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U.S. Military Bases Provide Stability, Training, Quick Reaction

27 February 2007

Benefits to host nations include medical care, reconstruction, asset transfers

Washington -- The United States long has pursued its national security interests in cooperative efforts with friends and allies around the world, sometimes through military bases and smaller defense installations.

U.S. military facilities are established only after a country invites the United States to do so and the host nation signs a status of forces or access rights agreement.  Such agreements have a broad range of tangible benefits, the most obvious being valuable military-to-military contacts and a presence that offers regional stability or deterrence.

The U.S. military presence in South Korea, for example, authorized as part of the 1954 U.S.-Republic of Korea Mutual Defense Treaty, is a deterrent to neighboring North Korea and has had a stabilizing effect on the Korean Peninsula.  (See The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.)

Some bases disappear as circumstances change or as the military realigns to address changing threats.  (See related article.)

Under the 1947 Military Bases Agreement between the United States and the Philippines, the United States had access to Clark Air Base, Subic Bay Naval Base and a number of smaller facilities.  But the abandonment of Clark, after it was damaged by a volcanic eruption and the Philippine Senate rejected a renegotiated agreement, led to a complete U.S. withdrawal in 1992.  In the wake of that departure, Manila inherited an airport and ship repair facility.

In 2005, the United States and Japan agreed to move 8,000 Marines based in Okinawa, Japan, to the U.S. territory of Guam by 2012, an action that will return valuable land to the Japanese people. (See related article.)

A U.S. air base in Iceland closed in 2006, and bases have been shut down in Germany and other parts of Western Europe as part of a larger U.S. consolidation and global repositioning effort. (See related article.)


With changing U.S. military policy and a gradual downsizing of the number of bases overseas in the past 15 years, foreign policy analyst Daniel Widome says “large, full-service bases that serve as year-round hosts for U.S. military units” are falling out of favor.  Instead, he told USINFO, “smaller, more bare-bones facilities that may not even be occupied on a continual basis are becoming more commonplace.”

There is a shift away from huge bases requiring substantial supporting infrastructure to smaller cooperative security locations, which depend more on host-nation support. The Air Force, for example, has contingency access at an air base in Dakar, Senegal, and used it to help evacuate U.S. and other diplomats from Liberia in 2003.

A limited number of U.S. military personnel might be located, alternatively, at forward operating sites ready to respond to trouble anywhere from the Western Hemisphere to Africa.  Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras is an example of such an approach.

Although the need for base access has diminished in Western Europe, there are new requirements in Eastern Europe.  For example, in 2006, the United States signed agreements with Bulgaria and Romania for access to facilities and training as part of the Eastern European Task Force. (See related article.)

In some cases, proximity to an American base provides a local window to host-nation forces to observe civil-military relations and to demonstrate how respect for human rights is critical to a functioning democracy.  It also offers the chance to carry out realistic peacekeeping training scenarios or to collaborate in defusing regional conflict before it spirals out of control leaving behind failed nations.


Besides engagement, deterrence and maintaining a U.S. presence, 34 major U.S. military bases (those worth more than $800 million with hundreds of personnel assigned) enable quick-reaction forces to respond to a crisis or natural disaster ranging from earthquakes in Iran and Pakistan to tsunami devastation or landslides in Asia.  Bases give the U.S. military the flexibility to respond rapidly to any contingency within a theater of operation or across regions as needed whether for humanitarian relief or defensive purposes.

Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said fast response time, as the United States demonstrated in quickly aiding tsunami-stricken countries in the Indian Ocean, would not have been possible without long-term, pre-existing working relationships with militaries in South and Southeast Asia.

Addressing requirements in Asia, Under Secretary of Defense Ryan Henry told members of Congress in 2006,  “We would like to have enough capability forward and provide enough stability in the region that other countries won’t feel that it is necessary to build up their militaries” for defensive or offensive purposes.

A key component of the U.S. National Security Strategy is focused on strengthening the role of U.S. allies and building and sustaining partnerships to deal with existing and emerging threats, from terrorism to smuggling weapons of mass destruction.

The Defense Department, Widome says, is placing greater emphasis on military relationships as opposed to formal bases because they facilitate access but avoid the expense and vulnerability of bases.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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