In contemporary foreign policy debates, analysts and
policymakers largely take America’s worldwide constellation
of overseas military bases for granted. But America’s
forward-deployed military posture—that is, its policy of
maintaining a large overseas military presence—incurs
substantial risk. Even under a strategy of primacy—the view
that a peaceful world order and our own national security depend on
maintaining a preponderance of U.S. power—the extent of U.S.
overseas basing creates needless cost and danger. A less aggressive
strategy requiring fewer overseas bases would greatly reduce both
military spending and security dangers to the United States.
Particularly in the absence of a peer competitor such as the
Soviet Union, overseas bases have become liabilities. By
buttressing commitments to allies of the United States, overseas
bases may, in some cases, deter adversaries and prevent spirals of
conflict, but those military bases create several problems.
The first problem is that modern surveillance and targeting
technology have made the bases increasingly vulnerable, even while
increasing our allies’ ability to marshal their own defenses
and to cooperate with U.S. forces outside the allies’
theater. Second, the presence of U.S. military bases can militarize
disputes and can antagonize opponents who otherwise would have been
more docile. Third, U.S. bases can encourage allies to take risks
they might otherwise avoid, thus heightening instability and
entangling the United States in peripheral conflicts. Finally,
forward-deployed forces are a temptation for U.S. leaders; they can
set in motion calls for intervention where core U.S. interests are
not at stake.
The U.S. government does not keep a comprehensive and accessible
account of its network of overseas bases. The most inclusive
estimates are that at present the United States controls
approximately 800 overseas facilities in more than 70 countries.
1 Base types fall into
about five basic categories, ranging from Main Operating
Bases—which hold tens of thousands of troops deployed for
long periods of time, often with their families—to En Route
Facilities Structures, which merely store weaponry and other
To get an idea of the scope of the U.S. military presence,
consider that in Europe alone, about 80,000 active-duty personnel
are stationed at more than 350 installations, 39 of which are major
bases in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Norway,
Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Greece, and
Kosovo. 2 Smaller bases
are located in Ireland, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey,
and Georgia. The U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet rotates three
destroyer squadrons, up to 40 ships, and 175 aircraft in the
Mediterranean Sea, relying on several fixed bases on land. The
United States maintains approximately 200 tactical nuclear weapons
throughout the region. Europe is a major logistical hub for U.S.
operations abroad, with more than 95 percent of U.S.-based units
bound for Iraq and Afghanistan transiting the European Command area
of responsibility. 3
In the Middle East, deployment numbers can be difficult to
determine with precision because troops are stationed on a
temporary and rotational basis, and the U.S. government keeps much
information about deployed troops secret. But there are
approximately 50,000 troops in the region currently, not including
military or civilian contractors. 4 As of February 2017, major bases
still exist in Afghanistan, where approximately 12,900 U.S. forces
still operate, and Iraq, where about 7,500 troops currently rotate
in and out. An air base is stationed in Jordan, where there are
more than 2,500 troops, and a small number of U.S. troops are in
Israel for surveillance and ballistic missile defense.
5 U.S. Navy, Air Force,
and Army installations are located in Egypt—in Cairo, at Port
Said, along the Suez Canal, and in the Sinai Peninsula—as
well as in Kuwait, which holds more than 13,400 troops. Major Air
Force bases are located in Qatar, at Al Udeid, and in the United
Arab Emirates, at Al Dhafra, where there are more than 5,200 and
1,800 troops, respectively. The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet
maintains a permanent presence of more than 6,400 personnel in
Bahrain, from which it launches daily patrols of the Persian Gulf.
Small bases and training facilities are also located in Yemen,
Oman, and Saudi Arabia.
In the Asia Pacific area, there are more than 154,000
active-duty military personnel (330,000 if you include civilians).
There are 49 major bases located in Japan, South Korea, Australia,
Singapore, Guam, the Marshall Islands, and the Northern Mariana
Islands. 6 Smaller bases
are positioned in Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines,
and elsewhere. The Obama administration’s
“Asia-pivot” aspired to greater basing access and troop
presence in countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Rotating
through the Asia Pacific are five aircraft carrier strike groups,
including as many as 180 ships and 1,500 aircraft, two-thirds of
the Marine Corps’ combat strength, five Army Stryker
brigades, and more than half of overall U.S. naval strength.
The United States also maintains many small bases in almost two
dozen African countries—including Djibouti, Niger, Chad,
Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Ghana, Liberia, South Sudan, and
Uganda—as well as a relatively small number in Latin
America—including those in Honduras, Cuba, Colombia, Peru,
Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. Bases are also kept in such remote
outposts as Greenland, Iceland, American Samoa, and Antarctica. The
estimated total cost of maintaining this overseas base and troop
presence ranges from about $60 billion to $120 billion annually.
America’s global military presence is the tangible
manifestation of the grand strategy of primacy that has driven the
U.S. approach to the world for decades. Primacy, according to
proponents William Kristol and Robert Kagan, means maintaining a
preponderance of U.S. power—a “benevolent
hegemony”—over the international system. 9 According to an internal Pentagon
memo in 1992, a forward-deployed military presence serves the core
objective of “convincing potential competitors that they need
not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to
protect their legitimate interests.” 10 Bases abroad help expand the
domain of American influence and responsibility, enabling
Washington to use force to police the world and suppress conflict
America’s forward-deployed posture is not intended to
protect the nation from direct attack. Rather, its goal is to
provide security for other states and protect against contingencies
that, for the most part, would not involve vital U.S. interests.
Indeed, as a recent Rand Corporation analysis put it,
“military facilities used primarily for power projection are
not defensive strongholds but rather launching pads and logistical
hubs that support operations beyond their immediate
vicinity.” 12 In
other words, U.S. bases overseas are not about national defense per
se. They are an insurance policy on stability abroad.
The argument of this paper is that this posture should be
narrowed to prioritize U.S. defense interests. Despite the tendency
of policymakers and the news media to exaggerate dangers and
inflate threats from abroad, much scholarship shows that
international conflict and overall levels of violence are at
historic lows. The remarkably secure position of the United States,
along with the relatively peaceful state of international politics,
enables a withdrawal from this global network of overseas military
bases. Rather than defending the security of other states and
attempting to stabilize regions of conflict around the world, the
United States should encourage allies to carry the burden of their
own defense and should extricate itself from regional disputes lest
it get drawn into conflicts in which its vital interests are not at
stake. This paper evaluates the main strategic justifications for
overseas bases, offers critiques of the current policy, and
explores some additional costs and drawbacks of the status quo. The
concluding sections propose an alternative posture consistent with
a grand strategy of restraint—namely, withdrawing from all
but a few overseas bases.
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. Throughout ancient Greece, rivalrous
Athens and Sparta competed for basing access. Rome set up garrisons
that extended from Britannia across the Mediterranean to the
Persian Gulf. 13
China’s Second Ming Empire constructed a network of bases all
across the Indian Ocean, from the Strait of Malacca to the Gulf of
Aden. 14 The European
empires, starting with Portugal and Spain in the 15th century and
ending with the British and French in the 20th, used military bases
across Asia, Africa, and the Americas, often as a means to satisfy
mercantilist ends of monopolizing trade opportunities through
colonization and strengthening the home economy at the expense of
rivals. As coal-powered sea travel proliferated in the 19th and
early 20th centuries, military bases served logistical requirements
for refueling ships on trade routes and military missions.
Today, though, the strategic rationale for overseas military
bases has changed significantly. The explosion of world trade has
made the need for military garrisons for purposes of trade and
ensuring access to resources dubious. 15 Conquest by great powers has
declined, partly because of the ascendancy of post-World War II
norms of territorial integrity and self-determination.
16 Furthermore, the
destructive power of modern militaries, especially through nuclear
weapons, has discouraged the kind of aggressive expansionism common
among the empires of old.
Maintaining overseas military bases is a uniquely American
preoccupation: the United States has approximately 800 military
bases; France and the United Kingdom have roughly 12 each; and
Russia, the adversary with the next most overseas bases, has about
9. 17 The adoption of
this worldwide American network of military bases began in World
America’s share of world power at the end of the war was
stupendous. Unlike the other great powers, the United States was
largely untouched by combat, it accounted for more than half of the
world’s manufacturing production, and it possessed two-thirds
of the world’s gold reserves. It also had the greatest per
capita productivity, the most powerful conventional military in the
world, and a monopoly on nuclear weapons. 18 The goal of policymakers was to
preserve that position for as long as possible and to ensure U.S.
security and prosperity by “maintaining the division of
Eurasia’s industrial might, preserving freedom of the seas,
and … preventing the consolidation of Persian Gulf oil.”
In the past, America’s favorable geography, isolated from
Eurasia, allowed it to remain aloof as long as there was a rough
balance of power among the great nations. 20 But for policymakers at the end of
World War II, the development of airpower and nuclear weapons, not
to mention the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, had established a
new sense of vulnerability previously attenuated by the Atlantic
and Pacific Oceans. 21
The postwar environment of enfeebled war-torn allies in Western
Europe, a devastated U.S.-occupied Japan, and an empowered Soviet
Union precluded a swift return to an offshore balancing strategy,
in which America could let locals handle aggressors except when the
stakes became too high. 22 The goal of a rough balance of
power remained, and policymakers determined that forward deployment
was required to maintain it.
Throughout the Cold War, overseas military bases had three
functions. First, they were intended to prevent the buildup of
military capabilities, or development of nuclear weapons, by states
then under U.S. occupation, particularly Germany and Japan. The
goal, explains the international relations scholar Christopher
Layne, was “to foreclose the possibility that the West
European states would re-nationalize their security policies”
and thus “strip them of the capacity to take unilateral,
national action.” 23 Second, large numbers of ground,
air, and naval forces were garrisoned in Europe and along the Asian
littoral to deny territorial advances or attacks by the Soviet
Union. Third, bases were to contain the Soviets and ensure against
the outbreak of war through extended deterrence.
Today’s justifications for overseas bases have changed,
but the bases remain as strong a part of the nation’s grand
strategy as ever. Although the number of troops stationed abroad
has declined since 1990, the United States still maintains the same
forward-deployed posture more than a quarter century after the fall
of the Soviet Union. Shed of military competition from the Soviet
Union and unencumbered by external constraints on its power, the
United States has been free to broaden the conception of its
national interests. Not only does America take preventive actions
to stave off potential peer competitors, but it also uses its
military power, albeit selectively, in the name of protecting human
rights, promoting democracy and the rule of law, disciplining rogue
states, imposing regime change, engaging in nation-building
missions, and managing local disputes around the globe.
Three broad strategic justifications motivate today’s
forward-deployed posture: (1) to deter potential aggressors, (2) to
reassure friends and allies, and (3) to enable a rapid military
response for any operational contingency. The first two
justifications are designed to demonstrate the trustworthiness of
America’s threats and promises and thus to bolster the
credibility of U.S. security guarantees. The third is based on the
assumption that being there is essential for rapid deployment in
To deter aggressors, bases serve as “a tangible indicator
of American willingness to fight” should an adversary attack
a U.S. ally or otherwise destabilize a region through military
action.24 They serve as
a tripwire, by putting the lives of American soldiers at risk and
thus triggering U.S. military intervention in case of attack. It
would be very difficult politically for the United States to renege
on a security guarantee if U.S. troops were already caught up in
the fighting. Finally, large, permanent garrisons require a lot of
time and resources to abandon, thus making it difficult to withdraw
amid conflict, no matter how peripheral the strategic interests at
By bolstering U.S. credibility to intervene in response to
attack, forward deployment is intended to simultaneously deter
adversaries and reassure allies. The combination of dissuading
adversaries from aggression and making allies feel safer is meant
to enhance global peace and stability. That set of reasons is the
logic of hegemonic stability theory, sometimes described as the
“American pacifier.” 26 The presence of the American
military is supposed to discourage nuclear proliferation,
conventional arms races, and war.
The third argument is that overseas bases provide the logistical
infrastructure necessary for rapid response to any major military
contingency, or what is sometimes called “contingency
responsiveness.” As a recent Rand Corporation study explains,
“In-place forces provide the immediate capabilities needed to
counter major acts of aggression”; they “provide the
initial response necessary to prevent quick defeat while awaiting
the arrival of aerial, maritime, and ground reinforcements.”
27 Any contingency that
necessitates major military mobilization to a war zone will require
substantial reinforcements, the bulk of which will be deployed from
the continental United States. However, because that action can
take days or weeks, forward-deployed forces are intended to rapidly
respond to crises in which initial military successes may be
A Critique of U.S. 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. This section critiques the three main strategic
justifications for overseas bases mentioned
previously—deterrence, reassurance, and contingency
responsiveness—and explores some additional costs and
drawbacks of maintaining a permanent peacetime military presence
Deterrence and Reassurance
The deterrence value of overseas military bases is frequently
exaggerated. As Robert Johnson argues, the Soviet threat throughout
the Cold War spurred “undue alarmism,” and “even
without American forces deployed in Western Europe, a Soviet attack
was extremely unlikely.” 28 The Soviets were not as
expansionist as generally feared and were easier to contain than
many analysts and policymakers thought. Yet, as Alexander L. George
and Richard Smoke write, “by 1956 the United States’
reliance on deterrence threats and alliance commitments as the
primary tools of foreign policy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union had
become a rigidified response to almost any perceived communist
encroachment anywhere in the world,” and indeed had
“the negative effect of reinforcing the policy-makers’
tendency to rely too heavily on deterrence … in lieu of …
Deterrence is difficult to demonstrate. 30 Because success is measured by the
absence of an unwanted action by the adversary, determining whether
something did not happen because of deterrence, or because the
adversary had no intention to attack in the first place, or some
other reason, is inherently challenging. 31 That problem plagues many areas of
U.S. foreign policy. For example, analysts and policymakers alike
claim that the U.S. military presence in South Korea is the only
thing deterring a unilateral North Korean attack. But South
Korea’s economy is 40 times the size of North Korea’s,
South Korea has twice the population of North Korea, and South
Korean military capabilities so far exceed that of
Pyongyang’s that there is little question which side would
win an all-out war. These glaring gaps in economic and military
might deter the North from attacking the South even absent U.S.
military power in the region.
Similarly, advocates of a forward-deployed posture in the Middle
East regard the U.S. Navy’s presence in Bahrain and its daily
patrolling of the Persian Gulf as the principal deterrent that
would stop a state like Iran from attempting to close the Strait of
Hormuz. 32 But Iran
exports most of its oil via the strait and would impose serious
economic damage on itself in attempting to close it. Such an
attempt would also threaten the vital interests of the regional
powers as well as external powers that rely on the free flow of oil
from the region. Iran would thus run unacceptably high risks of
retaliation by an international coalition of states and would
probably be deterred even without the permanent U.S. naval presence
in the Gulf. 33
Several trends that are unrelated to forward deployment
contribute to general deterrence and stability, making overseas
bases superfluous. Advocates of the United States’
forward-deployed posture contend that it is a driving force in
creating a more peaceful world by dampening the effects of anarchy
and by ameliorating conflict spirals. 34 This argument is the essence of
the logic behind deterrence and reassurance. But other plausible
causal explanations exist for the lack of a great-power war since
1945. 35 Although trade
and economic interdependence are not always sufficient to stave off
conflict between potential belligerents, there is solid evidence
that the two factors do reduce the likelihood of war. 36 The destructive power of modern
conventional militaries has also made war prohibitively costly in
many cases, and the fact that most of the world’s great
powers possess nuclear weapons has likely been a major factor in
the decline of international conflict. 37 Normative changes in how people
see war also contribute to peace among nations. War is increasingly
seen as an abhorrent last resort instead of a glorified mission
that creates masculine virtue. 38
The absence of a true hegemonic threat in this increasingly
stable international environment undermines the case for permanent
alliances and the bases that underlie them. The rise of an
expansionist European power bent on continental domination is
nowhere on the horizon. And it is not clear that U.S. military
forces on the ground are the reason for this. In any case, the
countries in Europe and East Asia would likely confront any rising
hegemon in the absence of U.S. bases and security commitments. As a
prosperous and militarily capable continent, Europe is especially
able to handle such an unlikely development without the presence of
an extra-regional military power. 39
Finally, advocates of forward deployment argue that the United
States’ overseas presence prevents nuclear proliferation by
reassuring host nations. The record on that score is decidedly
mixed. 40 Bases and
security guarantees can reassure some allies and thereby discourage
proliferation, most notably in Japan and South Korea. However, host
nations are not always reassured. Some U.S. allies—for
example, the United Kingdom, France, and Israel—developed and
have retained nuclear weapons despite U.S. protection.
Overseas bases are generally thought to be the frontline forces
needed to successfully prosecute a war. However, a forward-deployed
presence is often more about deterrence than about operational
convenience. During the Cold War, for example, a chief purpose of
troops in Europe was to guarantee U.S. involvement in a conflict,
not to be particularly useful in battlefield scenarios. As
President Dwight D. Eisenhower once commented in reference to the
1958-59 Berlin crisis, “If resort to arms should become
necessary, our troops in Berlin would be quickly overrun, and the
conflict would almost inevitably be global war. For this type of
war, our nuclear forces were more than adequate.”
A Rand Corporation report on basing posture reiterates that
point for today: “the forces that are forward-deployed are
not sufficient of themselves to address conflicts of every
scope.” 42 Indeed,
“after the initial phase of operations to stabilize or even
resolve a situation, the response by the U.S. military to a
contingency of any substantial size will come primarily from forces
deployed from bases in the United States.” 43
One of the prominent arguments in favor of maintaining an
indefinite military presence is that it would be too difficult and
time consuming to secure host governments’ permission for
access during a crisis in which U.S. forces were needed. That
concern is overstated. To begin with, the ability to use bases for
new missions is always conditional on host government permission.
Basing agreements typically stipulate that the United States must
consult with host nation governments before conducting any
nonroutine operations. A 2016 Rand Corporation study concludes,
“the presence of large permanent bases does not
increase the likelihood of securing contingency access.”
44 But, more to the
point, we have historically not had trouble securing basing access
in wartime. Indeed, the United States has been able to add new
operating facilities overseas for every major conflict in the past
40 years. 45
For combat operations that do not rise to the level of a crisis
requiring massive mobilization of forces, deployment from the
continental United States is sufficient because of technological
advances in military capability, travel, and communications. This
is the case with deployments generally, but particularly so with
air campaigns. According to Robert Harkavy, a basing expert at
Pennsylvania State University, “the development of longer
range aircraft and ships, plus the development of techniques for
aerial refueling of planes and at-sea refueling of ships has had
the effect of greatly decreasing the number of basing points
required by major powers to maintain global access networks.”
46 Carrier-based air
power can now conduct major campaigns with around-the-clock sorties
well beyond littoral reaches in remote areas on short notice and
without access to nearby forward bases. 47
The United States’ long-range bombers can deliver
nonrefueled payloads for missions of up to 8,800 miles, and tanker
refueling “can extend that almost indefinitely,” says
Harkavy. 48 In the 1991
Gulf War, the United States flew B-52s from Barksdale Air Force
Base in Louisiana to conduct bombing raids against Iraq in
roundtrip missions that exceeded 10,000 miles and took only 30
hours. 49 “During
the first three weeks of the American buildup to the Gulf
War,” according to Kent Calder, professor at Johns Hopkins
School of Advanced International Studies, “the United States
moved more troops and equipment than in the first three months of
the Korean War.” 50
In 1999, U.S. Air Force bombers conducted attacks against
Serbian targets from the continental United States. In a 2000 North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise, the Global Hawk drone
vehicle “provided direct, unmanned support for amphibious
operations in Portugal from its station at Eglin Air Base in
Florida,” and the following year it flew 7,500 miles across
the Pacific to Australia. 51 Drone technology has advanced
dramatically in the ensuing years. In the initial operations
against Taliban-held Afghanistan in 2001, B-2 stealth bombers based
at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri flew 44-hour missions with
the help of aerial refueling capabilities “without using any
bases in the vicinity of Afghanistan at all,” reports Calder.
52 And although the
United States made use of in-theater bases in Kuwait, Qatar, and
the United Arab Emirates to conduct operations against Saddam
Hussein’s Iraq in 2003, it also flew bombing missions from a
transcontinental distance. In addition to bombers’ ability to
complete missions without nearby bases, cruise missiles launched
from deployed naval assets can supplant the need for in-theater
Even beyond airstrikes, U.S. troops can deploy to virtually any
region fast enough that they can be based in the continental United
States. In emergency situations, according to Rand, “lighter
ground forces can deploy by air from the United States almost as
quickly as they can from within a region.” 53 An armored brigade combat team can
get from Germany to Kuwait in approximately 18 days, only about 4
days more quickly than if it deployed from the East Coast of the
United States. 54
U.S.-based forces could handicap contingency responsiveness in
certain smaller missions. The transit time to the Taiwan Strait,
for example, for a carrier strike group deployed from Yokosuka,
Japan, would take 3 to 5 days, whereas deployment from the West
Coast would take up to 16 days. However, basing capacity in Hawaii
or Guam can cut those transit times considerably. 55
Admittedly, deploying heavy forces by air in bulk is not
plausible for contingencies requiring massive ground troops. But
contingencies that truly depend on extremely rapid deployment are
rare. The United States tends to have the luxury of intervening at
its own pace. And, given America’s relative insulation from
external threats, it’s not clear that speedy intervention is
even desirable. For one thing, reducing the emphasis on rapid
response would likely signal to allies the need to cut back on free
riding (that is, spending less on the military in the expectation
that the United States will carry their defense burden).
Moreover, robbing the executive branch of the ability to rapidly
insert the United States into a military conflict abroad may indeed
be a good thing. Since World War II, constitutional restrictions on
the president’s war-making powers have eroded. But the
Framers of the Constitution were wise to constrain the
president’s war-making powers. Affording the executive a
speedy response with in-place forces, therefore, not only
undermines the rule of law but also can intensify war proneness. As
Bernard Brodie once wrote, “the notion that it is
incontestably good to expand the chief executive’s options is
rather peculiar” because “it runs directly counter to
the basic tenets of constitutional government” and because
“one way of keeping people out of trouble is to deny them the
means for getting into it.” 56
Vulnerability, Counterbalancing, and Entanglement
Keeping U.S. troops permanently stationed abroad presents
several strategic problems. First, such forces are more vulnerable
to attack than forces stationed at home. Even though the
preponderance of U.S. power and the general decline in
international war probably mean that U.S. overseas bases are not at
risk of bombardment in the immediate future, certain plausible
contingencies could make them priority targets. 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.S. assets. 57 To take another example that is
now more remote, thanks to the recently negotiated nuclear deal
with Iran, if Israel were to preventively strike one of
Iran’s nuclear facilities, the United States would be
implicated immediately because of its promises to fight to defend
Israel. 58 According to
a 2012 report, U.S. bases in Bahrain would be a priority target in
Iranian retaliatory strikes. 59
For facilities based in certain countries, particularly in the
Middle East, the risk of terrorist attacks on military bases has
increased in recent years. Not only are homemade explosives and car
bombs easier to access and produce, but also—especially after
the damage done by the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan—an anti-American narrative has become even more
popular, making U.S. bases desirable targets for terrorist
Overseas bases can inspire blowback in the form of terrorism.
According to Robert Pape, “the principal cause of suicide
terrorism is resistance to foreign occupation.” 60 Infamous examples, like the 1983
bombings of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, that killed 241
Americans, and the al Qaeda attack in 2000 on the USS Cole
off the coast of Yemen, are illustrative. 61 But bases can also motivate
attacks on U.S. soil. The presence of U.S. military bases in Saudi
Arabia was one of the most prominent grievances cited by al Qaeda
in the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks. 62 And the post-9/11 surge in the
U.S. military presence in the Middle East coincided with a massive
increase in the rate of terrorist attacks inspired by
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.S.
facilities—more than 90 percent of U.S. air facilities in
northeast Asia—are in high-threat areas. China’s
conventional theater-strike system, the DF-21, “can hit all
military facilities along the entire Japanese archipelago,”
says Toshi Yoshihara, the chair of Asia-Pacific Studies at the U.S.
Naval War College. 64
Michael J. Lostumbo and others write that these weapons and others
like them “could cripple an airbase, incapacitate an aircraft
carrier, and devastate concentrated ground forces.”
65Granted, the tripwire
effect of U.S. forward bases, along with the fact that U.S. allies
benefit from these capabilities as well, means that deterrence
remains robust in Asia. Still, Chinese strategic planners have
discussed striking U.S. bases in the unlikely scenario that
inadvertent escalation results in an outbreak of conflict.
66 In other words, bases
offer only a marginal increase in deterrence at added risk to
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. 67 The most
intense crisis of the Cold War period may have had its origins in
such a dilemma. In June 1961, the Kennedy administration placed
Jupiter ballistic missiles in Turkey, bordering the Soviet Union.
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. 68 Soviet leader
Nikita Khrushchev reportedly called the deployment of Jupiter
missiles “an intolerable provocation” and told his
ambassador to Cuba, “Inasmuch as the Americans already have
surrounded the Soviet Union with a circle of their military bases
and missile installations of various designations, we should repay
them in kind, let them try their own medicine.” 69
Today, the U.S. military presence in Europe is tasked, in part,
with deterring Russian military aggression. And on those recent
occasions in which Russia has acted out militarily, as it did
against Georgia in 2008 on the side of separatists in South Ossetia
and Abkhazia and in Ukraine in 2014, advocates of a forward posture
blame the incursions on a lack of deterrence or diminished American
credibility. But Russia’s interventions in Georgia and
Ukraine derive more from Moscow’s insecurities about the
expansion of U.S.-led Western economic and military institutions
into former Soviet republics, and even up to the Russian border,
than from insufficient U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe.
70 Post-Cold War NATO
expansion is the source of profound anxiety and lingering
resentment in Moscow. 71
Following Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea, the Russian
leader decried NATO expansion as an attempt at containment, and,
when in 2015 NATO invited Montenegro to be the newest member of the
alliance, the Kremlin warned that further expansion eastward
“cannot but result in retaliatory actions.”
72 One could say that
forward deployment contributes to the insecurity it purports to
Bases can also motivate nearby adversaries to pursue nuclear
weapons. Iran’s expansion of nuclear enrichment in the run-up
to the recent nuclear deal between Iran, the United States, the
United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany, for example,
was likely understood by many in Tehran as a measure of protection
from the United States. After all, the United States habitually
intervenes in the region, is allied with Iran’s two most
vociferous enemies (Israel and Saudi Arabia), and has carried out
regime change and years of military occupation in the countries on
Iran’s immediate east and west flanks. In addition, while
bases in Japan and South Korea have arguably helped dissuade these
countries from developing nuclear weapons, the U.S. presence
creates pressure for North Korea to do so. Pyongyang’s
efforts to secure a deliverable nuclear weapon may be partly
motivated by a desire for the prestige associated with such
capabilities, but fear of U.S. military power in South Korea, and a
desire to deter an attack by either or both countries, are also
significant motivators. Proximate U.S. military forces and an
adversarial relationship with Washington helped motivate
China’s 1964 acquisition of nuclear weapons. 73 And, in recent years, U.S. actions
in Iraq and Libya have signaled to potential rogue states the
wisdom, rather than the danger, of obtaining a nuclear deterrent,
or at least maintaining a threshold breakout capability.
Entanglement is another risk exacerbated by the attempt to
reassure allies with overseas bases. 75 If U.S. troops are stationed
abroad to demonstrate credibility, and then the United States
refuses to intervene in the event of conflict, U.S. policymakers
will suffer political costs, even if the circumstances do not
involve vital U.S. interests. Much academic literature has
questioned the need to take military action solely for the sake of
credibility. 76 But the
presence of military bases in or near a conflict zone can intensify
calls to intervene to satisfy credibility concerns, thus making
entanglement more likely.
Allies can entrap a security patron into war with their rivals
by pursuing high-risk strategies. U.S. military presence can
encourage this moral hazard, sometimes called “reckless
Current U.S. posture is plagued by plausible scenarios of
entrapment in its commitments to Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines
over territorial and maritime sovereignty disputes with China. In
2012, 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. Heightened nationalist sentiments certainly played a
role in the quarrel, but the unequal power dynamics between the two
states raises reasonable questions about whether the relatively
weak Philippines was emboldened to challenge a much stronger China
because of the United States’ security guarantee and nearby
military bases. 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
1945. The U.S. military presence reflected prior agreements between
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin at
Yalta to establish a multinational trusteeship that would, in
Philip Bennett’s words, “guide the Koreans to
self-government.” 78 By December 1945, U.S. Gen. John
R. Hodge recommended full withdrawal. Secretary of War Robert
Patterson argued the same in April 1947. In 1948, the National
Security Council proposed withdrawing all American troops by the
end of the year. The joint chiefs explained that “Korea is of
little strategic value to the United States” and warned that
the lingering military presence risked entangling the United States
in a war following some provocation on the peninsula. That
entanglement indeed happened in 1950 when the North invaded the
South. 79 Unfortunately,
calls to withdraw had been unheeded.
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.S. warship allegedly clashed with Vietnamese naval
vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin, 12 nautical miles off the coast of
Vietnam. The warship, the USS Maddox, was conducting
electronic warfare support measures to assist U.S. military
advisers in South Vietnam. 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
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. In NATO’s 2011 intervention in
Libya’s civil war, for example, the United States bombed
Libya from warships in the Mediterranean and from air bases in
Spain, Italy, and Germany, among other nearby locations. The weak
arguments in favor of U.S. involvement, which included conjectural
claims about impending humanitarian disaster and pressure from NATO
allies, might have been harder to sell politically if U.S. forces
had not already been deployed in the area. 80
American Values Abroad?
The United States has frequently supported dictators abroad to
secure basing access. “American policy does frequently back
dictators,” according to Calder. “And the tendency to
back dictators—and to refrain from demanding their
removal—appears to be greater where bases are involved,
America’s democratic ideals … notwithstanding.”
81 U.S. support for the
Somozas in Nicaragua, Mobutu in Zaire, Park Chung Hee in Korea,
Papadopoulos in Greece, Franco in Spain, Marcos in the Philippines,
and Karimov in Uzbekistan conforms to this trend. 82
Uzbekistan is an illustrative example. Following 9/11,
Uzbekistan served as a convenient logistical hub for U.S. troops
fighting in landlocked Afghanistan. Accordingly, Washington
increased support to Uzbekistan’s authoritarian regime of
Islam Karimov, but concerns about human rights plagued the
relationship from the beginning. In 2005, Karimov ordered troops to
fire indiscriminately on a crowd of thousands of protesters and at
one point cordoned off the site of the protest and “conducted
a systematic slaughter of unarmed civilians,” killing
hundreds in what came to be known as the Andijan massacre.
83 The Karimov regime
earned a reputation for its systematic use of brutal torture
methods, including electric shock, asphyxiation, and boiling people
alive. 84 U.S. support
has ebbed and flowed over the years—at one point prompting
the Karimov regime to order the closure of the U.S. air base at
Karshi-Khanabad in response to public U.S. criticism—but the
current Uzbek regime continues to benefit from lavish economic and
military support from Washington. 85
Support for dictators in return for basing access has been an
element in U.S. foreign policy for a long time, but even bases in
relatively democratic countries can involve the sacrifice of
liberal values. As far back as the early years of the Eisenhower
administration, “[o]verseas military bases were beginning to
provoke anti-American sentiment in the countries where they were
located,” writes John Lewis Gaddis. 86 Resentment over the presence of
foreign bases can linger for generations. In 1991, the New York
Times reported that the Philippine Senate “assailed [the
U.S. military presence] as a vestige of colonialism and an affront
to Philippine sovereignty,” and President Corazon C. Aquino
ordered full withdrawal. 87 Public opinion in Okinawa, Japan,
is resoundingly opposed to the U.S. military base presence on the
territory, a feeling that is exacerbated by the recurrent problem
of crimes and misbehavior by U.S. troops there. From 1972 to 2011,
the Okinawan prefectural government documented 5,747 criminal cases
involving GIs, including more than a thousand violent offenses.
88 In June 2016, the
alleged murder of a 20-year-old Okinawan woman by a U.S. Marine
veteran working as a civilian contractor prompted a protest in the
capital of the Okinawan Prefecture with 65,000 people in
attendance. 89 Such
popular opposition can be difficult to square with purported
American values about the importance of democracy.
The financial burden on U.S. taxpayers of maintaining a global
military base presence is exceedingly difficult to calculate,
primarily because neither the Pentagon nor Congress provides
reliable estimates to the public. Most of the estimates they do
provide are not comprehensive. According to Rand, “stationing
forces and maintaining bases overseas does entail measurably higher
direct financial costs to [the Defense Department]” as
compared with bases in the continental United States. 90 It costs an average of
$10,000-$40,000 more per year to station a single member of the
military in Europe or Asia, in zones without war, than in the
United States. 91 The
annual recurring fixed costs for a single overseas
base—before any personnel, transport, equipment, or
operational costs are factored in—range from $50 million to
$200 million per year. 92
For fiscal year 2015, the Pentagon’s Overseas Cost Summary
(OCS) estimated the total cost of overseas bases, facilities, and
personnel stationed abroad at about $19.6 billion. 93 There are several problems with
this tally. The Center for Strategic and International Studies
estimates that the overall cost of the U.S. military presence in
the Asia Pacific alone is more than half that amount, about $12
billion per year (excluding expenditures for equipment or U.S.
Naval fleet operations). 94 And according to Barry Posen,
“between 15-20 percent of annual U.S. military
spending”—between $91 billion and $121 billion for
fiscal year 2016—is allocated “to the maintenance of
forces for military action” in the Middle East alone.
“Billions spent on the war in Iraq are not included in this
estimate,” he explains. 95
Furthermore, the OCS estimate includes an asterisk that lists 65
countries, with bases and facilities lumped into a single
“Other” category comprising “countries with costs
less than $5 million.” However, that list mysteriously
excludes countries that are known to have U.S. bases costing well
over $5 million, such as Kosovo, Honduras, and Colombia, which
together cost hundreds of millions of dollars. 96 The list also excludes U.S.
territories, such as Guam, and as much as $4.6 billion in military
construction spending at “unspecified
locations”—a figure found in the Pentagon budget but
omitted from the OCS. 97
Some of the annual expenses of overseas bases are offset by host
nations that cover the costs of U.S. bases in their territory.
Although data are “scant and scattered,” one rough
estimate that incorporates everything from direct cash payments to
tax and lease discounts and in-kind goods and services, concludes
that the total annual host nation support for U.S. bases abroad
amounts to about $7 billion to $8.5 billion. 98 But far more often the United
States is footing the bill for its own overseas facilities.
Frequently, Washington even pays host governments in return for
basing rights. According to former deputy assistant secretary of
defense James Blaker, approximately 18 percent of total foreign
military and economic aid is payment for basing access,
99 which amounted to
about $6.3 billion in fiscal year 2014. 100
Part of the discrepancy in cost estimates comes from the fact
that there are several official methods of measuring the costs of
America’s overseas presence. 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. 101
Keeping to what he calls a “very conservative
estimate,” American University’s David Vine estimates a
total of $71.8 billion in annual cost for overseas bases,
facilities, and personnel, excluding those in use in active war
zones. 102 This total
doesn’t include nonessential operations and missions that the
United States engages in because it has a network of bases at its
disposal, such as humanitarian missions, show-of-force patrols,
counternarcotics efforts, and anti-piracy operations.
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 Rand Corporation’s Cost Reduction
Posture—an illustrative scenario in which some overseas bases
would be closed, relocated, or consolidated at fewer
locations—suggests that modest reductions in the overall
overseas posture could yield up to $3 billion in annual savings
even without jettisoning any of our current treaty obligations or
security arrangements. 103 Other studies by the National
Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, the Congressional
Budget Office, and the Center for American Progress estimate that
cutting our overseas bases and personnel in Europe and Asia by
one-third could save between $7 billion and $12 billion a year.
104 More thoroughgoing
reforms that involve reducing overseas presence and commitments
could reduce annual defense spending by 25 percent or more.
The Case for Reducing America’s Global Military
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. 106 A globe-straddling
forward-deployed military presence is a costly burden that elevates
peripheral interests to the level of vital ones, takes on security
responsibilities that can and should be fulfilled by other states,
and produces negative unintended consequences for U.S.
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. As Robert Jervis,
professor of international affairs at Columbia University, has
written, “the pursuit of primacy was what great power
politics was all about in the past,” but in a world of
nuclear weapons, with “low security threats and great common
interests among the developed countries,” the game is not
“worth the candle.” 107 Charles Glaser, professor of
political science and international affairs at George Washington
University, similarly argues that primacy, and the worldwide
military presence associated with it, is “much
overrated.” The United States can protect core national
interests without it and, in fact, the strategy causes the United
States to “lose track of how secure it is and consequently
pursue policies that are designed to increase its security but turn
out to be too costly and/or to have a high probability of
Nor does U.S. dominance reap much in the way of tangible economic
rewards. Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at
Tufts University, contends, “The economic benefits from
military predominance alone seem, at a minimum, to have been
exaggerated… . There is little evidence that military primacy
yields appreciable geoeconomic gains” and therefore “an
overreliance on military preponderance is badly misguided.”
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.
110 The foregoing
critique suggests that the sprawling U.S. basing system does not
provide enough value to justify its continued existence. Instead,
the U.S. presence abroad should be minimized to match with the
dearth of acute threats and limited strategic benefits to U.S.
interests. This section will make the case for withdrawing the U.S.
base presence from three key regions—Europe, the Middle East,
Europe is the simplest case for the withdrawal of U.S. military
bases. 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.
European Union member states have a combined gross domestic product
(GDP) greater than that of the United States. 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
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.S.
presence, has an aging population and a relatively weak economy
that is overreliant on oil and natural gas. Its GDP is about $1.36
trillion, not much higher than Spain’s. 112 Although Russia possesses nuclear
weapons, such weapons are not useful for offense and do not aid in
coercive diplomacy, as Todd S. Sechser, associate professor of
politics at the University of Virginia, and Matthew Fuhrmann,
associate director of political science at Texas A&M
University, show in empirical studies. 113 In terms of conventional weapons
and forces, the Russian military is comparatively frail, lagging
behind the other great powers. 114 Extended offensive operations
against other states would put considerable strain on Russia and
thus would be unsustainable for very long. 115
NATO was established to contain Soviet growth and influence on
the European continent. That objective has been achieved and an
American exit from the military alliance is overdue. 116 U.S. presence in Europe,
especially in former Warsaw Pact states and former Soviet
republics, arguably does more to provoke Russian meddling than to
deter it. 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.
117 Even though the
positioning of U.S. military bases throughout the European nations
did once pacify relations between Europe and Russia, the European
Union is now rich and powerful enough to achieve that objective on
its own. 118
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, 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. 119 Terrorism is
a problem to be managed, not a war to be won. And a
forward-deployed military posture is not very useful in addressing
it. Indeed, U.S. military presence was one of the primary
motivators and recruiting mechanisms of al Qaeda in the lead-up to
9/11, and U.S. military action in the region post-9/11 served as an
even more potent generator of Islamic jihadism. 120
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 Islamic State in
Iraq and Syria (ISIS), for example, is an outgrowth of the Sunni
insurgency that rose up to fight U.S. forces in Iraq 121 and subsequently gained strength
in the Syrian civil war. 122 Fighting blowback with more of
the same interventionism that generated it in the first place is
unlikely to produce desirable results. 123
The traditional justification for U.S. policy in the Middle East
has been to secure the free flow of oil through the Persian Gulf
via a forward-deployed posture, thereby stabilizing prices. But the
argument that maintaining such a military posture in the Middle
East protects the free flow of oil is flawed. According to Joshua
Rovner, professor at Southern Methodist University, and Caitlin
Talmadge of George Washington University, the policy of
“large, permanent peacetime land forces in the Gulf” is
not particularly useful for oil security. That policy has often
been “just as counterproductive as the vacuums created by
hegemonic absence,” generating regional instability and
making the terrorist threat worse through blowback. 124 Rovner and Talmadge argue that
even if the United States had fostered a forward-deployed posture
before Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, it’s not clear that
this posture would have deterred Saddam Hussein. 125 It is possible that “the
economic and political stakes may have been so high that, from his
perspective, a different American force posture might not have
affected his calculations.” 126 Similarly, Rovner and Talmadge
conclude, it is “unclear that a hegemonic presence in the
region could have done much to prevent” the OPEC oil embargo
of 1973. 127 As Eugene
Gholz and Daryl Press conclude, “the day-to-day peacetime
presence of U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf region is not
merely ineffective; it is probably counterproductive for protecting
U.S. oil interests.” 128
The United States does have interests in the security and supply
of oil, but those interests are often exaggerated, and the
region’s energy resources are not as vulnerable as is often
claimed. 129 Strictly in
terms of the U.S. economy, the direct reliance on Persian Gulf oil
imports is modest and declining. 130 But the price of oil is
determined by global supply and demand, not by reliance on specific
geographic sources. Fortunately, the United States is relatively
insulated from price spikes associated with supply disruptions.
Although a major disruption could cause an economic downturn,
today’s economy is better equipped to deal with sudden
changes in energy markets than it was in the 1970s. Kenneth Vincent
explains that the causes are reduced oil imports and consumption,
more flexible labor markets and monetary policies, and
“reduced energy intensity of economic output—or the
amount of energy required to produce a dollar of GDP.”
131 In every major oil
shock since 1973, global energy markets adapted quickly through
increasing production from other sources, rerouting shipping
transportation, and putting both private and government-held
inventories around the world into use. These market adjustments
mitigated the ramifications of the shocks and stabilized prices and
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. The Soviet Union is long gone, and
today’s Russia suffers from systemic economic problems that
hinder its potential to project power in the Middle East. China,
although increasingly powerful in its own sphere, lacks the
political will to dominate the Gulf. 133
Regionally, the circumstances are similarly advantageous.
According to Rovner, “the chance that a regional hegemon will
emerge in the Persian Gulf during the next twenty years is slim to
none. This is true even if the United States withdraws
There are only three potential major powers in the region: Iraq,
Iran, and Saudi Arabia. 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.
136 But even if
Washington rejects that position and continues to factor in
military intervention to deal with supply disruptions and other
contingencies, maintaining a peacetime military presence in the
region is not necessary. The United States can rely on
carrier-based airpower and long-range bombers if military
intervention in a crisis becomes necessary. 137
The United States’ military presence in East Asia has
several goals. 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. 138
China’s rise is not nearly as much of a threat to U.S.
security as is often claimed. 139 China’s posture is
defensive in nature. 140
According to official Chinese news sources, the country’s
military modernization effort “lags far behind advanced
global peers,” and its “army is not capable enough of
waging modern warfare.” 141 Despite much consternation in
Washington over China’s renewed assertiveness, Beijing
“has compromised more frequently than it has used
force,” explains MIT professor of political science M. Taylor
Fravel, and “has been less belligerent than leading theories
of international relations might have predicted for a state with
its characteristics.” 142
Nor is China a viable candidate for hegemony in the near term.
Although the growth in China’s economy is impressive, it is
only a crude indication of actual and latent military power and it
obscures the many metrics—technological innovation, overall
military readiness, power projection capability, and a dearth of
allies—that illustrate America’s huge lead over China.
143 As Dartmouth
University professors Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth
argue, China is “nowhere near a peer of the United
States,” which “will long remain the world’s sole
That statement coincides with findings from the Rand Corporation,
which concludes that China “cannot possibly catch up to, much
less ‘leapfrog,’ the United States or Japan in the
foreseeable future,” when it comes to military capability.
Even assuming China’s continued rapid economic growth, the
prospect that China would achieve regional dominance is remote.
geography, characterized by island and peninsular powers and
mountainous regions throughout, provides challenging physical
obstacles to China’s quest for hegemony. 147 Moreover, China is surrounded by
major powers such as Russia, India, Japan, and South Korea, which
would resist such a gambit. The U.S. military presence in Korea and
its security commitment to Taiwan, explains Robert Ross, are
“not major factor[s] in the balance of power or in U.S.
protection of shipping lanes” and could be relinquished at
little cost to U.S. security. 148
America’s military presence in East Asia is arguably
exacerbating instability in the region by making China feel
encircled. 149 The
United States’ presence along China’s maritime
periphery is highly militarized and provocative, with the U.S.
Pacific fleet conducting 170 exercises and 600 training events with
more than 20 allied countries in the region every year.
150 China sees
Washington’s massive military presence on the Korean
peninsula, and just across the East China Sea on the southern tip
of the Japanese archipelago, as a threat to Chinese security.
151 The United
States’ status as the largest naval presence in the region
also stokes fear in China; the roughly 40 percent of China’s
seaborne oil imports that pass through sea-lanes and critical
chokepoints such as the Strait of Malacca are subject to
interdiction by the United States. 152 China’s concern about that
possibility at least partially explains Beijing’s attempts to
militarize the South China Sea, which in turn contributes to
The other reason to reevaluate the U.S. posture in Asia is that
China’s rise, while not imminently on track to achieve
regional hegemony, does raise the cost of U.S. commitments. If
conflict were to break out, “Washington would need to
dispatch reinforcements from thousands of miles away, sustain its
military units over lengthy air and sea lines of communication, and
operate them from a small number of bases,” writes Evan
Braden Montgomery, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and
Budgetary Assessments, whereas China “would be able to
concentrate its forces more rapidly and support them more
easily.” 153 In
this strategic environment, America’s security commitments to
allies are increasingly strained and its military presence is a
In the near term, careful retrenchment would likely have a
favorable influence on U.S.-China relations. 154 The job of defending allies such
as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, and
Australia should be left to those countries to perform on their
own. U.S. military presence and security guarantees discourage
active self-defense among regional allies and unwisely obligate
American intervention into local disputes that have little to no
inherent importance for U.S. interests and security. 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
Overseas Bases to Keep
If the United States were to withdraw from the regions
described, there is a reasonable argument for keeping U.S. bases at
two locations abroad in order to compensate for the decrease in
contingency responsiveness and area access: Guam and Diego
Strategically located in the Pacific Ocean, Guam is the nearest
sovereign U.S. territory to the nations of the Asia
Pacific—about 1,600 miles from Japan and about 1,550 miles
from the Philippines. This location means that the Guam base is
useful for decreasing transit times in case of any (unlikely)
contingencies in which U.S. forces would be quickly needed.
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. 156
Because Guam is a U.S. territory, it does not face the problems
of uncertainty and host nation concerns that many bases in foreign
territory must deal with. Plans are already under way to increase
the military presence at Guam by relocating troops from Japan,
thanks to a 2012 agreement with Tokyo meant to resolve intense
local opposition to U.S. bases in Okinawa. 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 1,000 miles south of India, 700 miles
southwest of Sri Lanka, and 2,500 miles southeast of the Persian
Gulf. Owned by our close ally Great Britain, Diego Garcia has
hosted U.S. military facilities since the 1960s. Like Guam, Diego
Garcia’s distance from potential adversaries on land means it
is less vulnerable than many bases along the Asian littoral or in
the Middle East. 157
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.
158 But it nonetheless
allows the United States to project considerable military power.
According to Walter C. Ladwig III and others, it currently
“serves four primary functions for American commanders: a
full one-third of the entire U.S. 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.” 159 Diego Garcia has been one of the
Air Force’s most important assets for the war in Afghanistan.
It is situated so that long-range bombers based there, such as the
Air Expeditionary Wing’s B-52s, do not require refueling
support for missions in South Asia or the Middle East.
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.S. intervention. 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
Despite the bipartisan support for extensive overseas bases,
there is some interest in reform. In 2011, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR),
along with five of his Senate colleagues, signed a bipartisan
letter calling for “dramatically reducing our overseas
military presence,” which would have “minimal negative
impact on our nation’s readiness or ability to efficiently
respond to emerging threats.” 161 The following year, Sen. Jon
Tester (D-MT) and then Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced
legislation calling on the Defense Department to “appoint an
independent commission to review the military’s overseas
basing needs and their associated costs as a first step toward
closing facilities that are no longer needed.” 162
The George W. Bush administration, though by no means advocating
a retreat from America’s global role, initiated a Global
Defense Posture Review that proposed moving away from large,
elaborate bases in favor of maintaining access to smaller
facilities with little or no permanent U.S. military presence, but
which could be used for deployments when needed. The plan included
“reduc[ing] and consolidat[ing] the existing U.S. overseas
military presence in Western Europe and Northeast Asia, which was
seen as less useful for dealing with future security
challenges,” write Lostumbo and others. 163 Furthermore, polls show that a
plurality of Americans remain very skeptical of the United
States’ activist role in international affairs,and some polls
find a majority who think the nation should “deal with its
own problems and let other countries deal with their problems the
best they can.”164
The lack of serious efforts to reduce America’s overseas
military base presence is less a function of such ideas being out
of the mainstream and more a function of bureaucratic inertia. As
far back as December 1970, a congressional investigation led by the
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations studied “Security
Agreements and Commitments Abroad.” The report explained why
the strategic use of U.S. military bases abroad is never seriously
scrutinized: “Once an American overseas base is established,
it takes on a life of its own. Original missions may become
outdated, but new missions are developed, not only with the intent
of keeping the facility going, but often to actually enlarge
it,” the study concluded. “Within the government
departments most directly concerned—State and
Defense—we found little initiative to reduce or eliminate any
of these overseas facilities,” which “is only to be
expected” since they would be “recommend[ing] a
reduction in their own position.” It went on: “Such
reductions were often resisted on the ground that they would appear
to be a withdrawal from a commitment, and a lessening of will on
the part of the United States—conclusions which do not
The same logic holds today. Entrenched interests both inside and
outside government, remain committed to America’s global
military presence. 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.S. interests.
Vine, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America
and the World (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2015), pp.
J. Lostumbo et al., Overseas Basing of U.S. Military Forces: An
Assessment of Relative Costs and Strategic Benefits (Santa
Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2013), p. 20.
Heritage Foundation, “2017 Index of U.S. Military
Strength,” ed. Dakota L. Wood, http://index.heritage.org/military/2017/resources/download/.
troop levels listed in this paragraph come from the Defense
Department’s Defense Manpower Data Center, updated February
H. Cordesman, “The Changing Gulf Balance and the Iranian
Threat,” Center for Strategic and International Studies,
Working Draft, August 3, 2016, p. 41, https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/160804_Gulf_Balance_Iranian_Threat.pdf.
et al., Overseas Basing, p. 25.
S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Guam and American
Security in the Pacific,” in Rebalancing U.S. Forces:
Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, ed. Carnes
Lord and Andrew S. Erickson (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press,
2015), p. 16.
Calder, Embattled Garrisons: Comparative Base
Politics and American Globalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 2008), p. 56. Calder estimates $60 billion, while
Vine, in Base Nation, p. 9, cites estimates as high as
Kristol and Robert Kagan. “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign
Policy,” Foreign Affairs 75, no. 4 (July/August
- “Excerpts from Pentagon’s Plan:
‘Prevent the Re-emergence of a New Rival,’”
New York Times, March 8, 1992, http://www.nytimes.com/1992/03/08/world/excerpts-from-pentagon-s-plan-prevent-the-re-emergence-of-a-new-rival.html?pagewanted=all.
G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, America Abroad: The United
States’ Global Role in the 21st Century (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2016).
L. Pettyjohn, U.S. Global Defense Posture, 1783-2011
(Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2012), p. 12.
Base Nation, p. 18.
E. Harkavy, Strategic Basing and the Great Powers,
1200-2000 (New York: Routledge, 2007), pp. 29-30.
- For a
different view arguing that bases facilitate trade, see Daniel
Egel, Adam R. Grissom, John P. Godges, Jennifer Kavanagh, and
Howard J. Shatz, Estimating the Value of Overseas Security
Commitments (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2016),
- Mark W.
Zacher, “The Territorial Integrity Norm: International
Boundaries and the Use of Force,” International
Organization 55, no. 2 (Spring 2001): 215-50.
Base Nation, p. 4.
Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York:
Vintage Books, 1987), pp. 357-59.
Gholz, Daryl G. Press, and Harvey M. Sapolsky, “Come Home,
America: The Strategy of Restraint in the Face o f
Temptation,” International Security 21, no. 4
(Spring 1997): 15. The Persian Gulf gained in importance over the
years, but its importance was recognized not long after the war, as
a Top Secret National Security Council briefing put it in 1954,
“the Near East is of great strategic, political, and economic
importance,” as it “contains the greatest petroleum
resources in the world” as well as “essential locations
for strategic military bases in any world conflict.” National
Security Archive, “United States Objectives and Policies with
Respect to the Near East,” July 23, 1954 (declassified
February 27, 1981), http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB78/propaganda%20127.pdf.
J. Spykman, America’s Strategy in World Politics: The
United States and the Balance of Power (New York: Harcourt,
Brace, 1942), p. 124.
Porter, The Global Village: Distance, War, and the Limits of
Power (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2015).
- John J.
Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New
York: W. W. Norton, 2001), pp. 157-59.
- Christopher Layne, The Peace of
Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006), pp. 88-91.
- Alexander Lanoszka and Michael Hunzeker,
“Land Power and American Credibility,”
Parameters 45, no. 4 (Winter 2015-2016): 17-26.
Joffe, “Europe’s American Pacifier,” Foreign
Policy 54 (Spring 1984): 64-82.
et al., Overseas Basing, p. xx.
H. Johnson, Improbable Dangers: U.S. Conceptions of Threat in
the Cold War and After (New York: St. Martin’s Press,
1994), pp. 78, 126. And Robert Jervis writes, “The Soviet
archives have yet to reveal any serious plans for unprovoked
aggression against Western Europe, not to mention a first strike on
the United States.” Robert Jervis, “Was the Cold War a
Security Dilemma?” Journal of Cold War Studies 3,
no. 1 (Winter 2001): 59.
- Alexander L. George and Richard Smoke,
Deterrence in American Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), p. 7.
Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein, “Deterrence: The Elusive
Dependent Variable,” World Politics 42, no. 3 (April
Chan, “Extended Deterrence in the Taiwan Strait: Learning
from Rationalist Explanations in International Relations,”
World Affairs 166, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 109-25. Also see
Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International
Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978),p.
Yadlin and Yoel Guzansky, “The Strait of Hormuz: Assessing
and Neutralizing the Threat,” Strategic Assessment
(Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv, Israel) 14, no.
4 (January 2012): 7-22.
William D. O’Neil, “Correspondence: Costs and
Difficulties of Blocking the Strait of Hormuz,”
International Security 33, no. 3 (Winter 2008/09):
190-198. Also see Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson and Sameer
Lalwani, “It’s a Commons Misunderstanding: The Limited
Threat to American Command of the Commons,” in A
Dangerous World? Threat Perceptions and U.S. National
Security, ed. Christopher A. Preble and John Mueller
(Washington: Cato Institute, 2014), pp. 238-39. They argue that
U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf “can create new incentives
for other actors to threaten, disrupt, or close strategic
chokepoints as a way of deterring or retaliating against American
- As these
authors write, “By supplying reassurance, deterrence, and
active management, the United States lowers security competition in
the world’s key regions.” Stephen G. Brooks, G. John
Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth, “Don’t Come Home,
America: The Case Against Retrenchment,” International
Security 37, no. 3 (Winter 2012/2013): 39.
Bruno Tertrais, “The Demise of Ares: The End of War as We
Know It?” Washington Quarterly 35, no. 3 (Summer
2012): 7-22. For a comprehensive review of explanations for the
decline of war, see Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our
Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking,
- Dale C.
Copeland, Economic Interdependence and War (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 2014); John Mueller, “Capitalism,
Peace, and the Historical Movement of Ideas,” Cato Policy
Report (March/April 2012); Erik Gartzke, “The
Capitalist Peace,” American Journal of Political
Science 51, no. 1 (2007): 166-91.
- For a
nuclear peace argument, see Kenneth Waltz, “The Spread of
Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better,” Adelphi Papers
21, no. 171 (1981). Also see Robert Rauchhaus,
“Evaluating the Nuclear Peace Hypothesis: A Quantitative
Approach,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 53, no. 2
(April 2009): 258-77.
Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major
War (New York: Basic Books, 1989). Also see Ed Rhodes,
“The Search for Monsters to Destroy: Theodore Roosevelt,
Republican Virtue, and the Challenges of Liberal Democracy in an
Industrial Society,” in U.S. Grand Strategy in the
21st Century: The Case for Restraint, ed. Benjamin H. Friedman
and A. Trevor Thrall (New York: Routledge, forthcoming).
Van Evera, “Primed for Peace: Europe after the Cold
War,” International Security 15, no. 3 (Winter
- As these
authors write, “Primacy likely causes more proliferation
among adversaries than it prevents among allies. States crosswise
with the United States realize that nuclear arsenals deter U.S.
attack and diminish its coercive power.” Benjamin H.
Friedman, Brendan Rittenhouse Green, and Justin Logan,
“Debating American Engagement: The Future of U.S. Grand
Strategy,” International Security 38, no. 2 (Fall
Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal
of Postwar American National Security Policy (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1982/2005 edition), p. 166.
et al., Overseas Basing, p. 81.
L. Pettyjohn and Jennifer Kavanagh, Access Granted: Political
Challenges to U.S. Overseas Presence, 1945-2014 (Santa Monica,
CA: Rand Corporation, 2016), p. xv.
et al., Overseas Basing, pp. 107-8.
Strategic Basing, pp. 25-26.
S. Lambeth, American Carrier Air Power at the Dawn of a New
Century (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2005).
Strategic Basing, p. 167.
Embattled Garrisons, p. 48.
et al., Overseas Basing, p. xx. Also see p. 256:
“the movement and time advantages for moving light and medium
BCTs from overseas compared with CONUS by air is minor.”
and Mikolay, “Guam and American Security,” p. 25.
Brodie, “The Development of Nuclear Strategy,”
International Security 2, no. 4 (Spring 1978): 80-81.
this tripwire effect is technically an intended feature of the
strategy, although policymakers and the public rarely understand it
this way. Public support for U.S. intervention to defend allies
like Taiwan, South Korea, and the Philippines is low. See Andrew
Shearer, “Can America Still Rely on Its Allies?” Center
for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, Dec. 15, 2016,
reassurances have been widely reported, for example, Thomas
Friedman, “Iran and the Obama Doctrine,” New York
Times, April 5, 2015. In addition, the U.S. Senate in 2013
passed Resolution 65, which states, “If the Government of
Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate
self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the
United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in
accordance with United States law and the constitutional
responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force,
diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of
Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and
Long et al., “Weighing the Benefits and Costs of Military
Action Against Iran,” research paper, The Iran Project, New
York, 2012. https://www.scribd.com/document/106806148/IranReport-092412-Final.
Pape and James K. Feldman, Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of
Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2010), p. 19. Also see Robert Pape,
“The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,”
American Political Science Review 97, no. 3 (August 2003):
2002, there have been at least 25 terrorist attacks on U.S. bases,
consulates, or embassies in the Middle East, according to a
compilation of news reports by the author.
- In his
1996 fatwa, bin Laden declared, “There is no more important
duty than pushing the American enemy out of the holy land… .
The presence of the USA Crusader military forces on land, sea and
air of the states of the Islamic Gulf is the greatest danger
threatening the largest oil reserve in the world. The existence of
these forces in the area will provoke the people of the country and
induces aggression on their religion, feelings and prides and
pushes them to take up armed struggle against the invaders
occupying the land.” See “Osama Bin Laden v. the U.S.:
Edicts and Statements,” PBS Frontline, WGBH
Educational Foundation, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/
- See Pape
and Feldman, Cutting the Fuse, p. 2: “In the 24-year
period from 1980 to 2003, there were just under 350 suicide
terrorist attacks around the world—of which fewer than 15%
could reasonably be considered directed against Americans. By
contrast, in the six years from 2004 to 2009, the world has
witnessed 1,833 suicide attacks—of which 92% are
anti-American in origin.”
Yoshihara, “Japanese Bases and Chinese Missiles,” in
Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the
Asia-Pacific, ed. Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson
(Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2015), p. 53.
et al., Overseas Basing, p. 111.
report is according to Toshi Yoshihara, who cites Chinese military
publications laying out such a strategy. See Yoshihara,
“Japanese Bases and Chinese Missiles,” p. 38. See also
David A. Shlapak et al., A Question of Balance: Political
Context and Military Aspects of the China-Taiwan Dispute
(Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2009).
Jervis, “Cooperation under the Security Dilemma,”
World Politics 30, no. 2 (January 1978): 167-74. See also
Jervis, Perception and Misperception, pp. 58-113.
- In a
letter to Kennedy, Khrushchev wrote, “You are worried over
Cuba. You say that it worries you because it lies at a distance of
ninety miles across the sea from the shores of the United States.
However, Turkey lies next to us… . You have stationed
devastating rocket weapons, which you call offensive, in Turkey,
literally right next to us.” Quoted in Richard Ned Lebow,
A Cultural Theory of International Relations (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 451. There are other
explanations for the Soviet decision to place missiles in Cuba, but
this rationale is also explored in Graham Allison and Philip
Zelikow, The Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile
Crisis, 2nd ed. (New York: Longman, 1999), pp. 93-98.
in Lebow, A Cultural Theory, p. 452.
Stephen Kotkin, “Russia’s Perpetual Geopolitics,”
Foreign Affairs 95, no. 3 (May/June 2016). See also John
J. Mearsheimer, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s
Fault,” Foreign Affairs 93, no. 5 (September/October
R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson, “Deal or No Deal? The End of the
Cold War and the U.S. Offer to Limit NATO Expansion,”
InternationalSecurity 40, no. 4 (Spring 2016):
7-44. Also Jonathan Masters writes, “Russia’s invasion
of Georgia in the summer was a clear signal of Moscow’s
intentions to protect what it sees as its sphere of
influence.” Masters, “The North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO),” CFR Backgrounder, Council on Foreign
Relations, February 17, 2016, http://www.cfr.org/nato/north-atlantic-treaty-organization-nato/p28287?cid=soc-twitter-in-nato-080316.
“The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).”
Mueller, Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to
Al-Qaeda (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp.
- See Ted
Galen Carpenter and Doug Bandow, “U.S. Conduct Creates Perverse
Incentives for Proliferation,” Nuclear Proliferation Update
no. 4, Cato Institute, December 28, 2009. Carpenter and Bandow
write, “In particular, countries such as Iran and North Korea
have seen how the United States has treated non-nuclear adversaries
such as Serbia and Iraq, and that may have led to the conclusion
that the only reliable deterrent to U.S. coercion is a nuclear
Joseph A. Bosco, “Entrapment and Abandonment in Asia,” The
National Interest (online), July 8, 2013, http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/entrapment-abandonment-asia-8697?page=show;
Glenn H. Snyder, “The Security Dilemma in Alliance
Politics,” World Politics 36, no. 4 (July 1984):
461-95. For a skeptical view on the role of entangling alliances,
see Michael Beckley, “The Myth of Entangling
Alliances,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring
2015): 7-48. Also see Jennifer Lind, “Article Review 52 on
‘The Myth of Entangling Alliances’,”
International Security Studies Forum, April 13, 2016.
Jonathan Mercer, Reputation and International Politics
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996); Daryl G. Press,
Calculating Credibility: How Leaders Assess Military
Threats (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007).
- Barry R.
Posen, Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015), pp. 44-50.
F. Bennett, “Korea and the Thirties (A): Case Study,”
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University,
- See Ted
Galen Carpenter, “The Benghazi Report Misses the Real Scandal
of Libya,” The National Interest (online), June 29,
2016. See also Jonathan S. Landay, “Despite Reluctance, U.S.
Could Be Forced to Act in Libya,” McClatchy
Newspapers, March 2, 2011.
Embattled Garrisons, p. 116.
Galen Carpenter and Malou Innocent, Perilous Partners: The
Benefits and Pitfalls of America’s Alliances with
Authoritarian Regimes (Washington: Cato Institute, 2015), p.
Rights Watch, “Uzbekistan: Detainees Tortured, Lawyers
Silenced,” December 13, 2011, https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/12/13/uzbekistan-detainees-tortured-lawyers-silenced.
Michel, “The Obama Administration Is Gifting War Machines to
a Murderous Dictator,” New Republic, February 3,
2015. Also see Craig Whitlock, “U.S. Turns to Other Routes to
Supply Afghan War as Relations with Pakistan Fray,”
Washington Post, July 2, 2011.
Strategies of Containment, p. 146.
- David E.
Sanger, “Philippines Orders U.S. to Leave Strategic Navy Base
at Subic Bay,” New York Times, December 28,
Base Nation, p. 267.
Soble, “At Okinawa Protest, Thousands Call for Removal of
U.S. Bases,” New York Times, June 19, 2016.
et al., Overseas Basing, p. xxv.
- “Operation and Maintenance Overview:
Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Estimates,” Office of the Under
Secretary of Defense, p. 195, http://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2015/fy2015_OM_Overview.pdf.
- David J.
Berteau and others write, “The overall cost of the U.S.
military presence, according to DoD, has been approximately $36
billion for fiscal years 2010-2013. These costs do not include
expenditures for equipment or operation of the U.S. Naval fleet
that supports the PACOM AOR.” The $12 billion cited above
divides by three this cost estimate for three years to give a rough
annual cost. Berteau et al., U.S. Force Posture Strategy in the
Asia Pacific Region: An Independent Assessment (Washington:
Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 2012).
Restraint, p. 108.
Base Nation, pp. 198-99.
et al., Overseas Basing, pp. 131-64.
Base Nation, p. 204.
State Department, “Congressional Budget Justification,
Foreign Assistance: Summary Tables, Fiscal Year 2015,”
Daggett, “Defense Budget: Alternative Measures of Costs of
Military Commitments Abroad,” Congressional Research Service,
June 16, 1995.
Base Nation, p. 207.
et al., Overseas Basing, pp. 256-57, 284. This scenario
would save $3 billion annually through minor cutbacks and base
closures in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and
Congressional Budget Office proposals were cited by then senator
Tom Coburn in his budget plan in 2011, “Back in Black,”
pp. 125-26, https://web.archive.org/web/20141207010053/http://www.coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=bc1e2d45-ff24-4ff3-8a11-64e3dfbe94e1.
See also Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden, “A Thousand
Cuts,” Center for American Progress, September 2010, https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2010/09/pdf/athousandcuts.pdf.
Friedman, “Restrained Strategy, Lower Military
Budgets,” in Our Foreign Policy Choices: Rethinking
America’s Global Role, ed. Christopher Preble, Emma
Ashford, and Travis Evans (Washington: Cato Institute, 2016).
The Military Balance 2016 (London: International Institute
for Strategic Studies, 2016), p. 17.
Jervis, “International Primacy: Is the Game Worth the
Candle?” International Security 17, no. 4 (Spring
Glaser, “Why Unipolarity Doesn’t Matter (Much),”
Cambridge Review of International Affairs 24, no. 2 (June
Drezner, “Military Primacy Doesn’t Pay (Nearly As Much
As You Think),” International Security 38, no. 1
(Summer 2013): 52-79.
argues for “demobiliz[ing] most U.S. Army troops based
abroad” and contends most U.S. bases across Europe, Asia, and
the Middle East should “ultimately close.” Posen,
Restraint, pp. 158-60.
- James J.
Sheehan, Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? The Transformation
of Europe (New York: Mariner Books, 2008).
World Bank, “Russian Federation,” http://data.worldbank.org/country/russian-federation;
and The World Bank, “Spain,” http://data.worldbank.org/country/spain.
- Todd S.
Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive
Diplomacy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
Masters writes that despite ongoing efforts to revitalize its
military, “rearmament has been slow, and much of the
military’s equipment remains decades old.” Masters,
“The Russian Military,” CFR Backgrounder, Council on
Foreign Relations, September 28, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/russian-federation/russian-military/p33758.
Logan writes, “The Russian military is weak and constrained,
and the further it gets from home, the weaker and more constrained
it gets.” Logan, “NATO: Think Again,” Foreign
Policy (online), June 20, 2014.
- Ted Galen
Carpenter, “NATO at 60: A Hollow Alliance,” Cato
Institute Policy Analysis no. 635, March 30, 2009.
et al., Overseas Basing, p. 291. According to Rand,
“the ground forces based in Europe do not provide a
significant deployment benefit to other theaters.”
Sandler and Hirofumi Shimizu, “NATO Burden Sharing 1999-2010:
An Altered Alliance,” Foreign Policy Analysis 10,
no. 1 (January 2014): 59.
- See John
Mueller, Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry
Inflate National Security Threats and Why We Believe Them (New
York: Free Press, 2006).
- The 2006
National Intelligence Estimate on Trends in Global Terrorism
concludes that the Iraq War was “breeding deep resentment of
U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for
the global jihadist movement,” https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Special%20Report_Global%20Terrorism%20NIE%20Key%20Judgments.pdf.
- “The Islamic State (Full
Length),” VICE News interview, December 26, 2014, https://news.vice.com/video/the-islamic-state-full-length.
President Obama said, “ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaida
in Iraq which grew out of our invasion which is an example of
unintended consequences which is why we should generally aim before
- See Emma
Ashford, “Friends Like These: Why Petrostates Make Bad
Allies,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 770, March 31,
2015. See also John Glaser, “America’s Toxic Middle
East Allies,” The National Interest (online),
December 28, 2014.
Audrey Kurth Cronin, “U.S. Grand Strategy and
Counterterrorism,” Orbis 86, no. 4 (Spring 2012):
1-23. Also see Brad Stapleton, “The Problem with the Light
Footprint: Shifting Tactics in Lieu of Strategy,” Cato
Institute Policy Analysis no. 792, June 7, 2016.
Rovner and Caitlin Talmadge, “Hegemony, Force Posture, and
the Provision of Public Goods: The Once and Future Role of Outside
Powers in Securing Persian Gulf Oil,” Security
Studies 23, no. 3 (2014): 549-50.
p. 571. Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was hardly a failure of
deterrence in the first place. Chaim Kaufmann describes the
“conventional wisdom” as being that “Hussein was
misled by a series of U.S. official statements,” signaling
that the United States was not interested in defending
Kuwait’s territorial integrity. Kaufmann, “Threat
Inflation and the Failure of the Marketplace of Ideas: The Selling
of the Iraq War,” International Security 29, no. 1
(Summer 2004): 13.
and Talmadge, “Hegemony.”
p. 564. In any case, the economic pain during the 1973 embargo was
the result not of the embargo itself, but from oil price controls
imposed by the Nixon administration. Peter Van Doren and Jerry
Taylor, “Time to Lay the 1973 Oil Embargo to Rest,”
Cato Institute, October 17, 2003,
Gholz and Daryl G. Press, “Protecting ‘The
Prize’: Oil and the U.S. National Interest,”
Security Studies 19, no. 3 (August 2010): 453-85.
F. S. Cohen and Jonathan Kirshner, “The Cult of Energy
Insecurity and Great Power Rivalry Across the Pacific,” in
The Nexus of Economics, Security, and International Relations
in East Asia, ed. Avery Goldstein and Edward Mansfield
(Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012).
Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “How
Much Petroleum Does the United States Import and Export?”
April 1, 2016, http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=727&t=6.
Also see U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information
Administration, “Oil Net Imports Have Declined Since 2011,
with Their Value Falling Slower Than Volume,” February 25,
R. Vincent, “The Economic Costs of Persian Gulf Oil Supply
Disruptions,” in Crude Strategy: Rethinking the U.S.
Military Commitment to Defend Persian Gulf Oil, ed. Charles
Glaser and Rosemary Kelanic (Washington: Georgetown University
Press, 2016), pp. 97-98.
and Press, “Protecting ‘The Prize’,” pp.
Scobell and Alireza Nader, China in the Middle East:
The Wary Dragon (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2016). As
Jon B. Alterman writes, China has “avoided challenging U.S.
predominance” in the region and “clearly seek[s] to
reinforce the status quo” and “to cultivate the
benefits of being just such a disinterested outside power.”
Jon B. Alterman, “The Vital Triangle,” in China and
the Persian Gulf: Implications for the United States, ed.
Bryce Wakefield and Susan L. Levenstein (Washington: Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars, 2011), pp. 30-31.
Rovner, “After America: The Flow of Persian Gulf Oil in the
Absence of U.S. Military Force,” in Crude Strategy:
Rethinking the U.S. Military Commitment to Defend Persian Gulf
Oil, pp. 141-65.
L. Glaser and Rosemary A. Kelanic, “Getting Out of the
Gulf,” Foreign Affairs 96, no. 1 (January/February
“American Carrier Air Power.”
- G. John
Ikenberry, “The Rise of China and the Future of the
West,” Foreign Affairs 87, no. 1 (January/February
- According to Thomas J. Christensen, Beijing
has a “hedging strategy” that calls for avoiding
“direct confrontation [with] the United States and its
allies.” Christensen, “Fostering Stability or Creating
a Monster? The Rise of China and U.S. Policy toward East
Asia,” International Security31, no. 1 (Summer
- The U.S.
Defense Department describes China’s posture as
“strategically defensive” and “rooted in a
commitment not to attack, but to respond aggressively once an
adversary decides to attack.” Department of Defense,
“Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security
Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China
2016,” April 2016,
Jianing, “Xi Brings Strength, Integrity to Chinese Armed
Forces,” Xinhua (China), July 30, 2016,
Taylor Fravel, “Power Shifts and Escalation: Explaining
China’s Use of Force in Territorial Disputes,”
International Security 32, no. 3 (Winter 2007/2008):
Thomas J. Christensen, The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices
of a Rising Power (New York: W. W. Norton, 2015), pp.
G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, “The Rise and Fall of the
Great Powers in the Twenty-First Century,” International
Security 40, no. 3 (Winter 2015-2016): 7-53.
Cliff, The Military Potential of China’s Commercial
Technology (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2001). Quoted
in David P. Rapkin and William R. Thompson, Transition
Scenarios: China and the United States in the Twenty-First
Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
- Friedman, Green, and Logan, “Debating
American Engagement,” pp. 181-99.
S. Ross, “The Geography of Peace: East Asia in the
Twenty-First Century,” International Security 23,
no. 4 (Spring 1999): 81-118.
pp. 111-14. See also Charles Glaser, “A U.S.-China Grand
Bargain,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring
- Barry R.
Posen, “Pull Back,” Foreign Affairs 9, no. 1
(January/February 2013): 116-28.
Haddick, Fire on Water: China, America, and the Future of the
Pacific (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2014), p.
J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell, “How China Sees America,”
Foreign Affairs 91, no. 5 (September/October 2012):
Yoshihara writes, “Chinese leaders fret about the so-called
Malacca dilemma. China’s heavy dependence on seaborne energy
supplies that transit the Malacca Strait has set off Chinese
speculation that the United States might seek to blockade that
maritime chokepoint to coerce Beijing.” Yoshihara,
“Japanese Bases and Chinese Missiles,” p. 43.
Braden Montgomery, “Contested Primacy in the Asia Pacific:
China’s Rise and the Future of U.S. Power Projection,”
International Security 38, no. 4 (Spring 2014):
Lind argues “smooth relations between the United States and
China will only be possible in the unlikely event that China adopts
an extremely docile national-security strategy, or in the equally
unlikely event that the United States cedes its dominant position
in the Western Pacific.” Lind, “Are China and America
Destined to Clash?,” The National Interest (online),
June 27, 2015.
Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Case for Offshore
Balancing,” Foreign Affairs 95, no. 4 (July/August
2016): 70-83. The United States can “wait to intervene after
a war starts, if one side seems likely to emerge as a regional
hegemon,” as it did to its advantage in both world wars. Also
see Eugene Gholz and Daryl Press, “The Effects of Wars on
Neutral Countries: Why It Doesn’t Pay to Preserve the
Peace,” Security Studies 10, no. 4 (Summer 2001):
and Mikolay, “Guam and American Security in the
Pacific,” p. 18.
C. Ladwig III, Andrew S. Erickson, and Justin D. Mikolay,
“Diego Garcia and American Security in the Indian
Ocean,” in Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward
Presence in the Asia-Pacific, ed. Carnes Lord and Andrew S.
Erickson (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2015), p. 137.
- See Sen.
Jon Tester’s press release on the letter: “Tester: Cut
Spending on Unnecessary Overseas Military Construction,”
October 18, 2011, https://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=1017.
- See Sen.
Jon Tester’s press release on the bill: “Tester Calls
for Update on Overseas Bases Review,” April 5, 2012, https://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=1878.
et al., Overseas Basing, p. 10.
Research Center, “Public Uncertain, Divided Over
America’s Place in the World,” May 5, 2016,
to the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate by the
Subcommittee on Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad,
December 21, 1970. Also cited in Vine, Base Nation, p.