A brief history of the US military presence
At the end of the 20th century the armed forces of the United States will have completed more than a hundred years of significant presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The approximately 100 000 American military personnel 'forward deployed' in the Western Pacific are not a large force in terms of numbers. Nevertheless, the superiority of their weaponry and their training, together with the rapidly deployable additional forces located in the continental United States, make them the most powerful military force in the region. This has been the case for over 50 years.
How powerful are these forces today, and how long will this state of affairs last? Before attempting to answer these critical questions, it is important to briefly review the long and often costly history of the presence of US military forces in the region. Emphasis will be placed on those historical factors which continue to have a significant impact on today's developments.
From the moment of its birth as an independent nation, the United States was heavily engaged in overseas trade. In the 1790s the US merchant marine was the second largest in the world. Even though the young nation's boundaries did not yet extend to the Pacific, in that decade as many as 30 US merchant vessels per year visited Chinese ports. 1
In 1800 the US Navy warship Essex conducted a cruise to the Western Pacific. In 1821 the US Navy established a 'station' for a squadron of ships in the Eastern Pacific. In 1835 the estab-