The Stopping Power of Land: The Geopolitics of American Use of Force in the International Arena Since 1898
21 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 17 Aug 2010
Date Written: 2010
This study explores the rationale of the American use of force in the international arena since the US became a great power in 1898. It uses geopolitical theories to map the American ability to project military power around the world. Instead of asking what the US should do with its military forces, the question posed here is what it can do with them. The paper argues that American use of force is the result of a balance of interests and accessibility, both emerging from geopolitical theory.
The paper argues that American military in its present form has been established based on geopolitical considerations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This military, whose strength is above all naval, can rapidly reach any littoral location in the world, but finds it difficult to access land-locked regions. Although this problem was partly reduced thanks to improvements in technology, the ability to project American power is still limited.
To test the theoretical argument, the paper examines three case studies -- the intervention in Siberia 1918-1920, the American response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the current War in Afghanistan. These cases represent various combinations of interests, accessibility and great power involvement, and emphasize the limitations that geography poses on the ability to realize political incentives by force. The findings support the theoretical argument, especially concerning the centrality of accessibility to American decision-making. American foreign policy goals, therefore, do not exceed the military's ability to realize them.
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