What Are Non-Wartime Campaigns or Expeditions?


The Constitution confers upon Congress the power to declare war. It also defines the president as the commander in chief of the armed forces. This is an archetypal American system of checks and balances; and like a lot of constitutional law, the discrepancy in control over the military is often debated. At one end of the spectrum, Congress can declare ware against another country. It hasn't happened since 1941. On the other end, the president can deploy the U.S. military to conduct humanitarian missions abroad. In between are many shades of gray.

Humanitarian Efforts

  • The U.S. military has a long history of providing humanitarian aid. In 2006, America.gov reported plans for over 500 humanitarian deployments in almost 100 countries. Humanitarian aid includes providing food, building infrastructure such as wells and building schools. U.S. armed forces also train other governments and organizations. For example, explosive ordinance disposal skills have been taught to many people by the military to help civilian populations disarm mines --- many of which have been left for years. Often, humanitarian aid provided by the military is in response to a natural disaster.

Police Actions

  • Police actions are not formal distinctions. The government recognizes acts of war and they recognize combat without an act of war. The term "police action" is really an analogy. It may convey to the public that the intention of the action is temporary --- that it is to stop a specific act such as an insurrection. Like civil police actions, presumably, once order is restored, the police action ceases. In fact, many police actions do stop shortly after they begin. Others prove the term to be only a euphemism.


  • There is no good term for combat activities in the absence of a declaration of war by Congress. In fact, the president has the authority to commit U.S. troops to combat with or without congressional approval. However, continued combat will quickly use discretionary income in the military budget, forcing the president to return to Congress for additional funding. As seen in Vietnam, a large-scale, long-term war is quite possible with continued funding from Congress, direction by the president and with no declaration of war. These conflicts are sometimes referred to as "conflicts" as with the Korean Conflict and other times referred to as "wars" as with the Vietnam War.

Rules of Engagement

  • Rules of engagement are very important in any non-wartime military expedition. Regardless of the purpose of a military deployment, soldiers are typically armed and have the capacity, including the training, to wage combat. So, soldiers are instructed in their rules of engagement during expeditions of any kind. They are the only people who are authorized, at times, to fire at and kill other people on U.S. soil or foreign soil, with or without direct provocation. Thus, their directives in the use of force must be very clear --- even when carrying out humanitarian missions.


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