United States Overseas Basing: An Anatomy of the Dilemma

United States Overseas Basing: An Anatomy of the Dilemma

United States Overseas Basing: An Anatomy of the Dilemma

United States Overseas Basing: An Anatomy of the Dilemma


Maintaining that enhanced national security and successful foreign policy depend on the capacity to sustain military forces abroad, this book provides a framework for dealing with the tough decisions about overseas basing that will emerge during the remainder of this century. Presenting a global, systems perspective for all overseas basing, the author describes the bases as points in an integrated network and defines the utility of a given base not only in terms of the functions that base performs for the region in which it is located, but also in terms of how it fits with and contributes to the entire basing system.


At the end of World War II, the United States operated the world's largest overseas basing system. Composed of over 30,000 installations in more than 2,000 base sites, it ranged through both hemispheres, stretching as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far south as Antarctica. There had been extensive basing systems before, but the United States' was more extensive than anything built previously, and while the military base structures of the Roman, Mongol, Spanish, Ottoman and British Empires were all profoundly impressive, they had been built in decades and centuries. The U.S. basing system had been built in five years. Rooted in both Europe and Asia, and incorporating many of the older Japanese and German bases, it spanned all the world's oceans and supported a fleet, ground forces, and air forces that were far larger than today's. And, next to the U.S. nuclear monopoly, there was no more universally recognized symbol of the nation's superpower status than its overseas basing system.

Now, nearly half a century later, that system is very different. Composed of roughly one-third the number of base sites that existed at the end of the War, it is a shrinking and controversial asset. Modern transportation and communications and improved military technology have maintained the productivity and effectiveness of overseas bases. But basing redundancy is a feature of the past, not a promise of the future, and the dominant trend is constriction, not expansion. To understand why, some history is in order. And the story begins in the 1930s.


From today's perspective, the U.S. overseas basing system in the 1930s appears surprisingly rudimentary. Most of the bases built during World War I had been dismantled shortly after that conflict ended, leaving the United States with an overseas basing structure . . .

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