Visualizing America's Cruise Missile Diplomacy

President Donald Trump has threatened the use of missiles against targets in Syria. “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’", he tweeted, referring to Russia as an ally of the Syrian regime which stands accused of having once more used chemical weapons against targets in rebel-held areas, this time in Douma, a suburb of the capital Damascus.

Statista's Dtfed Loesche notes that only a year ago, the United States Navy fired 59 "Tomahawk" cruise missiles from two destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean to hit a Syrian military airfield in Homs province. Trump ordered the assault in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib province, five days before.

However, as our infographic shows, that wasn't the first time the U.S. military fired such devices at targets in Syria. According to U.S. Central Command, Islamic State positions were targeted with up to 50 cruise missiles in September 2014, launched from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf at the onset of the continuing aerial bombardment of the Islamist militants.

Infographic: United States Cruise Missile Diplomacy | Statista

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Cruise missiles have been employed by the United States military (mostly the Navy) regularly, ever since their introduction during the Gulf War of 1991. Though they have been used as a tactical weapon in full scale wars, cruise missiles have mostly been used in limited strikes.

In his 1997 thesis, Timothy Sparks calls these strikes a "means of delivering a military punch to achieve political gain" and "an instrument in the execution of U.S. foreign policy". In this sense, the cruise missile has been said to have replaced the gunboat. Hence, the phrase "gunboat diplomacy" has been modified to read "cruise missile diplomacy".

Cruise missiles have often been favored by U.S. civilian and military leadership, as they allow for limited strikes, a show of force or punitive raid, while not placing service personnel in danger of death. The missiles are fired from a safe distance to the target and can travel up to 1,500 miles, depending on make and explosives payload.