Affording the executive a speedy response with in-place forces, therefore, not only undermines the rule of law but also can intensify war proneness. Keeping U. First, such forces are more vulnerable to attack than forces stationed at home. Even though the preponderance of U. If conflict breaks out over Taiwan or maritime-territorial disputes in the East China Sea or the South China Sea, the United States would be obligated to intervene against China to fulfill its security guarantee to Taiwan, Japan, or the Philippines, which would then trigger Chinese actions against U.
For facilities based in certain countries, particularly in the Middle East, the risk of terrorist attacks on military bases has increased in recent years. Overseas bases can inspire blowback in the form of terrorism. The presence of U. In addition to terrorism, the development of extremely accurate intermediate- and long-range ballistic missiles and modern satellite-based sensors, among other innovations, makes overseas bases susceptible to asymmetric attacks that are very difficult to defend against.
China, in particular, has invested heavily in these capabilities, meaning that a large percentage of U. Naval War College. Still, Chinese strategic planners have discussed striking U. Another major strategic problem with a forward-deployed military posture is that it can sometimes have the opposite of its intended effect. Stationing military bases near an adversary can cause fear that generates counteraction instead of scaring an adversary into submission. It was partly in response to that decision that the Soviet Union decided to place its own missiles in Cuba, precipitating a dangerous crisis between the nuclear powers in October of that year.
Today, the U. And on those recent occasions in which Russia has acted out militarily, as it did against Georgia in on the side of separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and in Ukraine in , advocates of a forward posture blame the incursions on a lack of deterrence or diminished American credibility. Bases can also motivate nearby adversaries to pursue nuclear weapons. In addition, while bases in Japan and South Korea have arguably helped dissuade these countries from developing nuclear weapons, the U.
Proximate U. Entanglement is another risk exacerbated by the attempt to reassure allies with overseas bases. Much academic literature has questioned the need to take military action solely for the sake of credibility. Allies can entrap a security patron into war with their rivals by pursuing high-risk strategies. In , the Philippines engaged in an intense and potentially dangerous two-month naval standoff with China, a much more capable military power, over the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. That kind of moral hazard is a liability that could pull the United States into conflicts unconnected to its direct security and economic interests.
Fundamentally, moral hazard is a function of the commitment, but it is exacerbated by the physical presence of bases and troops. In the past, the United States stumbled into conflicts because of the entangling influence of credibility, commitments, and the capabilities presented by a forward military presence. Examples include such major wars as Korea and Vietnam.
In the case of Korea, the United States established what was supposed to be a temporary military presence there following the Japanese surrender in August John R. Hodge recommended full withdrawal. Secretary of War Robert Patterson argued the same in April In , the National Security Council proposed withdrawing all American troops by the end of the year. That entanglement indeed happened in when the North invaded the South.
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Similarly, in Vietnam, despite years of a slow trickle of troop deployments, President Lyndon Johnson was able to get congressional authorization for a massive escalation in military involvement only after a U. The notion that American troops deployed to the area were in danger helped entangle the United States in what became one of the most costly quagmires in American history.
The presence of forces abroad can also tempt policymakers to get involved in elective wars that we could more easily forgo if we lacked in-theater bases. The weak arguments in favor of U. The United States has frequently supported dictators abroad to secure basing access. Uzbekistan is an illustrative example. Support for dictators in return for basing access has been an element in U.
Aquino ordered full withdrawal. From to , the Okinawan prefectural government documented 5, criminal cases involving GIs, including more than a thousand violent offenses. Marine veteran working as a civilian contractor prompted a protest in the capital of the Okinawan Prefecture with 65, people in attendance. The financial burden on U. Most of the estimates they do provide are not comprehensive. Naval fleet operations.
Some of the annual expenses of overseas bases are offset by host nations that cover the costs of U. Frequently, Washington even pays host governments in return for basing rights. Narrower measures involve tallying how much more overseas bases cost as compared with domestic bases, or simply calculating personnel costs plus construction and maintenance costs. More inclusive methods add indirect operating costs, such as administrative support, investment in weapons procurement, health care, and equipment repairs.
The most comprehensive estimates include the cost of training, recruiting, and maintaining domestically based forces that will become available to fulfill military commitments in coordination with in-place forces. Although the specific total outlay is hard to pin down, the cost of our permanent peacetime overseas military presence is substantial.
Closing redundant bases abroad, or at least consolidating forces at fewer bases, could provide considerable savings that could be left in more productive sectors of the economy. The United States is arguably the most secure great power in history. No nation in the world credibly threatens to attack or invade the United States. With weak and pliant neighbors to its north and south, vast oceans to its east and west, and a superior nuclear deterrent, it has achieved a level of protection from external threats without parallel.
The United States accounts for almost 40 percent of worldwide defense spending and possesses the most capable and sophisticated military in history. A forward-deployed military posture is useful, if decreasingly so, for a grand strategy of primacy, which posits that the United States, as the most powerful and righteous state, has the capacity and the obligation to maintain military bases throughout the world to uphold global peace and stability in an otherwise dangerous international system.
But primacy does not yield strategic benefits commensurate with the costs and risks it imposes. Alternatively, a grand strategy of restraint holds that the preeminent power of the United States, coupled with an increasingly peaceful world, means it can afford to pull back from its worldwide military presence and rein in its activist foreign policy. Instead, the U. This section will make the case for withdrawing the U. Europe is the simplest case for the withdrawal of U. One of the most stable regions on the planet, Europe contains four great powers—the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Russia.
Conflict between any of them is unlikely. Great Britain, France, and Germany are all liberal democracies and have advanced, peaceful relationships based on closely aligned political, diplomatic, and economic interests. That statement does not apply to Russia, but the United Kingdom and France possess nuclear weapons, making military conflict even in the event of deteriorated relationships extremely unlikely. In Europe especially, the costs of conflict, even in a conventional war, have become prohibitive, while the gains have greatly diminished.
In addition to the declining utility of war, Europe is politically and culturally unique in the extent to which the memory of the devastation of the world wars has contributed to the decline of militarism and a greater focus on social stability and economic well-being. Even in a pure balance-of-power analysis, none of the major states of Europe is strong enough to make a bid for regional hegemony, something nuclear weapons make essentially impossible.
Russia, the regional power that generates the most calls for a U.
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That objective has been achieved and an American exit from the military alliance is overdue. And bases in Europe do not provide much of an operational or tactical advantage for the United States, even for unlikely contingencies, meaning that even if Washington upheld its current set of security commitments there, it could fulfill those obligations with a dramatically reduced overseas presence.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, , terrorism has risen to the top of the list of national security priorities. Vast sums of money, considerable manpower, and a slew of new base sites abroad have been devoted to fighting Islamic terrorist groups. However, contrary to the bulk of the rhetoric from policymakers, terrorism does not represent an existential threat to the United States.
And a forward-deployed military posture is not very useful in addressing it. Indeed, U. In most cases, a sensible military solution to terrorism does not exist, and heavy-handed military action can exacerbate the problem by fueling resentment and recruitment. The traditional justification for U. But the argument that maintaining such a military posture in the Middle East protects the free flow of oil is flawed. Fortunately, the United States is relatively insulated from price spikes associated with supply disruptions. These market adjustments mitigated the ramifications of the shocks and stabilized prices and supply.
The balance of power, both in the region and globally, is favorable for energy security. The threat of an external power gaining a foothold in the Persian Gulf region is not in the cards in the policy-relevant future. China, although increasingly powerful in its own sphere, lacks the political will to dominate the Gulf.
Regionally, the circumstances are similarly advantageous. This is true even if the United States withdraws completely. None of them possesses the capabilities necessary to conquer neighboring territories or gain a controlling influence over Persian Gulf oil resources. In addition to being too weak to make a bid for regional dominance, all three are bogged down and distracted by internal problems.
Overall, the region is in a state of defense dominance: the major states are too weak to project power beyond their borders, but they do have the capability to deter their neighbors. Deterrence works well in this environment because the costs of offensive action remain prohibitively high. Some scholars argue that the decreased importance of Persian Gulf oil means the United States should completely phase out its military commitment to the region during the next 10 years. The United States can rely on carrier-based airpower and long-range bombers if military intervention in a crisis becomes necessary.
It is meant to deter and contain China, to stave off spirals of conflict, to bolster the credibility of security agreements that bind the United States to defend allies, and to provide for a rapid contingency response.
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Nor is China a viable candidate for hegemony in the near term. Brooks and William C. Pacific fleet conducting exercises and training events with more than 20 allied countries in the region every year. The other reason to reevaluate the U. In the near term, careful retrenchment would likely have a favorable influence on U. Even if the United States were to maintain its commitments to allies, withdrawing the military presence from the region would allow allies to be the first line of defense in case of war, forcing the countries to do the heavy lifting, while America plays the role of balancer.
If the United States were to withdraw from the regions described, there is a reasonable argument for keeping U. Strategically located in the Pacific Ocean, Guam is the nearest sovereign U. This location means that the Guam base is useful for decreasing transit times in case of any unlikely contingencies in which U. Submarines operating at 20 knots take about 5 days to reach the East Asian littoral from Guam, whereas they take about 8 days from Hawaii and 15 days from San Diego. A Guam-based brigade combat team could deploy by air or sea to key Asia-Pacific areas in a span of 5 to 14 days.
Ships cruising at 25 knots from Guam can arrive at the Taiwan Strait in about two and a half days, not much longer than the one day they take from the Philippines. That extra distance from the East Asian littoral also means Guam is less vulnerable to Chinese and North Korean missiles. Because Guam is a U. Plans are already under way to increase the military presence at Guam by relocating troops from Japan, thanks to a agreement with Tokyo meant to resolve intense local opposition to U.
As part of that overall shift, Guam is being further developed as a logistics hub to enable forces in Asia and serve as a base for at-sea prepositioning and air defense capabilities. Guam, therefore, serves as a convenient location for a low-cost, fully capable military base that avoids the strategic baggage of in-place forces on foreign territory. Diego Garcia, a small island in the Indian Ocean, offers similar advantages without the liability of most other forward-deployed bases. It is approximately 1, miles south of India, miles southwest of Sri Lanka, and 2, miles southeast of the Persian Gulf.
Diego Garcia has limitations as a basing hub.
It is only 11 square miles, with an average land elevation of only 4 feet, meaning it cannot necessarily host large Navy platforms. According to Walter C. Afloat Prepositioning Force occupies the lagoon; fast attack submarines and surface ships use the deep-draft wharf; an Air Expeditionary Wing supports tactical and long-range broadcasts to units in the area; and a telecommunications station tracks satellites and relays fleet broadcasts to units in the area.
Facilities at Diego Garcia are not and should not be designed for deterrence and reassurance objectives; they merely provide proximity to strategic areas for any potentially serious contingency requiring U. Diego Garcia is far enough afield to be much safer from attack by long-range ballistic missiles and poses a negligible risk of entangling the United States in elective conflicts or creating host nation complications.
Despite the bipartisan support for extensive overseas bases, there is some interest in reform. In , Sen. The George W. The same logic holds today. Those interests, combined with the ideological belief that forward deployment is the cornerstone of a stable world order, result in scant political incentive to propose even partial withdrawal from overseas bases.
To the extent that overseas bases are intended to prevent war and manage faraway disputes through deterrence and reassurance, they serve outdated foreign policy objectives and a grand strategy that needs to be narrowed. On top of that, modern technology has reduced the problems of travel times over long distances and simultaneously has increased the vulnerabilities of in-place forces.
Acknowledging these new realities and initiating appropriate reforms, including full withdrawal from nearly all overseas bases, would serve U. Skip to main content. Policy Analysis No. Downloads PDF The Rationale for Overseas Military Bases Historically, great powers constructed foreign military bases for essentially imperial purposes—to acquire additional territory, colonize new lands, control distant resources for the material benefit of the state, enable future conquest, and out-compete other empires.
A Critique of U. Military Base Posture As the circumstances of international politics have changed in the post-Cold War years, and as innovations in technology have both shortened travel times and made in-place forces more vulnerable, the strategic and operational utility of overseas bases deserves renewed scrutiny. Deterrence and Reassurance The deterrence value of overseas military bases is frequently exaggerated.
Contingency Responsiveness Overseas bases are generally thought to be the frontline forces needed to successfully prosecute a war. Cost The financial burden on U. Europe Europe is the simplest case for the withdrawal of U. Conclusion Despite the bipartisan support for extensive overseas bases, there is some interest in reform. Michael J. Lostumbo et al. Dakota L. Anthony H. Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Carnes Lord and Andrew S. William Kristol and Robert Kagan. Stephen G.
Office Politics: Why did the USAF fund “US Global Defense Posture, 1783-2011”?
Pettyjohn, U. Vine, Base Nation , p. Robert E. For a different view arguing that bases facilitate trade, see Daniel Egel, Adam R. Grissom, John P. Godges, Jennifer Kavanagh, and Howard J. Mark W. Eugene Gholz, Daryl G.
Press, and Harvey M. Nicholas J. John J. Norton, , pp. Robert H. Johnson, Improbable Dangers: U. Alexander L. See William D. Also see Joshua R. Threat Perceptions and U. To ask other readers questions about U. Global Defense Posture, , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about U.
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