William & Mary

Faculty on topic: the historical cost and consequences of using force

  • Clayton J. Cleveland
    Clayton J. Cleveland  is a lecturer of government at William & Mary. Cleveland recently sat down with W&M News to discuss the history and consequences of the United States' multilateral and unilateral participation in global conflicts.  Photo by Justin K. Thomas
  •  U.N. Security Council
    U.N. Security Council  members are seen here in 2015 as they unanimously vote to endorse a deal to limit Iran's nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. According to Clayton J. Cleveland, a lecturer of government at W&M, the security council is the standard by which the use of military force is measured and authorized between conflicting nations.  Photo by Mike Segar
  • Getting The Facts
    Getting The Facts  A leader of an infantry platoon assigned to the U.S. Army's 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division (left) tries to listen to multiple questions from citizens after his unit conducted a presence patrol in the Babil region of Iraq. According to Clayton J. Cleveland, a lecturer of government at William & Mary, since participating in the Iraq War without the U.N. Security Council's authorization, the United States has gained a tarnished international reputation.  Photo by Justin K. Thomas
  • Protective Posture
    Protective Posture  Soldiers of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division provide a protective posture over Iraqi citizens after they incurred small-arms fire from suspected insurgents. According to Clayton J. Cleveland, a lecturer of government at William & Mary, since participating in the Iraq War without the U.N. Security Council's authorization, the United States has gained a tarnished international reputation.  Photo by Justin K. Thomas
  • Expressing Concerns
    Expressing Concerns  A village elder (standing) voices his concerns to an officer of the U.S. Army's 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division assigned to the Babil region of Iraq. According to Clayton J. Cleveland, a lecturer of government at William & Mary, since participating in the Iraq War without the U.N. Security Council's consent, the United States has gained a tarnished international reputation.  Photo by Justin K. Thomas
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According to Clayton J. Cleveland, governments of countries around the world are more likely to work together in joint military operations because the monetary costs of unilateral action are becoming too high and are being viewed as politically inappropriate.

W&M News recently sat down with Cleveland, a lecturer of government at William & Mary who specializes in how foreign countries facilitate the use of force as a means to help nations achieve their goals, to discuss how that idea has played out on the international stage over the past 30 years.

{{youtube:medium|PCcyJ4UkkKY, Clayton J. Cleveland, a lecturer of government at William & Mary discusses the use of unilateral versus multilateral military force.}}

“Since 1990, states have been more likely to pursue the use of military force within multilateral organizations,” he said. “The [overall] costs associated with using the military for stronger and wealthier states has risen while, at the same time, access to armaments has also grown making it cheaper for weaker and poorer actors to get the necessary materials to wage war.”

In his research, Cleveland has also found that it does not necessarily mean that nations are not willing to use military force outside of multilateral forums, but they know the price can be steep.

“A notable example [of this cost] was the outcome of the Iraq War,” Cleveland said. “In 2003, the U.S. made substantial attempts to gain international authorization from the United Nations Security Council to engage the Iraqi military, and it paid a significant price for failing to acquire the council’s approval.”

That penalty, Cleveland stated, is the lingering effect on the United States’ global reputation because his research indicates that working through international institutions such as the U.N. is the standard by which the use of force against other world powers is measured.

“There is an expectation that states will seek and act if they have received authorization from the U.N. Security Council when they project military force,” he said. “If states fail to live up to this standard they must pay the costs including political ramifications. Failure to secure international consent for the Iraq War meant that the U.S.’ plans were subject to more international scrutiny. The result was a tarnished reputation.”

{{youtube:medium|K7nmaGTVZfg, Clayton J. Cleveland, a lecturer of government at William & Mary discusses the political intricacies of the U.N. Security Council.}}

Even though America’s standing following the Iraq War may have been lowered in the eyes of some people around the globe, the U.S. continues to invest more capital in defense than any other nation, therefore it has effectively discouraged direct military confrontations, Cleveland said.

“The U.S. is successfully deterring other powerful countries from attacking,” he said. “This means that right now the options available to other actors in international politics are very constrained. It does not make sense for them to even consider a war because of the enormous [personnel, equipment and financial] losses that would be inflicted should the United States have to defend itself.”

{{youtube:medium|VMCAmn91dTk, Clayton J. Cleveland, a lecturer of government at William & Mary discusses the ability of the United States to defend itself through strategic and conventional deterrence}}

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute states that, as of April 2016, the U.S. had a $596 billion defense budget, which was more than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France and Japan combined. In late February 2017, the White House proposed an increase of $54 billion to its current defense spending, according to an article in the New York Times.

Cleveland also stated that America’s ability to keep larger threats contained has helped immensely in aiding in its relations with other nations. However, possible adversaries are adapting their defense policies to include more surreptitious methods of gaining a political and military edge over the United States.

“Since this is an obvious consequence of American capabilities, foreign leaders use other means to achieve their goals,” he said. “The success of the U.S. military’s capabilities has made states alter their strategies to adapt to using ‘hybrid-warfare’ and other forms of deception.”

{{youtube:medium|x9-yo5mMV_k, Clayton J. Cleveland, a lecturer of government at William & Mary discusses "hybrid warfare."}}

In addition to facing new tactics from potential enemies, a concurrent problem the U.S. government faces comes from the voluntary process it uses to recruit military personnel which will, in turn, affect how the nation’s armed forces sustain combat operations, said Cleveland.

Although the all-volunteer force has its advantages, such as it is not compulsory for American citizens to join, there can be sociological limitations to that model, Cleveland said. If the general public does not have to bear the full costs of fighting a war by actually participating in it, they may be more likely to support American involvement in future conflicts.

“One benefit of living in a democracy [like the United States] is that people who voluntarily bear the costs of the state’s actions of today also get to contribute to political decisions,” said Cleveland. “This is unlike the Vietnam War era where a mandatory draft was used to populate the military. So the cost of war may be acuter to the ‘average’ American citizen when there is a draft. Today, military recruitment focuses on those from lower socioeconomic statuses. Since those who die in combat volunteer to serve their country, the poor suffer more when the U.S. goes to war while the average American does not have to contribute or change their own status.”

Currently, Cleveland is working on several projects including a book manuscript titled Storming the Security Council: The Revolution in International Authorization, Normative Change, and the Projection of Military Force and an article titled “Exit, Voice, and AIIB: Shifting Powers and Reaction Mechanisms of Institutional Change.” The paper will discuss the rise of China and the creation of international institutions in an era of power transition.