chinese at the trading post in Canton.
- 1843 Africa.
November 29 to December 16. Four United States vessels demonstrated and landed various parties (one of 200 marines and sailors) to discourage piracy and the slave trade along the Ivory coast, and to punish attacks by the natives on American seamen and shipping.
- 1844 Mexico.
President Tyler deployed U.S. forces to protect Texas against Mexico, pending Senate approval of a treaty of annexation. (Later rejected.) He defended his action against a Senate resolution of inquiry.
- 1846-48 Mexican War.
On May 13, 1846, the United States recognized the existence of a state of war with Mexico. After the annexation of Texas in 1845, the United States and Mexico failed to resolve a boundary dispute and President Polk said that it was necessary to deploy forces in Mexico to meet a threatened invasion.
- 1849 Smyrna.
In July 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 (Levant) coast.
- 1851 Johanns Island (east of Africa).
August. Forces from the U.S. sloop of war Dale exacted redress for the unlawful imprisonment of the captain of an American whaling brig.
- 1852-53 Argentina.
February 3 to 12, 1852; September 17, 1852 to April 1853. Marines were landed and maintained in Buenos Aires to protect American interests during a revolution.
- 1853 Nicaragua.
March 11 to 13. U.S. forces landed to protect American lives and interests during political disturbances.
- 1853-54 Japan.
Commodore Perry and his naval expedition made a display of force leading to the “opening of Japan.”
- 1853-54 Ryukyu and Bonin Islands.
Commodore Perry on three visits before going to Japan and while waiting for a reply from Japan made a naval demonstration, landing marines twice, and secured a coaling concession from the ruler of Naha on Okinawa; he also demonstrated in the Bonin Islands with the purpose of securing facilities for commerce.
- 1854 China.
April 4 to June 15 to 17. American and English ships landed forces to protect American interests in and near Shanghai during Chinese civil strife.
- 1854 Nicaragua.
July 9 to 15. Naval forces bombarded and burned San Juan del Norte (Greytown) to avenge an insult to the American Minister to Nicaragua.
- 1855 China.
May 19 to 21. U.S. forces protected American interests in Shanghai and, from August 3 to 5 fought pirates near Hong Kong.
- 1855 Fiji Islands.
September 12 to November 4. An American naval force landed to seek reparations for depredations on American residents and seamen.
- 1855 Uruguay.
November 25 to 29. United States and European naval forces landed to protect American interests during an attempted revolution in Montevideo.
- 1856 Panama, Republic of New Grenada.
September 19 to 22. U.S. forces landed to protect American interests during an insurrection.
- 1856 China.
October 22 to December 6. U.S. forces landed to protect American interests at Canton during hostilities between the British and the Chinese, and to avenge an assault upon an unarmed boat displaying the United States flag.
- 1857 Nicaragua.
April to May, November to December. In May Commander C.H. Davis of the United States Navy, with some marines, received the surrender of William Walker, who had been attempting to get control of the country, and protected his men from the retaliation of native allies who had been fighting Walker. In November and December of the same year United States vessels Saratoga, Wabash, and Fulton opposed another attempt of William Walker on Nicaragua. Commodore Hiram Paulding’s act of landing marines and compelling the removal of Walker to the United States, was tacitly disavowed by Secretary of State Lewis Cass, and Paulding was forced into retirement.
- 1858 Uruguay.
January 2 to 27. Forces from two United States warships landed to protect American property during a revolution in Montevideo.
- 1858 Fiji Islands.
October 6 to 16. A marine expedition chastised natives for the murder of two American citizens at Waya.
- 1858-59 Turkey.
The Secretary of State requested a display of naval force along the Levant after a massacre of Americans at Jaffa and mistreatment elsewhere “to remind the authorities (of Turkey) of the power of the United States.”
- 1859 Paraguay.
Congress authorized a naval squadron to seek redress for an attack on a naval vessel in the Parana River during 1855. Apologies were made after a large display of force.
- 1859 Mexico.
Two hundred United States soldiers crossed the Rio Grande in pursuit of the Mexican bandit Cortina.
- 1859 China.
July 31 to August 2. A naval force landed to protect American interests in Shanghai.
- 1860 Angola, Portuguese West Africa.
March 1. American residents at Kissembo called upon American and British ships to protect lives and property during problems with natives.
- 1860 Colombia (Bay of Panama).
September 27 to October 8. Naval forces landed to protect American interests during a revolution.
- 1863 Japan.
July 16. The U.S.S. Wyoming retaliated against a firing on the American vessel Pembroke at Shimonoseki.
- 1864 Japan.
July 14 to August 3. Naval forces protected 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.
- 1864 Japan.
September 4 to 14. Naval forces of the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands compelled Japan and the Prince of Nagato in particular to permit the Straits of Shimonoseki to be used by foreign shipping in accordance with treaties already signed.
- 1865 Panama.
March 9 and 10. U.S. forces protected the lives and property of American residents during a revolution.
- 1866 China.
From June 20 to July 7, U.S. forces punished an assault on the American consul at Newchwang.
- 1866 Mexico.
To protect American residents, General Sedgwick and 100 men in November obtained surrender of Matamoras. After three days he was ordered by U.S. Government to withdraw. His act was repudiated by the President.
- 1867 Nicaragua.
Marines occupied Managua and Leon.
- 1867 Formosa.
June 13. A naval force landed and burned a number of huts to punish the murder of the crew of a wrecked American vessel.
- 1868 Japan (Osaka, Hiolo, Nagasaki, Yokohama, and Negata).
February 4 to 8, April 4 to May 12, June 12 and 13. U.S. forces were landed to protect American interests during the civil war in Japan.
- 1868 Uruguay.
February 7 and 8, 19 to 26. U.S. forces protected foreign residents and the customhouse during an insurrection at Montevideo.
- 1868 Colombia.
April. U.S. forces protected passengers and treasure in transit at Aspinwall during the absence of local police or troops on the occasion of the death of the President of Colombia.
- 1870 Mexico.
June 17 and 18. U.S. forces destroyed the pirate ship Forward, which had been run aground about 40 miles up the Rio Tecapan.
- 1870 Hawaiian Islands.
September 21. U.S. forces placed 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.
June 10 to 12. A U.S. naval force attacked and captured five forts to punish natives for depredations 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 Colombia (Bay of Panama).
May 7 to 22, September 23 to October 9. U.S. forces protected American interests during hostilities between local groups over control of the government of the State of Panama.
- 1873-96 Mexico.
United States troops crossed the Mexican border repeatedly in pursuit of cattle thieves and other brigands. There were some reciprocal pursuits by Mexican troops into border territory. Mexico protested frequently. Notable cases were at Remolina in May 1873 and at Las Cuevas in 1875. Washington orders often supported these excursions. Agreements between Mexico and the United States, the first in 1882, finally legitimized such raids. They continued intermittently, with minor disputes, until 1896.
- 1874 Hawaiian Islands.
February 12 to 20. Detachments from American vessels were landed to preserve order and protect American lives and interests during the coronation of a new king.
- 1876 Mexico.
May 18. An American force was landed to police the town of Matamoras temporarily while it was without other government.
- 1882 Egypt.
July 14 to 18. American forces landed to protect American interests during warfare between British and Egyptians and looting of the city of Alexandria by Arabs.
- 1885 Panama (Colon).
January 18 and 19. U.S. forces were used to guard the valuables in transit over the Panama Railroad, and the safes and vaults of the company during revolutionary activity. In March, April, and May in the cities of Colon and Panama, the forces helped reestablish freedom of transit during revolutionary activity.
- 1888 Korea.
June. A naval force was sent ashore to protect American residents in Seoul during unsettled political conditions, when an outbreak of the populace was expected.
- 1888 Haiti.
December 20. A display of force persuaded the Haitian Government to give up an American steamer which had been seized on the charge of breach of blockade.
- 1888-89 Samoa.
November 14, 1888, to March 20, 1889. U.S. forces were landed to protect American citizens and the consulate during a native civil war.
- 1889 Hawaiian Islands.
July 30 and 31. U.S. forces protected American interests at Honolulu during a revolution.
- 1890 Argentina.
A naval party landed to protect U.S. consulate and legation in Buenos Aires.
- 1891 Haiti.
U.S. forces sought to protect American lives and property on Navassa Island.
- 1891 Bering Strait.
July 2 to October 5. Naval forces sought to stop seal poaching.
- 1891 Chile.
August 28 to 30. U.S. forces protected the American consulate and the women and children who had taken refuge in it during a revolution in Valparaiso.
- 1893 Hawaii.
January 16 to April 1. Marines were landed ostensibly to protect American lives and property, but many believed actually to promote a provisional government under Sanford B. Dole. This action was disavowed by the United States.
- 1894 Brazil.
January. A display of naval force sought to protect American commerce and shipping at Rio de Janeiro during a Brazilian civil war.
- 1894 Nicaragua.
July 6 to August 7. U.S. forces sought to protect American interests at Bluefields following a revolution.
- 1894-95 China.
Marines were stationed at Tientsin and penetrated to Peking for protection purposes during the Sino-Japanese War.
- 1894-95 China.
A naval vessel was beached and used as a fort at Newchwang for protection of American nationals.
- 1894-96 Korea.
July 24, 1894 to April 3, 1896. A guard of marines was sent to protect the American legation and American lives and interests at Seoul during and following the Sino-Japanese War.
- 1895 Colombia.
March 8 to 9. U.S. forces protected American interests during an attack on the town of Bocas del Toro by a bandit chieftain.
- 1896 Nicaragua.
May 2 to 4. U.S. forces protected American interests in Corinto during political unrest.
- 1898 Nicaragua.
February 7 and 8. U.S. forces protected American lives and property at San Juan del Sur.
- 1898 The Spanish-American War.
On April 25, 1898, the United States declared war with Spain. The war followed a Cuban insurrection against Spanish rule and the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in the harbor at Havana.
- 1898-99 China.
November 5, 1898 to March 15, 1899. U.S. forces provided a guard for the legation at Peking and the consulate at Tientsin during contest between the Dowager Empress and her son.
- 1899 Nicaragua.
American and British naval forces were landed to protect national interests at San Juan del Norte, February 22 to March 5, and at Bluefields a few weeks later in connection with the insurrection of Gen. Juan P. Reyes.
- 1899 Samoa.
February-May 15. American and British naval forces were landed to protect national interests and to take part in a bloody contention over the succession to the throne.
- 1899-1901 Philippine Islands.
U.S. forces protected American interests following the war with Spain and conquered the islands by defeating the Filipinos in their war for independence.