Academic journal article Military Review

Expeditionary Land Power: Lessons from the Mexican-American War

Academic journal article Military Review

Expeditionary Land Power: Lessons from the Mexican-American War

Article excerpt

Since drawing down its large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns in the Middle East, the U.S. Army has been increasingly adopting, as described by its thirty-eighth chief of staff, "an expeditionary mindset" to "conduct forced entry in denied areas under extremely austere conditions anywhere in the world." (1) While many are turning to the two world wars and interventions in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq for applicable lessons, the campaigns of the nineteenth century--with the exception of the Civil War--may offer more relevant case studies where relatively small, technologically advanced, and professionally led forces deployed to distant theaters. From the Indian Wars that raged across expanding American frontiers to the global attacks of the Spanish-American War, the republic's oldest military service evolved to negotiate rapid and economized expeditionary warfare in both conventional and guerrilla settings. (2)

In the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848, a series of sparsely resourced but highly effective expeditions exemplified the U.S. Army Operating Concept's imperative for future forces to jointly "present the enemy with multiple dilemmas" by being able to "conduct expeditionary maneuver through rapid deployment and transition to operations," and "overwhelm the enemy physically and psychologically." (3) Beginning with border skirmishes along the Rio Grande and ending with the occupation of half of Mexico from San Diego to Veracruz, the Army, in concert with the Marine Corps, the Navy, and the diplomatic corps, employed unprecedented joint unity of effort, robust "total force" cooperation between professionals and volunteers, and relatively sophisticated foreign governance policies to achieve strategic objectives. Although the casus belli remains controversial, the efficient implementation of joint force effort across the continent established the United States as the dominant nation in North America.

Future U.S. forces will need to achieve mastery of force projection methods reminiscent of successful operations in the contested cities of Los Angeles in 1846 and Mexico City in 1847, while incorporating twenty-first century technologies to project land power effectively. While the modern U.S. military could potentially replicate massive mobilizations similar to the Second World War or the substantial deployment of the Persian Gulf War in the near future, it is more likely to conduct forced entry and security efforts along accelerated political timelines with limited but tactically effective joint and combined arms teams.

Campaigning in Mexico

The Mexican-American War and its relevance to the Army's current interests in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and East Asia can be readily assessed according to modern U.S. military doctrine. The operational phases of shape, deter, seize initiative, dominate, stabilize, and enable civil authority, as outlined in Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Operations, provide a ready conceptual framework to contextualize the nineteenth-century confrontation. (4) While all historical engagements must be assessed as unique events within distinct panoramas, the sequenced invasions and occupations of north, west, and central Mexico by land and sea followed a campaign pattern similar to phased models that regionally aligned forces may potentially apply during forced-entry operations in the twenty-first century.

The first, and enduring, phase of U.S. military operations abroad centers on shaping the security environment. According to joint doctrine, aligned forces conduct continuous missions, tasks, and actions to dissuade or deter adversaries and assure friends while "influencing adversaries' and allies' behavior." (5) These efforts often focus on robust security cooperation by partnered elements to reinforce and enable political objectives. As seen in Europe, the Persian Gulf region, and the Korean Peninsula since the rise of American global leadership, expeditionary operations by combined arms teams remain a primary instrument for influencing foreign affairs in accordance with national interests. …

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