The U.S. willingness and ability to conduct expeditionary warfare far from American shores were major factors in the success of the containment strategy and the victory in the Cold War.
The U.S. armed forces have been practicing expeditionary warfare from the dawn of the republic. 1 With few exceptions, these operations required concentration of sizeable naval and military forces in the United States and then their deployment overseas. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown observed in 1980, "The United States has been in the rapid deployment and power projection business for a long time. If you doubt that, ask the Marines who five years ago celebrated their 200th anniversary." 2
Expeditionary warfare during the Cold War, however, was different. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor convinced the U.S. security establishment that the country could no longer spend many months cobbling together forces in the United States before deploying them thousands of miles across the oceans in response to attacks on American interests or on America itself. After atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, strategists recognized that an enemy's first shot might be the last for many U.S. cities and millions of citizens. American strategists concluded that to discourage, or if need be defeat, a Soviet nuclear attack on the country, U.S. forces had to operate on the very borders of the Soviet Union and its allies. Ironically, those powerful forces concentrated around the borders never had to engage their main foe, but they did conduct expeditionary warfare against Soviet allies.
With the dawning of the ideological struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, U.S. leaders also recognized that military power concentrated in America would have little impact on the global competition for influence. During the Cold War, U.S. expeditionary forces were routinely positioned far from the continental United States and mounted operations from forward-deployed military concentrations or shore bases in proximity to threatened populations.