History US military Overt and Covert Global Interventions

July 15, 2012

I. Overt Military Interventions 

A.  Congressional Research Service (CRS). (February 2, 2009). Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2008. Washington, D.C.: CRS Report for Congress.  Annotation: 167 interventions from “1798-1800” (undeclared naval war with France) to 1941-45 (WWII) plus 163 interventions from 1945 (China) to 2008 (Kosovo/Afghanistan).

Total: 330 interventions, (163 + 167), 1798-2001

B.  Blechman, B.M., and Kaplan, S.S. (1978).  Force Without War: U.S. Armed Forces as a Political Instrument, Appendix B. Wash., D.C.: The Brookings Institution.  Annotation: This study covers the period from Jan. 1, 1946, through Dec. 31, 1975 where the U.S. used its armed forces “as a political instrument” on 218 occasions.  Of these 218 occasions, 22 are already included in the CRS report of 330 interventions, leaving 196 additional distinct interventions.  Thus the combined distinct interventions recorded by CRS and Blechman is 330 + 196 = 526.

The Blechman “political” incidents varied widely in the size & composition of US military forces which became involved, ranging from a visit to a foreign port by a single warship to the development of major ground, air & naval units against a backdrop including the mobilization of reserves & the placing on alert of strategic nuclear forces.  They varied in their political context. Sometimes they were tense int’l confrontations; at other times minor disturbances in int’l relations, and at times there was no conflict but the forces were utilized to strengthen ties between the U.S. and other nations in the larger political, hostile context.  Many of these uses of military forces are not listed elsewhere.

C.  Collins, J.M. (1991). America’s Small Wars: Lessons for the Future. Washington: Brassey’s (US), Inc.  Annotation: Figure 4 on page 14 lists sixty (60) “Foremost U.S. LICs (Low Intensity Conflicts) from 1899 to 1990.  Of these 60, thirty-seven (37) are not included in the 330 instances identified in CRS 2008 (thus are additional).  Of these 37 not included in CRS, three (3) however are included in Blechman’s list of 218.  Thus, from these sources one can identify: 330 (CRS) + 196 (Blechman minus overlap with CRS) + 34 (Collins minus overlap with CRS and Blechman) = 560 US overt military interventions between 1798 – 2001.

D.  Makhijani, Arjun. (May 2, 2003). Press Release: Secret First Atomic Weapon Targeting Decision Sixty tears Ago Subverted Purpose of the Bomb Project, New Assessment Reveals. Takoma park, MD: Institute For Energy and Environmental Research (IEER).  Annotation: Makhijani quote: “U.S. goal of preventing world domination by Hitler turned to hope of a U.S. Bomb monopoly to shape world politics.” Wartime bomb project created a moral & military monstrosity.”

E.  Makhijani, Arjun. (2003). “Nuclear Targeting: The First 60 Years.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 59, No. 3, May/June.  This author disputes those arguing that nuclear weapons have produced peace.  The U.S. & the USSR fought proxy wars because they were too afraid to fight one another in Europe. Nuclear weapons did not stop violence but shifted it to the “Third World” where “millions have been killed in proxy wars” whose violence continues.  “Problem of global terrorism, which threatens to go nuclear, is a direct result of some of those wars.”

F.  Gerson, J. and Birchard, B., eds. (1991). The Sun Never Sets… Boston: South End Press, 12.  Annotation: Quote: “By one count, 70 nations hosted U.S. bases and installations immediately following World War II….While U.S.-Soviet conflicts in this period were limited to nuclear threats and proxy wars, the global network of U.S. foreign military bases was employed to support more than 200 U.S. military interventions in the Third World by the United States” (italics in original), 1945-1991. And according to Makhujani (above) millions have been killed in these proxy “Cold Wars.” 

G.  Gerson, J. and Birchard, B., eds. (1991). The Sun never Sets…Boston: South End press, 360-61.  Annotation: Citing Discriminate Deterrence, Report of the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy (Wash., D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988, p. 14), Gerson and Birchard quote the report: “In the past forty years all the wars in which the United States has been involved have occurred in the Third World” (emphasis and italics added), again with millions killed.

H.  Barnaby, F., ed. (1988). The Gaia peace Atlas.  New York: Doubleday, 56-57.  Annotation: Chart lists 60 countries that have been a victim of at least one major war since 1945 with estimated casualty figures (120 wars in which deaths have averaged more than 1,000 per year).  In these major wars at least “twenty million people have died.”   Altogether there have been about 200 proxy, “undeclared” wars in period following WWII through the late 1980s.  The territory of some 80 countries and the armed forces of about 90 states have been involved.

J. The U.S. Guano Island Acts, 1856 (under President Franklin Pierce), authorized expeditions of U.S. citizens that had been undergoing long before 1856, and for another 50 years thereafter, engaged in the guano trade (seeking rich fertilizer from bird droppings found on many Pacific Islands).  This was commercially important and financially lucrative due to the rapid depletion of soil nutrients in the United States from industrialized capitalist agriculture that increasingly robbed fertility without returning it to the local soils.  Under authority of the Guano Acts, the U.S. sent out ships searching for Guano deposits, and between 1856 and 1903 U.S. American entrepreneurs explored 103 locations, of which ninety-four islands, rocks, and keys were claimed/seized.  Of these, sixty-six in the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean were at least temporarily recognized by the U.S. State Department as U.S. American legal properties. However, fewer than two-dozen were ever mined.

Today, nine of these locations remain U.S. Possessions: Baker Island – 1857 – by U.S. and British Companies; Howland Island – 1857 – by U.S. and British Companies; Jarvis Island – 1858 by the U.S., United Kingdom after 1889, U.S. again after 1935; Johnston Atoll – 1858 – U.S. and Kingdom of Hawaii; Kingman Reef – 1922 – U.S. military purposes (Island of Palmyra Copra Co., Ltd., landed on May 10, 1922 and took formal possession of this island, called Kingman Reef, on behalf of the United States); Midway Atoll Islands – 1867 – U.S lays Trans-Pacific cable; Palmyra Atoll – 1859 – American Guano Company, Kingdom of Hawaii, U.S. after 1898; Wake Island – 1899 – U.S. Cable Station; Navassa Island, 1857 – in Caribbean, Peter Duncan of Navassa Phospahte Company/Baltimore Fertilizer Company, disputed with Haiti.

[Jimmy M. Skaggs. (1994). The Great Guano Rush: Entrepreneurs and American Overseas Expansion. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, pp. 200-236; John  Bellamy Foster, “The Ecology of Destruction,” pp. 9-10, Monthly Review, Vol. 58, No. 9, February 2007].

K. Between 1869 and 1897, U.S. sent warships into Latin American ports a nearly unbelievable 5,980 times (average 206 U.S. warship calls to Latin America ports per year, or about one every other day for 29 years) [William Appleman Williams. (1980). Empire As A Way Of Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 122, citing: S.S. Roberts, “An Indicator of Informal Empire: Patterns of U.S. Navy Cruising on Overseas Stations, 1869-1897,” available at the Center for naval Analysis, Alexandria, Virginia].

L. From the mid-nineteenth century into the twentieth century the U.S. military had conquered all lands and original inhabitants to the western edge of its continent, stolen half of Mexico, invaded Korea, annexed Hawaii, conquered the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba.  As it pushed south, by 1930, Washington had sent military gunboats into Latin American ports over six thousand times, in addition to having invaded Cuba and Mexico once again, Guatemala, Honduras, and taken Panama from Columbia, fought protracted wars in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Haiti, all enabling U.S. corporations and financial houses to dominate the economies of most of Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and much of South America [Grandin, Greg. (2006). Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, And The Rise of the New Imperialism. New York: Metropolitan Books, p. 3].

Conclusion: A total of 560 overt U.S. military interventions, 1798- 2008.  At least 170 interventions occurred between 1798 and the end of WWII in 1945 (167 in CRS and 3 in Collins).  Post-WWII to 1990, all US military interventions were in the “Third World,” of which, according to each of Gerson’s and Barnaby’s essays, there have been 200.  But looking at total post-WWII interventions: CRS (163 interventions post-WWII to 2009) and Blechman (196 additional between 1946 and 1975) and Collins (31 additional between 1945 and 1990) = 390 overt US military interventions occurred since the end of WWII to 2008 with at least 20 million killed. TOTAL: 170 + 390 = 560

This does NOT count several thousand military uses of U.S. Naval ships to intimidate various nations in the Pacific, Caribbean, and Latin America.

In addition, the US has conventionally bombed 28 countries since the end of World War II [Blum, William. (2000). Rogue State. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, pp. 92-95].

II. U.S. External Covert Interventions

On 18 June 1948, US Pres. Harry Truman signed National Security Directive 10/2 (NSC-10/2), in which covert operations were specifically, and broadly, defined. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), created less than a year earlier, and directly answerable to the President through the newly established National Security Council (NSC), was given primary responsibility for carrying out the covert actions as the NSC may from ‘time to time direct.’ There was an important stipulation, however, that ‘the US government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.’

This vaguely worded authority has been utilized thousands of times to carry out covert actions, from assassination attempts, government overthrows, & paramilitary operations, to concerted propaganda efforts, interference in free elections, & economic destabilization campaigns, in every corner of the world. The first indication of numbers of operations was revealed in 1976 when the Church Committee Report on CIA activities was published, & its chair, US Sen. Frank Church (D-ID), stated that from 1961 to 1974 he had identified 900 major & 3,000 minor operations [Prados, J. (1996). President’s secret wars: CIA and pentagon covert operations from World War II through the Persian Gulf. Chicago: Elephant paperbacks, Ivan R. Dee, 336].  If the period from 1947, when the CIA was first created, to 1960 witnessed covert actions at the same rate, one can estimate 1,800 major & 6,000 minor covert operations through 1974.  Former CIA officer John Stockwell extrapolated in 1990 that the CIA likely had initiated & overseen about 3,000 major & over 10,000 minor covert operations up to that time [Stockwell, J. (1991). The Praetorian Guard: The U.S. role in the new world order. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 70; 1976 Church Committee: The Central Intelligence Agency: History and Documents; Final Report of the Select Committee To Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate, Book I, Foreign and Military Intelligence.

Increasingly, the Special Operations components of the various military services work very closely, almost as associates, with the CIA. The Pentagon has acknowledged that Special Operations Forces have been deployed on thousands of missions to more than a hundred countries. In addition, the US has either an embassy or interests section in the vast majority of the world’s 200-plus nations. At virtually all of these stations are assigned CIA case officers working under State Department cover.

The US government has historically provided military and/or economic aid to more than 150 countries, and regularly protects the assets and operations of thousands of transnational corporations, and trillions of dollars worth of investments, throughout the globe. This policy has regularly established the need for ‘stable’ economic climates, free of any ‘threatening’ insurgent activities by a nation’s citizens — the majority of whom, more often than not, are aggrieved and suffering.

Identification of the nature and specific locations of the various secret US activities is made more difficult by the institution of ‘plausible deniability.’ However, by perusing various sources, one can identify more than a hundred countries from 1947 to the present where the CIA has chosen, from its vast menu of covert options, to interfere with the sovereignty of indigenous groups and nation-states. Almost without exception, every one of these actions has violated both domestic and international laws (Barnaby, F. (1988). The Gaia peace atlas. New York: Doubleday, 56-7, chart; Blum, W. (1995). Rogue State: A guide to the world’s only superpower. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press; Herman, E.S., and Chomsky, N. (2002 [1988]). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon; Third World Guide. (1986). New York: Grove Press, 1986: 489-96; Center For National Security Studies (CNSS). (1977). 30 years of covert action.  Washington, DC: CNSS. 

“The CIA and the Gulf War” – A Speech by John Stockwell, February 20, 1991, Louden Nelson Community Center, Santa Cruz, CA:

[Extracts] The Church Committee of 1975 investigated CIA action and found that we had run — they could extrapolate the figures at about, 13,000-plus since we’ve had the CIA, since World War II. A lot of these are fairly benign, and some of them fairly trivial, but a lot of them are very violent and some of them lead into wars. A long destabilization-propaganda campaign led into the Korean War and another one into the Vietnam War. Now, scholars including myself reading these things — and we have so many of them in the public record that it’s obviously very difficult to know exactly how many people died in Vietnam or Korea or Nicaragua or in the Congo — but still, working with conservative figures we come up with a minimum figure of six million people killed in the secret wars of the CIA, its destabilizations over these 40 years.

These … are all part of the Cold War in which probably about 20 million people were killed. And that makes it the second or third bloodiest war in all of human history, which is saying a lot. I call it also the Third World War, you could call it the Forty Years War of the twentieth century. I call it the Third World War because when you analyze these things and read through them in the public record, which again is massively documented — and by the way the last third of this book [The Praetorian Guard] is a bibliography of the best 120 books on the subject organized to make it easy to access each one with a mini-review, so you can decide which book will be most interesting and useful to you and what this theme is all about — you find that we do not do these massive bloody things against the Soviet Union. Torture and death squads we do not run in England or Canada or Belgium or Sweden or Switzerland. They’re virtually all of them done against countries of the Third World where the governments of those countries are not strong enough to prohibit us, to prevent us from brutalizing their people. The six million dead are people of the Third World.

I came … writing about the Angola war, with my thesis the title of my first book, In Search of Enemies [(1978). New York: W.W. Norton & Co.].  We were taking this war in Angola to people who did not want to be our enemies. As we did in Vietnam.  As we did in Cuba and other places. The point of the CIA’s activities is they — 10,000, 13,000 operations, 3,000 major gory bloody operations killing six million people — have made the world unstable. The six million people each leave behind an average of perhaps five loved ones who are traumatically conditioned to violence, who will go on continuing violence and keeping the world unstable and violent for the rest of their lives. [End of Stockwell quote]

Conclusion: U.S. has conducted about 3,000 major and as many as 10,000 minor covert operations from 1947 to 1990, killing at least 6 million, with some estimates claiming 20 million, and even 50 million deaths due to small wars within the Cold War since the end of WWII. Countless covert interventions since 1990 have not been carefully tabulated as yet. 

Grand Conclusion:

1560 overt U.S. military interventions, 1798 – 2001[170 interventions occurred between 1798 & the end of WWII in 1945]; 390 overt US military interventions occurred since the end of WWII to 2008 with at least 20 million killed (Stockwell), maybe 50 million (see Keegan in Section III below)]

2.  13,000 covert operations, 1947 – 1990 (post-1990 number unknown)

[3,000 major and 10,000 minor covert operations, killing at least 6 million]


III.  Cold War Deaths

The generally agreed statistics are that some 1,000 soldiers, and 5,000 civilians, die per day, every day, for a total of over two million deaths per year, for a total of 75 million deaths over the past 35 years.  The conservative English military historian John Keegan stated that 50 million people have been killed by war since the peace began in 1945.  Either way these are record numbers.  They make World War One into a sideshow.  They make the Black Death into a small joke. [Saul, John Rauston. (1997). The Unconscious Civilization. New York: Penguin, p. 11].

            Brian’s note: actually the 14th century Black Death (Bubonic or Black Plague) that began in 1334 in China and reached Europe in 1347, Moscow by 1352, had by the end of the century reportedly killed an estimated 75 million people [James Trager. (1992). The People’s Chronology. New York: Henry Holt and Co., pp. 126-1356; Wikipedia].

The 1918 influenza pandemic took a range of 20 million (Gina Kolata. (1999). Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It. NEW YORK: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, to 40 million lives (CDC, Vol. 9, No. 10, Oct. 2003, Research: “1918 Influenza Pandemic Caused by Highly Conserved Viruses with Two Receptor-Binding Variants”), with some sources suggesting as many as 50-100 million (Wikipedia).  There were probably 20 million people killed during the Cold War [Stockwell: 1991 speech, Santa Cruz], or 50 million [Keegan].



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