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U.S. military bases: a global footprint
April 14, 2012

1. Executive Summary

In the words of the U.S. Overseas Basing Commission, U.S. military bases are, “the skeleton upon which the flesh and muscle of operational capability [can be] molded [1].” U.S. military bases: a global footprint


2012 US Military Bases Update

The Obama administration’s attempts to grapple with the fallout from the 2008 global economic crisis have had a fundamental impact on the US military’s role in the world. First there was former Defense Secretary Gate’s procurement reforms, program cuts, and troop reduction plan, a process that witnessed that gutted golden calves such as the Future Combat System and the F-22 Raptor. Now, policy planners in the United States are looking towards a future where decreasing defense budgets are no longer a hypothetical, but a given.


Defense reform and budget reductions have had the following impacts on the global network of US military bases: 

  • President Obama has ‘pivoted’ US defense planning towards the Asia Pacific region and away from the Europe and the Middle East. This will translate into less of an onus on permanent bases in the Middle East, which was manifest in the administration’s decision not to push for permanent bases in Iraq, in order to contain China’s growing military presence in Asia.
  • Defense spending cuts are overwhelmingly targeted at the US Army, and in a particularly telling part of the policy statement in question, ‘US forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations” [21]. This ironically could give rise to new kinds of us military bases, such as the small-scale, lightning response orientation of new bases in Australia.


What the future may hold for the global network of US military bases:

  • The potential exists for a new round of base re-alignment; an extension of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) policy of 2005. Whether or not to launch a new round of BRAC in 2013 and 2015 is the topic of much legislative skirmishing in the US Congress of late. Supporters see new BRAC rounds as the only way to achieve cuts in defense spending, while detractors tend to frame their argument using the negative impact on local economies that results from domestic base closure. Regardless, it seems fairly certain that a decision on this politically incendiary issue won’t be coming until after the 2012 presidential elections.  
  • There have been rumblings of a new us military base in the Philippines in the wake of a series of assertive moves by China in the South China Sea.
  • The permanent US military presence in Europe will continue to be drawn down as increasingly restricted resources are re-deployed towards the Asia Pacific.


Original Article: 


Global military bases have been a constant in U.S. foreign policy since World War II. Currently, there are over seven hundred of them worldwide, serving as home for over 2,500,000 military personnel [3]. On top of America’s permanent base structure, the U.S. Navy’s eleven aircraft carriers can also be taken as impromptu military bases insofar that they can be rapidly deployed to project American military power anywhere in the world [2].

Supporters maintain that U.S. military bases provide a litany of strategic benefits: they guarantee American access to markets and strategic commodities (energy in particular), afford the U.S. military a forward position with which to project military power, and serve as a potent symbol of American global power [2]. To detractors, they are merely a euphemism for empire and all too frequently their strategic value is nullified by the political, social, and environmental rot suffered in the host country.

This backgrounder aims to examine the global footprint of U.S. military bases on a region-by-region basis. It will explore levels of American military presence as well as any changes that have been brought about by the post-9/11 Integrated Global Presence and Basing Study (IGPBS). Finally, it will briefly touch down on the effects that American decline may have on U.S. base structure worldwide.

2. Latin America & the Caribbean

Notable Facilities (amount of military personnel):

Soto Cano Air Base - Honduras (550)

Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba (850)

New facilities in Colombia (Plan Columbia)

Several counter-drug radar sites in the Andean region

Forward Operating Locations:

Ecuador, Aruba, Curaçao, and El Salvador (from 15-300) [4,2,5]

The last few decades have witnessed substantial changes in South American base structure. In 1999, the last of U.S. forces left Panama, resulting in Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) being relocated from Panama City to Miami, Florida [4,2]. Since losing Panama, the Department of Defense has established a number of Forward Operating Locations (FOL) in the region.

FOLs are a new concept in Pentagon planning. They are smaller than conventional military bases and are meant to help fight conventional and unconventional threats. A dual-use example in the South American context is that FOLs also serve as radar sites to track down suspected drug traffickers or terrorists [2]. The switch towards the leaner FOL over the permanent base stems from two lines of reasoning: they are smaller, cheaper, and can thus be more plentiful, and they would complement the highly mobile ‘Future Combat Systems’ vein of rapid-deployment U.S military technology that has since been largely eliminated by President Obama’s defense spending reform. In short, the FOL can lie in wait with a low carrying cost until a crisis arrives, at which point it can be quickly expanded to rise to whatever the occasion demands.

Latin America’s past experience with American meddling has imbued a healthy sense of skepticism towards an American military presence in the region. For example, the recent extension of Plan Colombia into the realm of military installations caused a diplomatic freeze between Colombia and Venezuela [5]. For this reason, as well as the lack of any key strategic resources at play, Latin America and the Caribbean remain a relatively low priority in global base structure.

3. Africa

Notable Facilities (amount of military personnel):

Camp Lemonier – Djibouti (1000)

Camp Simba – Kenya (n/a)

Manda Bay – Kenya (n/a)

Forward Operating Locations:

Ethiopia  (n/a)

Ghana (Rumored) [6, 7]

The newly minted African Command (AFRICOM) is a natural step towards swinging American overseas base structure towards the more flexible concept of FOLs. Pentagon officials are hoping that the FOL’s relatively small size and wider operational scope vis-à-vis conventional permanent bases will make them tolerable enough for anti-colonial African governments to stomach. As such, African FOLs are not sold as military installations, but rather as points of coordination on transnational threats such as drugs, AIDs, and terrorism [8].

So far, AFRICOM’s push to establish itself hasn’t gone smoothly. American efforts to find a place on the continent for an AFRICOM headquarters have all ran afoul of the anti-colonial sensibilities of African governments, forcing the command to remain in Stuttgart, Germany. The very same dynamic continues to derail ongoing efforts to establish FOLs in North, South, and West Africa.

Active American engagement in Africa, as embodied by AFRICOM’s creation, may be a case of too little too late. The Pentagon’s intention is to compete with Chinese influence on the continent, secure energy supplies, and to a lesser degree combat transnational threats such as terrorism. AFRICOM’s strategy of mixing civilian and defense bureaucracies and establishing FOLs is at a serious disadvantage when competing with China in Africa. Beijing’s commitment to the separation between business and politics combined with its lack of any base-building zeal make it an ideal partner for many African leaders.

4. Europe

Notable Facilities (amount of military personnel):

Ansbach (3050) – Germany

Baumholder/Kaiserslautern (8400) – Germany

Wiesbaden (2500) – Germany

Rammstein Air Base (n/a) – Germany

Vicenza (2600) – Italy

Dal Molin Air Base (1200) – Italy

Naval Station Rota (8000 including civilians) – Spain

Various USAF bases in United Kingdom (9367)

Incirlik Air Base (1514) – Turkey

Benelux (2000) – Belgium [9, 11, 12, 13, 14]

Forward Operating Locations:

Bulgaria, Romania (Est. 15-300)

U.S. military bases in Europe are intimately tied to the reality of NATO and the Cold War. That is, their original intention was to serve as a defense against the now-defunct Soviet Union. This is why they became a primary target of the Overseas Basing Commission’s efforts to shift a large part of America’s foreign military footprint back to the continental United States [1]. However, some of the Commission’s early enthusiasm for such a move later gave way to strategic concerns over Kosovo, Eastern Europe, and the continued relevance of NATO [1]. Thus, even though many troops have been moved out of Germany, America will retain a sizable permanent base structure in Europe for the immediate future. As is the case with Bulgaria and Romania, any new bases in Eastern Europe can be expected to take on the form of a FOL [13].

5. Central Asia

Notable Facilities (amount of military personnel):

Manas Air Base (1000) – Kyrgyzstan

Various bases in Afghanistan (pre-surge: 59,000, post-surge: 89,000) [10, 15]

Central Asia weighs increasingly heavily in Pentagon strategic planning, not just because of the region’s critical importance for the war in Afghanistan, but also because of energy considerations and geopolitics surrounding the Russia-China-United States triangular relationship. After a brief pause in the wake of the Cold War, the ‘Great Game’ started up again when Uzbekistan suddenly closed the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in 2005 [16]. A few years later, Kyrgyzstan tried to follow suit and threatened to close Manas - a base that saw over 170,000 coalition troops pass through it in 2008 alone [17]. While a new agreement has since been signed, any American attempts to extend base structure in Central Asia will be met by strong opposition from China and Russia.

For their part, Central Asian countries can be expected to profit from this great power competition by securing better aid and lease agreements. After a long period of Soviet rule, none of them are too interested in falling too squarely into any state’s sphere of influence.

6. East Asia

Notable Facilities (amount of military personnel):

Various bases in South Korea (28,000)

Mainland Japan bases (4,000 including civilians)

Kadena Air Base – Okinawa (18,000 including civilians)

Camp Hansen – Okinawa (n/a)

Marine Corps Air Station Futenma – Okinawa (4,000)

Various troops on rotation for training purposes in Philippines (111) [18, 19, 20, 2, 14]

Darwin Marine Base - Australia (2,500)

East Asia remains home to a sizeable contingent of Cold War-era U.S. military bases.  The global re-alignment of America’s basing footprint, as envisioned by the Overseas Basing Commission, has lead to reductions in troop levels in South Korea as well as plans for similar reductions in Japan [1]. However, it is clear that Pentagon officials are confident about having some sort of continued permanent military presence in these countries.

The rise of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in Japanese politics has recently raised questions over the future of U.S. military bases in Japan. President Hatayama has stated that he wants to expand the already agreed-upon 2006 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to have more than the expected 8,000 Marines re-deployed to Guam. At the time of writing, these negotiations are still in progress.

While the American basing footprint in East Asia may find itself shrinking due to American decline and the nebulous nature of many post-Cold War international threats, just how big this reduction will end up being very much depends on Chinese military power and its neighbor perceptions. It is no secret that with every passing year, the PLA Navy (PLAN) and PLA Air Force (PLAAF) are expanding their operational capacity. If China’s neighbors are convinced that China’s rise will be a relatively benign one, and the government in Beijing is going to play by the rules of international society, then there will be a growing tide of political pressure in South Korea and Japan to reduce America’s permanent military presence. If however Beijing is unable to convince other East Asian countries that its rise will remain a peaceful one, other East Asian countries will desperately seek out an American commitment to balance out China’s growing influence.


The Obama administration has come to an agreement to station 2,500 US Marines in Australia, marking the first permanent expansion of America’s military presence in the Asia Pacific region since the Vietnam War. There are also rumors that this US-Australian military cooperation could expand to allowing the US to station drones in the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean. 


7. Middle East

Notable Facilities (amount of military personnel)

Various bases in Iraq (171,000)

Troops in Saudi Arabia (277)

Troops in Egypt (255) [14]

America’s permanent military presence in the Middle East has historically had a lot to do with oil. Pentagon planners argue that a permanent troop presence prevents inter-state conflict in the region and ensures safe access to, and shipment of, the area’s sizeable energy resources.

Iraq is the big question mark in the region - particularly, whether or not there will be a permanent U.S. military presence once the majority of combat troops are withdrawn from the country. Washington will definitely be pushing for bases behind closed doors, and the government in Tehran will pull any strings available to avoid such a development. In the end, some kind of permanent U.S. military presence may come to pass as a sort of sectarian compromise in Iraqi politics. Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds will continue to see value in a continued American presence as a hedge against Shiite domination.

Unlike the antiquated Cold War bases of Europe and East Asia, the American military presence in the Middle East serves a very specific and important function. The global economy is lubricated by the safe flow of energy supplies, and any interruption of said supply would have seriously destabilizing consequences. Thus, the Middle East can be expected to remain a high priority in the event of any future review of U.S. military bases

8. The future of U.S military bases

There can be no doubt that American decline will have an impact on America’s global network of military bases. As Niall Ferguson argues, a deepening U.S. federal deficit will inevitably lead to a sizable annual commitment for debt repayment [6]. As these commitments and other social programs eat up a greater share of government resources, America’s defense spending will have to be reined in. This will not result in a crash or any other power rising to directly challenge America in the next few decades. It will however force an appraisal of how best to distribute limited resources and whether the U.S should maintain such a vast global network of permanent military bases.

9. End Notes
[1] Cornella, A & Curtis, L & Less, A. Commission on Review of Overseas Military Facility Structure of the United States. 2005.

[2] Lutz, C. Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle Against US Military Posts. 2009. New York University Press. New York, NY.

[3] Johnson, C. ‘737 U.S Military Bases = Global Empire.’ 03/21/2009. Global Research.

[4] Center for International Policy: Just the Facts. Latin America Working Group.

[5] Brodzinsky, S. ‘US and Colombia Sign Accord For US to Access Military Bases.’ 10/30/2009.  Christian Science Monitor.

[6] Ferguson, N. ‘An Empire at Risk.’ 11/28/2009. Newsweek.

[7] Delevingne, L. ‘Critics Target U.S Military Command.’ 06/02/2009. Inter Press Service News Agency.

[8] United States African Command (AFRICOM). ‘Questions and Answers about AFRICOM.’

[9] Davis, C. ‘Bulgarian FOS Construction Continues.’ 09/14/2009. US Army Homepage.

[10] Miles, D. ‘Kyrgyz Parliament Approves Manas Air Base Agreement.’ 06/25/2009. American Forces Press Service.

[11] Harris, K. ‘Dal Molin Project Gets Final Approval.’ 02/21/2009. Stars and Stripes.

[12] U.S Army Garrison Benelux: Sharpen the Sword. 12/07/2009. U.S Army.

[13] Wikileaks. Internal US Army Document Detailing Global Base Re-alignment.  2009. Unclassified.

[14] Special Reports: Deployment of US Troops. 12/02/2009. United Press International.

[15] Trilling, D. ‘Kyrgyzstan: Manas Air Base Operations Continue, Despite Drama.’ 02/06/2009.

[16] Wright, R & Tyson, A. ‘U.S Evicted from Air Base in Uzbekistan.’ 07/30/2005. The Washington Post.

[17] News Briefs. ‘Kyrgyzstan: Fresh Twist for Manas Air Base Saga.’ 03/05/09.

[18] Hayashi, Y. ‘U.S Presses Japan on Troop Accord.’ 10/22/2009. The Wall Street Journal.

[19] Installation Guide: Camp Zama. 2009.

[20] Kadena Air Base. 2009. U.S Air Force.

[21] NPR - Defense Cuts to Reshape US Defense Policy - 

Tags:  Military - America - North - United States


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Posted by anotherview on September 12th, 2011 at 2:34 pm EST
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Certainly a way exists for America to downsize its military footprint overseas without compromising vital strategic goals, both military and commercial. This downsizing must include transferring much if not most strategic military costs to other nations, with the object to minimize compromising important mutual goals. If another nation saw advantage to itself in America keeping its military presence there, then surely that nation must shoulder a substantial share of the cost for that advantage. The process of analysis along this line may find that America could remove its military footprint from one or more nations with no detriment to vital strategic goals. Further, this downsizing could occur over a decade or so, providing a window for all concerned to adjust to new costs and future savings. America could expect the most savings. The adjustment of America’s military footprint overseas under this approach would preserve the necessary military might while justifying it more by a principle of mutuality than by an imposition of a superpower.

Posted by Katya Davis on January 31st, 2011 at 4:58 am EST
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With the present knowledge, the country could become self sufficient in energy, as well as bringing back Manufacturing the products needed that have been outsourced to other countries.
Best regards, Katya

Posted by Norman Morley on April 10th, 2010 at 1:00 pm EST
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We are just about at the tail end of the U.S.A. being the greatest nation. The Government allowed the members of Wall Street to Loot the Treasury, sticking the declining employees to foot the bill. The Military/Industrial complex has & is continuing to drain more of the treasury. Instead of exploiting all the breakthroughs from the research that the DOD, of all sources, these just continue to pile up in humongous volumes, not being put to use. With the present knowledge, the country could become self sufficient in energy, as well as bringing back Manufacturing the products needed that have been outsourced to other countries. This will allow the closing of just about all bases outside of the U.S.A., saving the billions of dollars to spend here at home. As for the historical cycle of using the Military as a backup for Commerce, cease & desist should take place, the sooner the better. Just as the U.S. experienced in the last part of the 20th century, when business started moving out of the country, closing old manufacturing facilities, so to will a vast part of infrastructure in the Energy field have to close, for it too is outmoded, needing replacement. To allow any one segment to drag down the rest verges on being criminal. It's incredible to think that the Government leaders would rather destroy the country in order to keep old fashioned technology wasting money, instead of modernizing to the most efficient methods.

Posted by deborah Sevenwolves (website) on February 27th, 2010 at 9:19 pm EST
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I know that evidentually America isn't going to have a choice but to close many of these overseas bases, we simply can not afford them. It seems to me that some of these bases are redundent and we simply don't need them. Europe is in the position to take care of its self and to carry more of the burden when it comes to engaging in military actions where and when needed. Right now, the Republicans are baulking about the deficit but the deficit would be lowered substantially if some of these bases are closed !

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