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Thinking about basing.

Recent U.S. experiences--1990-91 in the Persian Gulf, in Bosnia, Kosovo, and then in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003)--have highlighted the complexities and uncertainties of basing access in the post-Cold War period. They have involved questions of access to, and overhead transit rights for, a variety of nations: all over Europe, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Tadzhikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Djibouti, and many others. They have also highlighted the crucial importance of the future of American basing access at a time of shifting alliances, friendships, and enmities amid wholesale changes in the structure of the international system, and of the movement to the forefront of the issues of terrorism, radical Islam, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and a looming hegemonic challenge by China.

There are some initial points to be made regarding definitions. One may speak variously of bases, facilities, host-nation support, installations, strategic access, forward presence, global posture, and FMP (foreign military presence). During the latter part of the Cold War, common usage dictated the use of "facilities" rather than "bases," because the user nation (primarily the United States) had only limited discretion over the use of a "base." The U.S. Defense Department's compilation of domestic and foreign bases is organized according to discrete installations. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute uses the basic concept of "FMP" in a way roughly synonymous with others' use of "base." (1) The concept of "basing access" or "strategic access" is a broader construction, subsuming overflight rights and perhaps access for intelligence operations. During the 1980s and 1990s, the concept of "power projection" came to be seen as an overarching one. (2)

More recently, "global posture" (also "footprint") has become the dominant definitional concept; more theoretically oriented academic studies, working in historical contexts, have begun to focus on "global reach" or, earlier, "sub-global reach." (3) Recent Defense Department publications--for instance, the September 2004 report to Congress on the global defense posture--have taken to defining that posture according to five criteria: relationships (interaction with allies and partners at all levels), activities (training, exercises, and operations), facilities (where forces live, train, and operate, and where they preposition materiel), legal arrangements (the framework of presence, including status-of-forces agreements, both bilateral and multilateral), and global sourcing and surge (a global-force management system for power projection). (4) Thus, although the main focus of this article will be on bases/facilities, "global posture" does have a broader frame of reference.


In the centuries-long history of the basing systems of the "great powers," or "long-cycle hegemons," several major areas of generalization and trend stand out, each of which is relevant to current problems. These are complex matters, and we can merely summarize them here.

* The role of international system structure (bipolarity, multipolarity, etc.) and the presence or absence of ideological roots of rivalry between contending major powers

* The basis for basing access: conquest or colonization versus formal alliances or alignments versus tangible quid pro quos--that is, security and economic assistance, arms transfers, etc.

* The impact on basing of ever-evolving technological change--for ship propulsion, from sail to oared galleys to sail to coal to oil to nuclear power

* The nexus of security and economic functions of basing and how that has shifted over time

* Heartland versus rimland as a basic pattern of rival basing structures through time.

The relationship of system structure and the ideological basis for conflict over many centuries is a complicated story. The empire of the Mongols, who were predominantly a land power, stretched across most of Eurasia but also exercised maritime and basing dominance in the Far East in the thirteenth century. Subsequently, the Chinese Ming dynasty, a regional hegemon, had uncontested access to bases throughout Southeast Asia and around the Indian Ocean. In the Mediterranean, from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries first Venice and Genoa, then Venice (latterly Spain) and the Ottoman Empire were locked in regional competition for maritime dominance and basing structures. Their respective bases, especially those of Venice and Genoa, were often cheek by jowl, constituting interpenetrating systems. (The Venice-Ottoman rivalry and that of Spain and the Ottomans was somewhat more demarcated between east and west.)

Portugal and Spain had rival but formally demarcated basing structures, with Portugal acquiring bases all around Africa and the Indian Ocean and in the Far East and Brazil, Spain mostly in Latin America but also in the Philippines and the western Mediterranean. Some scholars do not rate Portugal a great power during the early modern era, as it was a maritime power only, standing on the margins of a Europe then dominated by the Habsburg Empire. If so, we have somewhat of a divorce between great-power status and the facts of semiglobal basing structure. In the seventeenth century, the Netherlands was a commercial and maritime hegemon, with the most elaborate basing structure of its day, but it existed within a multipolar power structure in Europe, and its bases interpenetrated the systems of England and France, particularly in India.

The British Empire had maritime predominance and an unmatched global basing system, also in the overall context of European multipolarity, wherein other powers--France, Prussia/Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary--were major land powers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and on up to World War I.

During the Cold War, the bipolar rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union saw a global competition for basing access, but an asymmetric one with respect to maritime power, in which one side, the United States, was predominant throughout. Only since the early 1990s, however, has the United States had complete maritime predominance and the only global basing presence, with no rival whatsoever. Generally speaking, basing structures have correlated with the facts of relative national power, with the exception, perhaps, of Portugal.

Over time, bases and access in general have resulted from conquest and colonization, alliances, or quid pro quos such as security assistance, though these have not been mutually exclusive. The Mongols' few bases were acquired entirely by conquest. Those of Ming China seem to have been a mix of "forced entry," also known as intimidation, and agreements with local potentates interested in trade. The bases of the Venetian, Genoese, Ottoman, and Spanish fleets of oared galleys in the Mediterranean were mostly the results of conquest, in some cases of more consensual arrangements. Spain's basing structure accrued entirely by ruthless conquest and colonization. Portugal's involved some military conquest, but also a good deal of alliance building among more advanced (relative to those of Spain's domain) societies in India, East Africa, and Southeast Asia. The Dutch took over most of the Portuguese basing structure by conquest; the British built their empire and its attendant basing structure almost entirely on the basis of conquest "beyond the line," in what now is called the Third World. But many British bases in Europe were acquired, often ad hoc, on the basis of ever-shifting alliances in a multipolar European system sans ideology.

In the early part of the Cold War, the United States availed itself of a large number of bases via alliances with the United Kingdom and France, before the possessions and bases of the latter gradually dwindled as a result of decolonization. After that, starting in the 1960s, the United States (and also the Soviet Union) built global basing structures on the basis of alliances with ideologically friendly client states, underpinned by protection and provision of security but also by extensive security assistance, mostly in the form of arms transfers.

Throughout the past half millennium or more, needless to say, technological change has been a major driver of basing requirements. Up to World War I and somewhat beyond, that pattern pertained almost entirely to naval technology. The Mongols and Ming Chinese built large sailing vessels that gave them long-range power-projection capability. In the Mediterranean from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, the contending powers used oared galleys; their limited ranges and extensive logistical requirements translated into the need by the Venetians, Genoese, Ottomans, and Spaniards for elaborate basing networks even in that relatively small theater. (5) Portugal, on the basis of technological developments in shipbuilding, navigational equipment, and naval gunnery, was able to move to the forefront of naval power and establish bases in a quasi-global system centered on the Indian Ocean. (6) But travel was slow and dependent on prevailing winds and currents; warships going from Lisbon to Goa around the Cape of Good Hope had to travel west almost to Brazil to pick up winds favorable for the trip around Africa. The Netherlands, France, and Britain improved the capabilities of sailing ships over several centuries. In the nineteenth century the advent of coal-fired steam propulsion resulted in faster and more direct travel for naval ships, but also in a requirement for numerous coaling stations--a development of which Britain was able to take particular advantage because of its global empire. The appearance of oil-fired ships (also of fleet oilers and colliers) reduced these requirements; later, nuclear propulsion would reduce them further.

But after World War I, developments in aviation produced entirely new requirements for external air bases; as aircraft ranges were short, the number of bases required for ferrying combat aircraft or troops and materiel was huge. Japan in 1941, for instance, had numerous air bases on Taiwan and Hainan Island; Italy had them in Libya and Somaliland. (7) The submarine produced yet further requirements (for example, Franco's Spain gave German boats access to the Canary Islands for refueling). Beginning with the undersea communications cables before 1914, after World War I with radio relay and intercept stations, a basing requirement arose, for technical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) purposes. After World War II, that became an important matter; the United States constructed elaborate global networks of AUTOVON/AUTODIN communications, DSP and other satellite downlinks, the DEW Line and BMEWS, SOSUS, NUDETS, signals-intelligence ground installations, and much more. ** Oiler refueling (for transfer to operating forces at sea) and constant ocean surveillance produced still other basing requirements. But, paradoxically, oiler refueling and increasing aircraft ranges greatly reduced the need for elaborate external networks of air bases.

There had once existed a close nexus between the security and economic functions of overseas bases. The Ming Chinese Zheng Ho navy, which roamed the Indian Ocean littoral and its ports, did so mostly with the purpose of advancing trade. Venetian and Genoese bases in the eastern Mediterranean--Black Sea area likewise were colocated with a variety of economic enterprises, and many of the Venetian and Genoese war galleys were actually armed merchant vessels. Portuguese bases in East Africa, India, and elsewhere were also entrepots, hubs of commercial activity. A number of the British and Dutch bases in Asia were established by semiprivate trading companies closely tied to and protected by their nations' fleets and armies. By the heyday of the British Empire, however, this colocation of military bases and entrep6ts had largely been broken, and naval bases were obtained and operated more or less entirely for military reasons.

During the Cold War, however, the critical issue of Persian Gulf oil became inextricably linked to basing access. American bases along oil-tanker sea-lanes to Asia and North America came to be viewed in the context of a possible Soviet effort (from bases in Angola, Guinea, Somalia, South Yemen, etc.) to interdict them in case of war. In the late 1980s, with the "reflagging" operation on behalf of Kuwait, the United States established new points of access in the Persian Gulf. Today, as is heavily reflected in Defense Department and Congressional Budget Office publications, overseas bases are seen in connection with potential struggles over oil resources, not only in and around the Persian Gulf but in Azerbaijan, Libya, Algeria, Gabon, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, etc. (8) Economics, then, in the form of access to oil, has crept back into basing access and global presence.

Over the past five hundred years, the basing networks of the contending great powers have corresponded closely with the geopolitical imagery of "heartland" and "rimland." As noted by Alfred Thayer Mahan, Colin Gray, and others, the successive maritime hegemons--Portugal, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the United States--all established a degree of blue-water sea control based on superior main fleets and a ring of naval bases all around the Eurasian supercontinent. (9) Periodically, they were challenged by land powers attempting to develop equivalent seapower: France under Louis XIV, Germany before World War I, the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

As has been pointed out in connection with "system leader lineage," the successive maritime hegemons typically inherited their predecessors' basing structures, with modifications. (10) The Dutch took the Portuguese bases by force, but Britain in its turn mostly acquired the Dutch bases peacefully, as did the United States when it took over the role of rimland naval hegemon from Britain after World War II. Certain bases or strongpoints astride key "choke points" or adjacent to strategically important locales, and islands with strategic locations, have risen to importance with noteworthy frequency over five hundred years: Hormuz, Angola, Gibraltar, Aden, Trincomalee (in Sri Lanka), the Malabar and Coromandel coasts of India, Malacca/Singapore, Mauritius, Mogadishu, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Cyprus, Malta, and Crete appear again and again in the history of naval warfare and bases.

During the Cold War, the United States, sometimes relying upon the remnants of the British Empire, established bases in Iceland, Norway, the United Kingdom, the Azores, Morocco, Spain (at Rota), Italy, Greece/Crete, Turkey, Iran (up to 1979), Ethiopia (up to 1977), the Seychelles, the Maldives, Pakistan, Diego Garcia, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, Taiwan (up to 1972), Japan, and South Korea--in a pattern perfectly reflective of a rimland configuration around the periphery of the Sino-Soviet bloc. Now, of course, analysts refer to a newer geopolitical configuration focused on intersecting "arcs of crisis" from North Africa to South Asia, and from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia, reflective of a present emphasis on oil politics and on combating Islamist terror and nuclear proliferation. At least in part the rimland basing structure has been retained, but the newer geopolitics spotlights the importance of access to Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel (a narrow band of semiarid land south of the Sahara Desert), all around the arcs of crisis. Also, of course, in view of U.S. naval dominance and the absence of a maritime peer competitor, there is an emphasis on littoral warfare and control, in lieu of Mahanian sea control.


Recent Defense Department and other studies have focused on outright intervention scenarios (Iraq, Iran, Korea, Taiwan, et al., plus numerous smaller situations involving various types of low-intensity conflict) as the core of the problem of forward presence, and accordingly have emphasized the more ad hoc forms of access. That is appropriate, but it may be worthwhile to present a more complex framework, with historical examples and possible future scenarios. Hence, the following analysis refers to both bases and other forms of access, with a (not always clear-cut) distinction between nuclear deterrence and the various levels of conventional power projection.

Nuclear Deterrence and Defense

During the Cold War, numerous overseas bases were dedicated to functions related to the U.S. nuclear deterrence posture vis-a-vis the USSR and, to a lesser degree, the People's Republic of China. But many bases served dual purposes with regard to prospective nuclear and conventional power projection--for instance, forward-based attack aircraft in Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea; access for carriers in the Mediterranean and East Asia; aerial tanker bases in places like Thule, Gander, and Keflavik; land-based signals intelligence stations all around the Soviet periphery; U-2 and SR-71 surveillance aircraft bases; and others.

But some overseas access had functions that were primarily if not solely nuclear. Early on there were Strategic Air Command B-47 "Reflex Force" bases in Spain and Morocco; medium-range ballistic-missile bases in the United Kingdom, Italy, and Turkey, as well as on Okinawa and Taiwan (for the Mace and Matador missiles); DSP downlinks in Australia and Germany; SOSUS terminals in a variety of places near choke points and Soviet submarine transit routes and "bastions"; ground-launched cruise-missile and Pershing II emplacements in Europe (before the Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty); BMEWS sites in the United Kingdom and Greenland; nuclear detection facilities (seismic arrays) in numerous countries including Norway and Turkey; signals-intelligence stations collecting telemetry data (in Iran, among other places, and later in China); Omega and LORAN navigation aids; TACAMO (related to communications with U.S. submarines); bases for ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) at Rota and Holy Loch and for attack boats (SSNs) at La Maddalena, Faslane, and Sasebo; and solar flare stations, other communications facilities, and the DEW, PINETREE, and North Warning System early warning radars in Canada and Greenland. Much of this structure was dismantled as the USSR disappeared as a rival (SOSUS and SSBN bases, for example), but some of it remains (such as signals-intelligence and DSP downlink facilities).

Today the future of nuclear deterrence basing is somewhat indeterminate. The SSBNs--"boomers"--are now all based in the continental United States, in Georgia and Washington State. Nuclear-capable forward-based aircraft, such as the F-111s in the United Kingdom, have been stood down. But some technical facilities remain--again, for instance, the DSP downlinks. U.S. nuclear deterrence today has Russia in mind only in part; basing in the context of nuclear deterrence has mostly to do with missile defense vis-a-vis China, North Korea, and Iran. In Europe, the BMEWS radars at Fylingdale Moor in the United Kingdom and Thule, Greenland (under Danish sovereignty) are to be upgraded. There appears to be an agreement in the offing with Britain to base theater missiles at Fylingdale as well. Farther east, Poland appears the most likely host (Romania and Hungary have also been considered) for missiles that could defend most of Europe from threats in the Middle East (Iran, Israel, and Pakistan may all soon be capable of reaching the heart of Europe with nuclear-armed missiles). In the Far East, Japan has still to decide whether to host U.S. missile defenses against North Korea and China; Japan and South Korea may host related warning radars (Alaska serves this purpose for the defense of the continental United States from Chinese and North Korean missiles). Finally, the United States could deploy shipborne theater antiballistic missiles in the waters around Japan and Korea, in the Mediterranean and Arabian seas, and maybe in the Baltic; the ships that carry them would (to some extent) need access to nearby ports.

Conventional Conflict

The heart of the problem of global posture is future U.S. access in a wide variety of possible scenarios in a context of ambiguous threats, uncertain alliances, and ill-defined international system structure.

Before World War II, a more or less isolationist America had little in the way of overseas bases, mostly (as also, on a much larger scale, for Great Britain) in colonial possessions or protectorates--the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, the Panama Canal Zone, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. The Lend-Lease Act of 1940 provided the United States a string of bases, on ninety-nine-year leases, reaching from Newfoundland to British Guyana. During the war, many other bases--in Greenland, Iceland, the Azores, Acapulco, the Galapagos Islands, Recife and Fortaleza in Brazil--were provided by a number of countries.

After World War II, the elaborate alliance system afforded to the United States bases in the colonial possessions of Britain, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands. The use of numerous allied bases all around the Eurasian rimland was a virtual given. This made it easy for the United States to operate in conflicts large and small.

In the Korean War, bases in Japan were about all that were needed. In the Vietnam War, the United States was availed of air and naval bases in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Thailand. Before and during DESERT STORM, access was available just about everywhere in Europe and the Middle East. For a variety of contingencies large and small, the United States operated in a permissive environment for access because of numerous stable alliances and other client relationships, all underpinned by security assistance. Things became tougher in 2003.

At present, and for the future, the security environment is much more ambiguous, as are alliance relationships themselves. In place of a set and more or less stable twilight struggle against the Soviet Union and its allies, there is now a multilayered and fluid threat environment featuring terrorism, WMD proliferation, nation building, and peacekeeping in a variety of places, as well as a looming hegemonic rivalry with China, maybe the European Union, and maybe Russia (again), in combinations and sequences not easily foreseen.

In fact, even with the best analytical work, conflicts--and hence basing requirements-are not always easily envisaged or predicted. Few people in the summer of 2001 could have predicted the need within months for U.S. access in Central Asian ex-Soviet socialist republics to enable large-scale military operations in Afghanistan. Earlier, presumably, few British analysts foresaw the need for a large-scale invasion of the Falkland Islands under adverse weather conditions, and a critical associated requirement for access to a (British-owned) air base on Ascension Island. The critical role of Lajes Air Force Base in the Azores for arms resupply to Israel in 1973 (which arguably averted resort by the latter to nuclear weapons) had probably also been only dimly perceived by defense planners. Whatever the elaborateness of scenarios, then, surprises may be expected, including some that overwhelm "capabilities-based analysis."

That said, scenarios for the future can be broken down into two basic categories, generic and specific. Most current open-source Defense Department analyses rely on the former, if only to organize the subject. The generic scenario types now commonly utilized are traditional, irregular, catastrophic, and disruptive. "Traditional" refers to familiar force-on-force, large-scale engagements, such as the two world wars, the Korean War, DESERT STORM, the Iran-Iraq War, and the 1967 and 1973 Middle Eastern wars. In the academic literature--for instance, in the research emerging from the "Correlates of War" project--the relative scale of such conflicts is gauged by the variables of magnitude (number of combatants involved), severity (number of combat deaths), and duration. (11) Additionally, one can point to "moving fronts"--that is, an identifiable shifting demarcation of large-unit forces, analogous to a football line of scrimmage. Some analysts speak of a spectrum running from all-out conventional war to various forms of "limited" conventional war, Korea being an example of warfare characterized by tacit geographical limits. Most traditional conflicts are interstate, though the Chinese civil war in the late 1940s was an intrastate example.

"Irregular" conflicts refer to a range of conflict types roughly similar to the spectrum of low-intensity warfare, a term in vogue in the 1980s and 1990s. It comprises guerrilla and insurgency warfare, civil wars (ethnic wars over territory and ideological wars over control of governments), coups, terrorism, border friction, etc. (12) Most of these wars, the latter example excepted, are of an intrastate nature. Over time, the dominant frequency of Marxist insurgencies gave way to "Reagan Doctrine" anticommunist insurgencies and then, in the 1990s, to a heyday of ethnic warfare.

"Catastrophic" conflicts comprise those in which large-scale casualties are caused by weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)--nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological warfare. Hypothetically, some forms of environmental warfare might also be envisaged under this heading. Catastrophic conflict can involve interstate warfare or terrorism. In the former case, it could come in the form of "bolts from the blue" (preemptive attacks) or could come through escalation of a conventional war to the use of tactical, theater, or strategic WMDs.

"Disruptive" scenarios are perhaps more difficult to categorize than the others. Presumably they could include such things as electromagnetic-pulse attacks that disrupt communications or "cyber warfare," with or without an identifiable perpetrator. They might also involve major political changes in nations via elections or significant shifts in foreign-policy orientation that could heavily impact on U.S. global presence.

Again, the above generic scenario types seem largely a recasting of the conflict spectrum elaborated by various authors in the 1990s running from nuclear to conventional to limited conventional, to high-, medium-, and low-intensity conflict. (13) The shift toward a multipolar system somewhat devoid of ideological conflict, and the advent of new technological possibilities for conflict such as EMP and cyberwar, have added new dimensions to a comprehensive scenario menu.

In the Cold War, U.S. government studies openly acknowledged expected, possible, or actual scenarios, mostly related to the two "base cases," war in Central Europe and in the Persian Gulf, both expected to involve the USSR. War started in one of these theaters was thought likely to spread to the other ("horizontal escalation"). Korea was, in addition, long an additional "mini-base case." Specific scenarios, however, are politically sensitive in an ambiguous political environment in which the identities of friends and foes are not always as clear as in the (in this respect) halcyon Cold War years. Now the scenarios considered are far more varied, with respect to both type and location. Political sensitivities put some within the classified realm, and again, there is a high likelihood of the unforeseen, though most can be fitted into the aforementioned four-way typology. Underlined in all of this is the global, diverse, almost open-ended nature of potential problems and the uncertainty of access in the context of shifting, indeterminate, and contingent or ad hoc political relationships. We shall return to this.

Arms Resupply during Conflict. Any number of scenarios can be divined regarding future basing problems in connection with arms resupply during conflict. In numerous past situations, the United States and other major weapons suppliers have had to choose, in conflicts involving allies or friendly states, policies from a spectrum ranging from embargo (the U.S. embargo on Pakistan in 1965, which drove the latter into a long-term alliance with China) to all-out arms resupply, with a possible time lag in the latter case, as in 1973. (14) In 1973, access to bases in the Azores (territory of Portugal) and perhaps Spain (tanker refueling) was critical to the resupply effort on behalf of Israel, as was the movement of some materiel out of Germany. An "air corridor" through the Gibraltar Straits was also vital. On the other side of the Cold War divide might be noted Soviet use of air staging bases and overflight corridors for resupplying clients in Angola (1975), Ethiopia (1977-78), and Vietnam (1979). In Angola and Ethiopia the Soviets used north-south air corridors similar to what the United States now seeks in its contingency planning.

As for the future, who can say? Scenarios have been bruited for possible arms resupply operations involving Israel, Egypt, maybe Iraq, possibly Pakistan or India. A new round of fighting between Ethiopia and Somalia, or between Armenia and Azerbaijan, could bring this matter into play. In the case of Israel and Egypt, a new conventional conflict might prompt an American embargo on both, perhaps coupled with asymmetric Russian or European Union (EU) resupply of Egypt; that could trigger a repeat of the near-nuclear scenario of 1973. In another round, Portugal and Spain might not likely allow the United States access for resupply of Israel, but longer-range transport aircraft render this a less crucial matter than before.

Coercive Diplomacy, Air-Based Intelligence. Coercive diplomacy, known as "gunboat diplomacy" in an earlier time, may also require access. Numerous cases have been detailed in which this issue came into play during the Cold War, many cases involving access to bases and overhead air space. (15) Once, coercive diplomacy usually involved the movement of ships, like the actual "gunboats" used by the United States to affect behavior in Central American states. (16) In 1970, American ships based in Souda Bay (Crete) and elsewhere coerced Syria into halting its invasion of Jordan. In 1971, a carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean signaled an American "tilt" toward Pakistan in its conflict with India, and friendship toward China as well. More recently, the forward movement of AWACS *** aircraft has become more the norm, though movement of U.S. ships through the Taiwan Straits in 1996 to signal support for Taiwan was closer to the earlier model. The firing of Tomahawk missiles as "signals" (some might say futile gestures) in Sudan, Iraq, and Afghanistan may be cited, involving ships that may have had access to regional ports. A related matter is the flying of intelligence aircraft off the shores of rival nations such as China, in which case access to bases in Okinawa would have been required.

During the Cold War, the United States flew U-2 missions from Bodo (Norway), Wiesbaden (West Germany), Incirlik (Turkey), Peshawar (Pakistan), and Atsugi (Japan), among other places, and electronic intelligence planes along the Soviet Arctic coast from bases in Western Europe. (17) The shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007 may have resulted, accidentally, from such activities. Electronic intelligence collection is now typically conducted by satellite, but the need for basing electronic and photographic intelligence aircraft may remain.

Presence/Showing the Flag. "Presence," or "showing the flag," mostly through port visits, is a longtime maritime tradition, an important aspect of the politics of prestige and alignments. In the nineteenth century, for instance, all the major naval powers sent flotillas (one of them the American "Great White Fleet") around the globe to show the flag, display might, perhaps intimidate a bit. Such visits are made to allied nations but also to neutral and even somewhat unfriendly ones. As was recently the case with U.S. ship visits to Vietnam, "showing the flag" (or the acceptance by hosts of such visits) can be a way of indicating new political relationships. The bombing of the USS Cole (DDG 67) took place in that context--in Aden (Yemen), which had been not much earlier a major Soviet naval base.

Peacekeeping. A more recent phenomenon is the use of foreign facilities in order to conduct peacekeeping or interposition operations nearby. Here one might cite U.S. access to facilities in Egypt to support peacekeeping in the Sinai, and in Hungary and Albania for operations in, respectively, Bosnia and Kosovo. West African ports like Dakar, Senegal, have been used to support peacekeeping operations in nearby states, such as Liberia.

A few points stand out from the myriad of possible complex scenarios. Most reflect focuses on WMD, terrorism, hegemonic rivalry with China, and competition over scarce resources--particularly oil, but possibly also such minerals as iron ore and manganese--and the possible nexus between the latter two. (18) The possession, existing or possibly pending, of nuclear weapons by Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea, perhaps later Egypt, Syria, or Taiwan, among others, is at the heart of numerous scenarios. Islamist terror raises the possibility of conflict and, hence, access requirements in numerous areas spanning the West, North and East Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, Central Asia, etc. Hegemonic China looms large in such scenarios. Most importantly, maybe, the supply-demand equation for oil also looms large, what with enormously increased demand by China, India (with a projected population of 1.6 billion), and other Asian countries. China is now getting oil in large quantities from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Angola, Iran, Russia, Sudan, Yemen, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Indonesia. (19) It is looking for additional sources in Chad, Canada and Peru, among other places.


The United States has been reshaping its global presence to deal with new threats, emanating from sometimes new sources, in a very fluid and complex global environment. It is positioning itself according to new geopolitical emphases (arcs of crisis, African oil fields, etc.) and also in line with its own "transformation"--an emphasis on smaller, lighter, more mobile forces. There is a clear shift away from the residual Cold War global presence, marked by heavy forces stationed where they would be expected to fight--in Central Europe and Korea. The upshot of the scenarios themselves, the comparative costs involved, the necessity to retain military personnel and attend to their families' needs, and a desire to lower the intrusiveness of the U.S. presence and infringement on other nations' sense of sovereignty is that global presence is being seen in terms of trade-offs. The traditional option is forward presence/basing; a new possibility is sea basing; both political and new technological realities, however, increasingly allow for resort to basing military operations in the continental United States (Conus) itself. The latter two broad options are, of course, linked.

As indicated in recent Defense Department publications, basing access has come to be viewed along a spectrum embracing the "main operating base," "forward operating site," and "cooperative security location." Main operating bases involve "permanently stationed combat forces and robust infrastructure" and "will be characterized by command and control structures, family support facilities, and strengthened force protection measures." (20) Examples mentioned are Ramstein Air Force Base (Germany), Kadena Air Base (Japan), and Camp Humphreys (Korea). Others that might fit that category are the air bases at Thumrait, Seeb, and Masirah in Oman, and Al Udeid in Qatar. Yet others might be the naval base at Yokosuka, the complex of bases on Guam, the naval facilities on Diego Garcia, maybe the air and army bases in Kuwait, and perhaps the main army bases in Germany at Baumholder, Wurzburg, Wiesbaden, Friedberg, Schweinfurt, and Vilseck.

A forward operating site is defined as "an expandable warm [i.e., kept in ready condition] facility maintained with a limited U.S. military support presence and possibly prepositioned equipment." (21) Further, they "will support rotational rather than permanently stationed forces and be a focus for bilateral and regional training." Examples cited include the Sembawang port facility in Singapore (which may be approaching, de facto, the status of a main operating base) and Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras. Other U.S. Air Force bases around the world that, as measured by permanently stationed personnel, might qualify are Keflavik in Iceland, Royal Air Force Stations Lakenheath and Mildenhall in the United Kingdom, Spangdahlem in Germany, Aviano in Italy, Incirlik in Turkey, and Utapao in Thailand. Naval Air Station Atsugi in Japan might qualify as well. Of course, the newer facilities being expanded and utilized in Bulgaria and Romania fit this model, as do some in the smaller Persian Gulf countries. The U.S. facility at Sigonella in Sicily (during the Cold War mostly a U.S. Navy P-3 antisubmarine patrol aircraft base), if expanded, would presumably also qualify as a forward operating site.

Cooperative security locations are "facilities" with "little or no permanent American presence." Instead, they are maintained with "periodic service, contractor, or host-nation support." Cooperative security locations would provide contingency access and serve as focal points for "security cooperation activities." (22) According to Defense Department documents, Dakar is one example; there the U.S. Air Force "has negotiated contingency landing, logistics, and final contracting arrangements ... which [made Dakar] a staging area for the 2003 peace support operation in Liberia." (23) According to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, which omits the acronyms and Pentagon jargon, cooperative security arrangements of this sort are being set up in several African countries: Chad, Djibouti, Uganda, Kenya, Niger, Mauritania, Mall, Senegal, Nigeria, and Algeria, among others. (24)

Obviously, the main thrust here is in the direction of a very limited number of main operating bases, so as to lessen the U.S. overseas footprint, and an increase in forward operating sites and cooperative security locations to accommodate lighter and more mobile forces for a variety of contingencies.

The current, evolving trends are clear. The first is some degree of drawdown in "old Europe," mostly in Germany, in favor of forward sites in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland, either with limited permanent personnel or forces rotated from Germany or the United States. (25) The second comprises the maintenance of forward sites, cooperative locations, and prepositioned materiel in the Middle East--in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman (concurrent, however, with a reduction of deployments to Saudi Arabia). A third is the maintenance of bases in relation to Afghanistan--and this apparently in the face of mounting pressure from President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who claims the United States promised to withdraw from Central Asia after the end of the crisis there. Washington has kept its bases in Afghanistan at Bagram, Kandahar, and Mazar-e Sharif, etc., and has solidified access to air bases in Kyrgyzstan (Marias) and Uzbekistan (Khanabad). (26) That in neighboring Kyrgyzstan has also drawn notice due to its proximity to western China. Fourth, Diego Garcia remains (with British permission) a critical U.S. base for prepositioning, refueling, and crew rest for B-2 and B-1 missions. Finally, in East Asia, Australia continues to host important American intelligence and surveillance facilities (Exmouth, Pine Gap) as well as offering American planes and ships access. Singapore, as noted, now hosts a major U.S. naval facility, and the Philippines now is resuming basing access for the United States after a long hiatus, prodded by the necessities of cooperation on antiterrorism.


As we have seen, and historically speaking, nations have acquired basing access in one of three basic ways: by conquest or colonization, by providing security or protection for the host via formal alliances or less formal arrangements that still imply protection, or by tangible quid pro quos--security assistance, arms transfers, subsidies, or what amount to "rents."

In the current context for the United States, conquest is more or less irrelevant, precluded by emerging international norms or "laws"--though some critics of the Iraq invasion see enhanced basing access as having been a motive for it. An extreme situation regarding access to oil, oil embargoes, or unacceptably high oil prices could raise the question of conquest of bases to deal with it. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, indeed, warned of this possibility in the 1970s. As for bases acquired through the provision of security, during the Cold War a number of nations provided the United States access at least in part because it provided assurance against Soviet or Chinese aggression. The term "extended deterrence" was often used to describe such a relationship. It may still be applicable in a number of cases--for example, Japan, South Korea, perhaps again the Philippines, even Vietnam. Access in Georgia and some of the ex-Soviet states in Central Asia might be included, in relation to a possibly resurgent and revisionist Russia. Around the Persian Gulf, states are being made secure by a U.S. presence against Iranian aggression and maybe reassured about the implications of a possible Saudi Islamic revolution. In addition, a growing number of nations--again, the Philippines, and some in Africa--may see an American presence as deterring terrorists.

All of this represents extrapolation from current problems and scenarios. Perhaps absent here is the broader picture of a changing but indeterminate international systems structure that may heavily impact future scenarios, formal and informal alliances, and hence basing access. Cold War bipolarity based largely on an ideological divide has now given way to a degree of unipolarity heavily influencing the facts of basing dominance, admixed with an incipient though asymmetric multipolarity, the poles of which are the United States, the EU, Russia, China, Japan, India, and perhaps a nascent radical "Islamic world." Save the remnants of communism and the growing ideological-religious aspects of Islamic radicalism, the new system is largely devoid of an ideological basis for enmity and friendship, a state of affairs that allows, as was the case in the Europe of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, rapidly shifting alliances based on short-term or medium-term expedience and balance-of-power considerations. Russia's recent oscillation between China (arms transfers, coalescence vis-a-vis the United States), the EU (ganging up on the United States), and the United States (common front against Islamic terrorism) may be a harbinger of things to come as well as a reminder of the past.

What of the future? The West versus the rest? The United States aligned with Japan, India, and maybe Russia against rising Chinese global hegemony, with the EU as a "balancer" and Islam aligned with China? (27) An all-Asia front to drive U.S. power out of Asia? There are various possibilities, and again, the shifts may be rapid and frequent. At another level, nuclear proliferation, juxtaposed to big-power multipolarity, will be critical, and numerous new entrants to the "nuclear club" are likely. North Korea (maybe later a nuclear-armed united Korea), Iran, maybe Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, and Indonesia, are all technically qualified.

What will be the impact of all of this on basing and, specifically, on the American basing posture? In the past, multipolar systems devoid of long-term stable alliances usually have obviated or limited large-scale basing systems; in such a world today's "friend" is tomorrow's rival and someone else's "friend." Nuclear proliferation seems to portend the decoupling of alliances because of the intimidation factor--unless the protection/security factor drives cooperative missile defense systems. Will Japan, China, Russia, India, and the EU develop effective ballistic-missile-defense systems? Will some of these powers provide security assistance as quid pro quo for their own bases or to deny access to the United States? On the whole, decoupling and a very constrained environment for U.S. basing might be predicted--and hence further reliance on sea-basing or Conus-basing schemes (see later)--but all of this is uncertain. The effective use of security assistance might alter the equation.

Security Assistance

The third category, in the current context, relates primarily to the use of security assistance as a quid pro quo for basing access. During the Cold War, some of the largest recipients of American security assistance--Turkey, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the Philippines--were providers of critically needed access for the United States.

There are several categories of security assistance: the Foreign Military Financing Program, the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, and the Economic Support Fund. (28) Some seventy-four countries receive foreign military financing, some 130 receive IMET money, and some twenty-six accept money from the Economic Support Fund, which is also used to support multilateral programs concerning regional democracy, regional women's' issues, administration of justice funds, and other such initiatives.

Several points stand out regarding the current structure of U.S. security assistance. The first point is the dominance of the numbers by Egypt and Israel. Another is the truly remarkable number of countries receiving U.S. funds from one or more of these sources, more than two-thirds of some 190 sovereign nations in the world. Many that now receive such assistance are former Soviet allies and arms clients (or even former Soviet republics), many of which once provided Moscow basing access and overflight rights; among them are Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Ethiopia/ Eritrea, Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Angola, Mongolia, India, and Cambodia.

Regarding the Foreign Military Financing Program, Egypt and Israel are the largest recipients, primarily as a result of supporting the Camp David peace process, though Egypt has provided the United States access in recent times. In 2003-2004, aside from Egypt and Israel, only Jordan, Oman, Morocco, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland, Georgia, Turkey, Colombia, the Philippines, and Pakistan received over twenty million dollars, modest sums. The low figures for Latin America correlate with low levels of conflict and strategic threat and the near absence of American bases (Colombia, for instance, has had significant support in relation to drug interdiction). The United States once provided large amounts of security assistance, as much as five hundred million dollars annually, to a small number of key basing hosts: Portugal (the Azores), Spain, Greece, Turkey, Thailand, the Philippines. Now, aside from the billions required to support the Egypt-Israel Camp David accords, money is spread out to a much larger number of recipients in smaller amounts (though some are still quite large): Jordan near a half billion (in part for underwriting the "peace process," but perhaps also for American access in the Iraq war), and Afghanistan $190 million.

Djibouti and the Philippines have the largest accounts in the Economic Support Fund, each around twenty-five million dollars, no doubt reflecting American military access. U.S.-Philippines collaboration on the war on terrorism is germane here. The IMET goes to a number of states, but the amounts are small, only a handful above a million dollars per year: the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Senegal, South Africa, Colombia, Mexico, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Tunisia, Yemen, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, and Romania. The relation to basing access is clear in many of these cases.

Hence, it would appear that in many cases all over the world, relatively small increases in absolute levels of assistance would represent large proportional jumps. Such increases could judiciously be used in exchange for enhanced access.

What potentially is involved was illustrated in recent cooperative security and training exercises in various African states. The focus is on counterterrorist training, particularly in and around the Sahara Desert and the Sahel; "These are vast lawless lands where terrorists linked to Al Qaeda are known to operate--and where the region's large Muslim populations sometimes offer support or sympathy to extremists." (29) There are promising oil fields around and near the Gulf of Guinea--in Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Angola, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome and Principe. Reportedly China has been scouring the African continent to line up deals regarding a variety of nonfuel natural resources. As we have noted in this connection, the United States has been developing north-south air corridors to support military operations. U.S. forces are also training personnel in Chad, Botswana, Niger, Mauritania, Mali, and Djibouti; in the last-named now are some two thousand American troops poised to launch antiterrorist operations in the Horn of Africa or the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. The amounts of IMET targeted for these countries range from around one or two hundred thousand dollars per year on up to about a million for Senegal.


As previously discussed, basing access has become more ad hoc and situational since the end of the Cold War and, with it, the weakening of the formal alliance structure constructed by the United States during that protracted struggle. During the Cold War, the United States was able, almost always, to utilize its overseas facilities and the airspace of friendly nations. For instance, air bases in Japan, the Philippines, and Thailand were used to prosecute the war in Vietnam. U-2 aircraft were flown over the USSR from bases in Turkey, Germany, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, and Japan. Germany was a jumping-off point for American intervention in Lebanon in 1958. Various nations allowed access for satellite downlinks in connection with nuclear early warning and satellite control: Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Seychelles, even Madagascar for a period. The United Kingdom, Turkey, Italy, and Taiwan allowed forward basing of land-based missiles aimed at the Soviet Union and China. There were few exceptions--denial of airspace by France and Spain for the raid on Libya in 1986 was one example. Also, numerous nations tied in one way or another to the USSR allowed Moscow access and denied it to Washington: Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Yemen, Iraq, Libya, India, and the whole contiguous Warsaw Pact bloc from Eastern Europe to Mongolia.

The keys here, in the prior period, were systems structure (a bipolar struggle with ideological cement on both sides), shared threats, protection of basing hosts, and perhaps a lower level of the anti-Americanism that is now the hallmark of diplomacy.

After the end of the Cold War, permissiveness persisted at least for the 1990-91 DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM operation. There the United States led an effective coalition that was underpinned by the collective security mandate of the UN and that enjoyed strong support from Saudi Arabia, hence also from most of the Middle East. Only Jordan seems to have denied the United States relevant access, which was provided fully by the Saudis and other Gulf states, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, Turkey, all of the other NATO allies, and even the newly "independent" Eastern bloc countries. (30) Some political problems arose, however, in India and Thailand, as a result of the granting of permission to stage U.S. Air Force transport planes.

In the Afghanistan war, the United States also was provided access almost everywhere necessary. The ex-Soviet states in Central Asia, with the permission of Moscow, gave the United States vital air bases and jumping-off points to the north of Afghanistan. Britain provided Diego Garcia. Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and others allowed the United States to fly missions from their territory to Afghanistan. Nations in Eastern Europe and in the Caucasus granted overhead-transit access. Perhaps the only problem (other than Iraq and Iran, for obvious reasons) was Pakistan, and even that nation, under pressure from the United States (and fearing American encouragement of an invasion from India) allowed overflights and some access for heliborne ground operations. Intimidation was a factor in that case. But overall, sympathy in the wake of 9/11 and perhaps fear of an aroused and dangerous United States made for a permissive basing access environment. Enhanced security assistance and the promise of more were important.

In the invasion of Iraq in 2003, however, there was an overall less permissive environment for U.S. access, for reasons of political disagreements with states in "old Europe" and pressure from the "Arab street" in the Middle East. Access to European bases and overhead airspace was mostly maintained (Switzerland, irrelevantly, denied the latter). But reluctance by Saudi Arabia prompted the moving of air command and control operations to Qatar (which, with Kuwait and Oman, was solidly favorable to American access). Egypt quietly allowed overflights, refueling, Suez Canal transit, and use of a major military hospital. But permission for the movement of the 4th Infantry Division across Turkish territory was denied; there were hints of covert pressure from France and Germany in connection with Turkey's prospective admission to the EU. During this period, also, there were reports of Russian complaints about continuing U.S. access to the Central Asian states.

For the future, access may be even more situational and ad hoc. The keys are likely to be alliance and security assistance relationships, the overall global level of support for American policies on antiterrorism and WMD proliferation, the political specifics of given situations, and the balance between reliance on U.S. provision of protection and security and the counterleverage of foes of the United States or states pressured or intimidated by the latter. Europe's growing divorce from the United States, and perhaps its growing competition with the United States over access to Middle Eastern oil, may be a growing factor. Pakistani and Iranian nuclear arsenals may increasingly be intimidating factors. The Muslim "street," in Africa and Southeast Asia as well as the core Middle East, may be another. Japan's fear of nuclear-armed North Korea, not to mention China, may be a strong factor in the Far East. In general, and short of actual crisis, U.S. access all over Africa, in the Persian Gulf area, and in Eastern Europe and Central Asia seems to be growing and solidly assured, but in specific situations things may be different.

It is difficult to predict the extent to which permissiveness of access may vary by scenario type--traditional, irregular, catastrophic, disruptive. This question involves a spectrum that can be measured as macro to micro--that is, a nuclear or biological terrorist event to a peacekeeping operation--but also in technological terms, running from force-on-force military operations to, say, a cyber-attack out of nowhere. Again, degrees of access allowed may be scenario specific, depending upon the identity of the foe (Islamic or not, raising the issue of religious identification), fear and intimidation (in both directions), influence afforded by oil politics or other types of leverage (EU admission, security assistance, various quid pro quos), and the overall intensity of anti-Americanism (perhaps with regional variations). Relatively small "disruptive" scenarios involving peacekeeping, responses to coups, etc., would appear to be most permissive in terms of access; likewise, catastrophic scenarios would probably result in sympathy for U.S. operations, though perhaps counterbalanced by the fear and intimidation factor. One may note here the extensive granting of access to American military forces engaged in the tsunami rescue operation in places like Thailand, but also the skittishness of the Indonesian government about U.S. military activities on Sumatra.

It is worth pointing out that aside from broadly systemic factors and prevailing moods, global or regional, the domestic politics in given nations may be a determining factor, with respect either to electoral change or coups and revolutions. There are any number of historical examples, even from the period of stable alliances during the Cold War. France, under Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, canceled U.S. access to air and naval bases (Villefranche in the latter case) and to crucial petroleum pipelines running from France's Atlantic coast to Germany. Iran's revolution in 1979 cut off important access to telemetry intercept facilities in northern Iran (the Iraqi revolution in 1958 had ended Western access to air bases there). In the latter part of the Cold War, American access to Greek bases was curtailed when anti-American governments came to power. Later, the United States had to withdraw from Spanish air bases, obtaining additional access to Italian bases to offset the loss. The Turkish situation in 2003 has widely been reported upon; it came in the wake of the accession to power of an Islamic party. In the Philippines, post-Marcos politics expelled the United States from major air and naval bases. On the other side of the coin, in recent years friendly governments in the United Kingdom, Italy, and Australia have translated into very permissive access. Shifting political winds could later cause problems in these countries, and in Japan and South Korea as well.

Conus Basing and Sea Basing

Alternatives to contingent basing access, or perhaps supplements to it, are Conus basing and sea basing. Their utility will depend greatly on the scenario, both in terms of distance and location, and also the sheer scale of operations required.

Conus Basing. The option of relying more on basing within the continental United States has been illustrated by, among other things, B-1 and B-2 bomber missions in Operations DESERT STORM, ENDURING FREEDOM, and IRAQI FREEDOM, mounted from Barksdale and Whiteman Air Force bases, the latter at least making some use of Diego Garcia. Also, military transformation, translating into lower force levels and logistical requirements for given operations, has resulted in more optimism about being able to rely more, if not wholly, on Conus basing. Operation from the United States might be particularly applicable to preemptive strikes on WMD installations or terrorist facilities, as well as to interdiction operations in a "traditional" conflict. This option might be furthered by technological developments--faster attack aircraft with longer ranges and more accurate bombing systems, enhanced capabilities for conventional interdiction by SSBNs, etc. Also, satellite capabilities and reduced requirements for overseas downlinks might in the future allow reduced dependence on foreign bases for intelligence and surveillance. Better and faster sealift and airlift would also help, but obviously only within limits, for traditional and disruptive scenarios at least.

Sea Basing. Sea basing has captured increased attention. It is, indeed, one of the four elements of Seapower 21, along with Sea Strike, Sea Shield, and ForceNet. (31) This new emphasis is the result of worry that land bases may not so readily be available for future power projection operations, for reasons we have enumerated. So some analysts now foresee greater use of seaborne platforms for operations ashore, a trend already foreshadowed by several small crisis operations (removal of American embassy personnel, small-scale interpositions), mostly in Africa, and by some aspects of the Afghanistan conflict. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) observes,
 But the third, Sea Basing, is considered by many in the Department
 of Defense to be the most transformational of the three ideas. It
 envisions putting a substantial Marine Corps ground force on shore
 and sustaining it from ships at sea rather than from a land base.
 Thus, the Navy and Marine Corps could conduct amphibious assaults
 (including "forcible-entry" operations, like those conducted on
 Japanese-held Pacific islands during World War II) without needing
 to seize the enemy territory to build a base or to get permission
 from a nearby country to use an existing base. Supporters argue that
 sea basing would therefore allow U.S. forces to operate overseas
 more independently, flexibly, and quickly. (32)

The U.S. Navy's present 293-ship fleet includes thirty-five amphibious ships. (33) The latter comprise five amphibious assault ships of the Tarawa (LHA 1) and Wasp (LHD 1) classes, eleven Austin (LPD 4) amphibious transport docks, and eight Whidbey Island (LSD 41) and four Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) dock landing ships. In addition, there are now sixteen maritime prepositioning ships. The first three types of ships "carry Marines, vehicles, and the landing craft that are used to ferry troops and equipment to shore; some also carry helicopters and aircraft. The L-type ships together provide lift transport capacity fixed wing." (34) The L-type ships together provide lift transport capacity of 1.9 Marine expeditionary brigades (MEBs) amounting to twenty-seven thousand troops and their equipment. According to the CBO, in the past these ships were arranged into twelve amphibious ready groups, three ships apiece, which operated independently from the fleet and carried a Marine expeditionary unit of about 2,200 troops, a battalion equivalent. Now the Navy is reorganizing its fleet to make three surface combatant ships and one submarine available to each amphibious ready group, producing what is known as an expeditionary strike group. Clearly, this reflects a shift away from blue-water sea dominance toward littoral warfare, under a myriad of possible scenarios.

The maritime prepositioning ships carry equipment only, no troops; they are organized into three squadrons of five or six ships apiece, based at ports in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean (Diego Garcia), and the western Pacific (Guam). Each squadron carries enough materiel to equip an MEB and sustain it for thirty days, thus a lift capacity of three MEBs. So that is the current basis for sea basing.

In March 2003, the Navy proposed to Congress a fleet of 375 ships, including thirty-seven amphibious ships and eighteen new MPSs capable of conducting sea-basing operations. Over a thirty-year period up to 2035, this would involve purchasing twelve LPD 17s (San Antonio class), ten amphibious ships of a new class (LHA-R) similar to the present LHDs but carrying more aircraft, twelve dock landing ships of a new class (LSD-X), and up to twenty-one new MPF(F)s, far more capable than the current maritime prepositioning ships. Thus by 2035 the Navy would have fifty-seven combined amphibious warfare ships and maritime prepositioning ships, organized into twelve expeditionary strike groups and three MPF(F) squadrons.

The CBO sums up the Navy and Marine Corps plans for sea basing as follows:
 In the Navy's and Marine Corps's vision for sea basing, amphibious
 ships would continue to carry the "assault echelons"--the first wave
 of troops--in any expeditionary operation. The MPF(F) ships would
 carry most of the materiel needed to sustain that force in the first
 20 days of operations. They would also hold all of the equipment for
 "follow-on assault echelons"--successive waves of troops that would
 be transported to the theater on aircraft or high-speed surface
 craft. With sea basing, no land base would be necessary for the
 follow-on forces to assemble themselves and deploy--all of that
 would occur on the ships comprising the sea base. Nor would there
 be a large supply depot on land to offer a prime, stationary target
 for attacks by enemy ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, or
 aircraft. The MPF(F)s are the linchpin of the sea base; without
 them, the Navy and Marine Corps would not be able to implement
 that new approach to amphibious warfare or forcible-entry
 operations. (35)

There are several lower-cost options: first, buy fewer more-capable ships within the historical spending level; second, buy more less-capable ships at the historical spending level; third, create a more survivable sea-basing force; and fourth, deemphasize sea basing in favor of forward presence. These options involve a blizzard of possible options with regard to types and mixes of ships, trade-offs between men, equipment, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft, defensive systems and survivability based on ship construction, etc., each to be costed out.

Another layer of complexity is the question of connectors for the sea bases--that is, how to get troops from the continental United States (or Europe or U.S. bases in the Far East) to combat zones, get them ashore, and then sustain them. One option mentioned by the CBO is to purchase fast sealift ships capable of ferrying troops from Conus (or European or Asian bases) at high speeds. Another would be to fly troops to an advanced base and then ferry them to the sea base using short-range, higher-speed vessels. Ships of the latter type already exist, but new, scaled-up designs would be required. Other needed connectors are flow-on/flow-off ships to bring landing craft close to shore, large air-cushion landing craft to get everything to the beach, a new heavy lift helicopter to replace the CH-53, or a new aircraft with quad-tilt rotors.

The CBO report briefly discusses four arguments against sea basing, whether on a modest or major scale. (36) Those arguments are the possible inability of even maximal sea-basing schemes to deal with large-scale military operations, such as in Iraq in 1990-91 and 2003; the vulnerability of sea bases to attack from ballistic and cruise missiles, maybe even greater than that of less concentrated land bases; the seeming unlikelihood that the United States would attempt large-scale amphibious operations when it has not done so since the Korean War; and the expense of all the new ships and connectors needed. Though the third argument may be specious--this is what sea basing is all about, the projected lesser availability of land bases in an ambiguously evolving global political climate--but the other three are serious. For instance, the sea-basing force envisioned by the CBO for 2035 could cost seventy to ninety billion dollars over that period. Such numbers would dwarf the current non-Egypt/Israel security assistance budgets, raising the prospect of trade-offs between them and sea basing.

The CBO and other recent studies of sea basing have focused almost entirely on force structures and associated budgets, with little reference to conflict scenarios--the possible locations and sizes of conflicts, impact of alignments, availability of land bases, etc. The CBO's overseas basing study is also stingy with reference to possible or most likely scenarios, aside from brief mention of Nigeria and Azerbaijan (potentially important future sources of oil) and of Uganda and Djibouti (potential staging bases for conducting operations in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to counter instability and terrorism). (37) Likewise missing is any juxtaposition to or cross-referencing with the now-standard general breakdown of conflict scenarios. An agenda for further, broader analysis involves such issues as these:

* The relationship of projected sea-basing capabilities to generic and more specific scenarios

* Sea-basing capabilities in a variety of regions, littoral scenarios versus inland scenarios, etc.

* The viability of force structure planning with a long (thirty-year) time frame

* Jointness--the disconnect between CBO's Navy/Marine sea-basing studies and its Army-related study focused on Europe and Korea

* The relative costs of sea basing and of enhanced security assistance to land-base hosts, to the extent the latter is politically feasible.

A sea-basing scheme that allows for lift of 1.5-2.5 Marine expeditionary brigades, up to forty thousand Marines, might be suitable for littoral operations on the scale of the Afghanistan war or, given overflight rights, somewhat inland. Sea basing would easily be capable, as it has been in the past in Africa and elsewhere, of dealing with extraction and peacekeeping operations on a small scale. Without supplementation from the Army, however, or maybe even with it, a sea base might not be capable of operations on the scale of DESERT STORM or IRAQI FREEDOM, transformation to smaller, more mobile, and more lethal forces notwithstanding.

Further, the relevance of sea basing to "catastrophic" generic scenarios is ambiguous, as is preemption of sources of such threats. The limitations of sea basing away from littorals needs further analysis. Could, for instance, a MEB with submarines and aircraft attached be useful in Azerbaijan, Tibet, Chad, or Uganda? (38) Presumably such issues, and the nexus generally between sea-basing force structures and specific and generic scenarios, are being studied on a classified basis. The political sensitivity is strongly implied in the almost antiseptic CBO studies.

Another conspicuous absence in the two CBO studies (Navy and Army related) is jointness. Army forces are hardly mentioned in connection with sea basing, nor are Air Force capabilities in relation to littoral warfare. In the CBO study of the Army's overseas bases, the Marines are largely missing and the Navy figures only in connection with "locations with the fastest deployment by sea to potential areas of conflict." Hence, regarding the latter, Diego Garcia is seen as the best launching pad for operations in South Asia, the Persian Gulf, East Africa, etc., and Bulgaria and Romania for operations in the Mediterranean-Black Sea area. Emphasis here is on the degree of forward deployment, use of cooperative security locations, rotation of units back and forth to the continental United States, etc. Missing is an analysis of how the lift capabilities laid out in the sea-basing study could help both the Army and Marines deal with large-scale traditional scenarios, or of the limits upon deployment of the troops of the two services imposed by sea basing, even with extensive airlift.


The future of U.S. force-projection capability is, of course, a maddeningly complex subject. There are many unknowns--in contrast to the Cold War period, with its known potential enemies, known and stable system structure and alliances, and a limited set of likely scenarios. Now, the enemy or threat may be large or small, a state or something else, and may or may not have weapons of mass destruction. The identities of allies or "friends" in myriad possible scenarios are contingent, unclear. Hence, the confused set of possibilities for basing, ranging from land basing on the territories of allies to sea basing or to greater reliance on bases at home.

Much has been made of the (perhaps overdrawn or nebulous) distinction, in this context, between threat-based and capabilities-based planning. Threats, of course, are only partly predictable, but capabilities and resources have their limits, so planning for capabilities to deal with all possible threats would be unrealistic even if all could be known. Also, at least in peacetime, capabilities can be acquired only over long stretches of time; for instance, the Navy would not have the amphibious and prepositioning ships envisioned by the Congressional Budget Office, largely on the basis of current projections of threats, until 2030-35. But over the next thirty years, just about anything could happen to alter threat perceptions: terrorist WMD attacks on the homeland could occur; China could overtake the United States as the world's premier power; Japan could join China in an all-Asia alliance. The European Union could become a hegemonic rival to the United States. Russia might try to reconstitute the Soviet Union, or orient itself to the EU, China, or parts of the Islamic world. Israel or Pakistan could in desperation use nuclear weapons, perhaps suffering nuclear responses from, respectively, Iran or India. Ever-rising oil prices, propelled by massively rising demand in China and India, could cause another worldwide depression, and with it military competition over oil resources in the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea, North Africa, and the Gulf of Guinea. In addition, there is the looming danger, now taken seriously by the Defense Department, of catastrophic climate change. (39) Then again, a far more benign set of events (which extrapolation from the present would suggest are more likely) might occur.

A special case is the emerging and important issue of external basing in relation to ballistic missile defense, which involves both defense of the United States itself from nuclear attack, and theater defense of U.S. forces abroad and allies in Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East.

Regarding defense of Conus from missile attack (China, Russia, Iran, North Korea are concerns), the main basing issues today have to do with the upgrading of the BMEWS radars in the United Kingdom at Fylingdale Moor and at Thule, Greenland, under Danish sovereignty. For many years enhanced access to those sites was threatened by political forces in Europe unhappy in general with U.S. ballistic missile defense schemes. But the external basing of missile defense should be seen also in the context of the defense of allies. In that connection, I have developed elsewhere the concept of "triangular" or "indirect" deterrence, whereby nations targeted by a U.S. strategic or preemptive campaign that are unable to respond against the American homeland or installations overseas may instead threaten U.S. allies. (40) The value of the deterrent depends somewhat on U.S. concern for the well-being of allies.

The 1991 Iraqi Scud attacks on Israel and Saudi Arabia (Iraq having no capacity to attack the continental United States) constituted an early example. North Korean missile tests over Japan imply such a threat to strike Japan in response to American preemption against Pyongyang's nuclear facilities. Iran and perhaps Pakistan could do likewise; both will be acquiring missiles that can reach throughout their respective regions--to Israel, to the Central Asian states, etc. As nations acquire still longer range missiles, the threatened area will expand--in the case of Iran, all over Europe. Hence the United States must think in terms of comprehensive regional ballistic-missile-defense capabilities. But some potentially threatened nations, such as Japan, may be wary of acquiring such defenses as "provocative" (this is a widely held view among the Japanese left) and may indeed decouple from the United States and withdraw access for U.S. forces. (41) States intimidated by Iran or Pakistan could also decline offers of missile defense.

Europe may be less likely to block installation of theater defense systems under intimidation or for fear of provocation, but some similarities may exist. An "old" European nation might now conceive of its "grand strategy" as one of building a "counterweight" to the United States, taking advantage of U.S. support for Israel to ingratiate itself with the Islamic world so as to attain preferential access to oil and the greater use of euros to pay for it. That could lead such a nation to decouple itself from American defense policy, including theater missile defenses intended to protect it from "triangular" retaliation.

Poland, in contrast, appears to be negotiating the possibility of basing U.S. theater antimissile systems within its borders, missiles that could cover much of Europe. Britain seems willing to allow the United States to upgrade the Fylingdale Moor site and maybe install missiles. Of course, U.S. warships capable of antimissile defense could be stationed in the Mediterranean or Baltic seas, or off Europe's Atlantic coast.

American antiballistic missiles could conceivably be used to "shut down" nuclear exchanges in progress in the Greater Middle East. That could be done by shipboard missiles, but the possibility of doing so with land-based missiles somewhere in the region (Persian Gulf, Central Asia, the Caucasus) cannot be ruled out.

Out of all these complex and contingent sets of scenarios and possible policies in connection with the future of the U.S. global defense posture, a number of general points deserve emphasis. The first is that the diverse, uncertain, and global nature of the emerging threat environment requires an elaborate global basing and posture strategy. Threats include terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, traditional warfare possibilities in Iran, Taiwan, and Korea, perhaps hegemonic rivalry with China and, maybe, the European Union. But looming quietly behind them may be a struggle for oil, gas, and nonfuel minerals, perhaps to be linked to terrorism, WMD, and great-power hegemonic rivalry.

A second point, related to the above, is the uncertainty surrounding the future of the international system, specifically whether the current U.S. unipolar dominance and alliance structure will hold up. In terms of basing, the issue is a continuing permissive environment for American basing access versus a far more restrictive one marked by withering alliances, a systemic shift toward multipolarity, "ganging up" on the United States, etc. Historically, multipolarity has meant less stable alliances and hence less durable, more contingent, and ad hoc basing access.

A third concerns the present and prospective state of the three historical routes to basing access: conquest/colonization, alliances and provision of security umbrellas (extended deterrence), and the quid pro quo of security/ economic assistance. The first-named is mostly now ruled out by prevailing international legal norms. Alliances and security provision may be in jeopardy as sources of access, because of changing international system structure and intimidation related to WMD proliferation. Security and economic assistance, however, may be at present an underutilized instrument of acquisition and maintenance of bases, and a less expensive one than sea basing.

Fourth, and while sea basing and Conus basing are serious alternatives to land basing by virtue of technological changes in ships, aircraft, etc., there are serious questions of cost and of feasibility in relation to important categories of scenarios.

Finally, and while I am not privy to the gaming of future possible conflicts within the Department of Defense, attention clearly needs to be paid to a complex plethora of scenarios, along the lines of type (traditional, disruptive, catastrophic, irregular) and cross-referenced both to expected availability of bases and to various possible levels of basing at sea.

** AUTOVON/AUTODIN = Automatic Voice Network/Automatic Digital Network; DSP = Defense Satellite Program; DEW = Distant Early Warning; BMEWS = Ballistic Missile Early Warning System; SOSUS = Sound Surveillance System; NUDETS = Nuclear Detonation Detection and Reporting System.

*** Airborne Warning and Control System.


(1.) For a review of these various concepts and definitions, see Robert E. Harkavy, Bases Abroad (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford Univ. Press for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 1989), chap. 1.

(2.) See, for example, Jacqueline Davis, Forward Presence and U.S. Security Policy, National Security Paper 16 (Cambridge, Mass.: Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, 1995).

(3.) See Robert E. Harkavy, "Global and Sub-Global Reach: An Initial Effort at Historical Scope and Definition" (paper presented at annual meeting of the International Studies Association [ISA], Montreal, March 2004).

(4.) U.S. Defense Dept., Strengthening U.S. Global Defense Posture, Report to Congress (Washington, D.C.: September 2004), pp. 7-8.

(5.) John P. Guilmartin, Gunpowder and Galleys (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1974).

(6.) Boxer, The Portuguese Seaborne Empire, introductory chapters, and Jan Glete, Warfare at Sea, 1500-1650: Maritime Conflicts and the Transformation of Europe (London: Routledge, 2000).

(7.) See Harkavy, Great Power Competition for Overseas Bases, chap. 3.

(8.) U.S. Defense Dept., Strengthening U.S. Global Defense Posture; and U.S. Congress, Options for Changing the Army's Overseas Basing (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Budget Office, May 2004).

(9.) A. T. Mahan, The Influence of Seapower upon History 1600-1783 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980); and Colin Gray, The Leverage of Seapower (New York: Free Press, 1992).

(10.) William Thompson, "Passing the Torch in a Manner of Speaking: The System Leader Lineage," paper presented at annual meeting of International Studies Association, Toronto, 1997.

(11.) J. David Singer and Melvin Small, The Wages of War, 1816-1965 (New York: Wiley, 1972).

(12.) For some typologies, see Ernest Evans, Wars without Splendor: The U.S. Military and Low Level Conflict (New York: Greenwood, 1987); and Richard Shultz, "The Low Intensity Conflict Environment of the 1990s," Annals, AAPSS 517 (September 1991), pp. 127-32.

(13.) Sam Sarkesian, The New Battlefield (New York: Greenwood, 1986), p. 110.

(14.) See Robert E. Harkavy, "Arms Resupply during Conflict: Framework for Analysis," Jerusalem Journal of International Relations 7, no. 3 (1985), pp. 541.

(15.) Barry M. Blechman and Stephen S. Kaplan, Force without War (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1978); and Stephen S. Kaplan, Diplomacy of Power (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1971).

(16.) James Cable, Gunboat Diplomacy: Political Applications of Limited Naval Force (New York: Praeger, 1971).

(17.) John Carroll, Secrets of Electronic Espionage (New York: Dutton, 1966), p. 175.

(18.) See, for instance, "To Supply China, African Mines Want More Trains," New York Times, 21 December 2004, p. W1.

(19.) "Canada's Oil: China in Line as U.S. Rival," New York Times, 23 December 2004, p. A1.

(20.) U.S. Defense Dept., Strengthening U.S. Global Defense Posture, p. 10. See also "The U.S. Global Posture Review," Strategic Comments 10, no. 10 (September 2004); Andrew Krepinevich, "The New Pax Americana," Defense News, September 20, 2004; and "Prepared Testimony of U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld before the Senate Armed Services Committee," Global Posture, 23 September 2004.

(21.) U.S. Defense Dept., Strengthening U.S. Global Defense Posture, p. 10.

(22.) Ibid.

(23.) Ibid.

(24.) "U.S. Engages Africa in Terror Fight," Christian Science Monitor, 17 September 2004, p. 6.

(25.) See, for instance, "Rumsfeld Eyes Base for Rent in Romania," New York Times, 12 October 2004, p. A8.

(26.) Associated Press, "Despite Strong Ties, Putin Skeptical of U.S.," Centre Daily Times, 24 December 2004, p. A11.

(27.) See Robert E. Harkaw, "Images of the Coming International System," Orbis 41, no. 4 (Fall 1997), pp. 569-90.

(28.) The data in the following paragraphs are drawn from DISAM Journal (Spring 2004), pp. 1-59.

(29.) "U.S. Engages Africa in Terror Fight," p. 6.

(30.) See, for information on basing in the 1990-91 Gulf War, U.S. Defense Dept., Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress, Pursuant to Title V of the Persian Gulf Conflict Supplemental Authorization and Personnel Benefits Act of 1991 (Public Law 102-25) (Washington, D.C.: April 1992).

(31.) Vern Clark [Adm., USN], "Sea Power 21," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings (October 2002); and, among numerous writings, John T. Klein [LCdr., USN] and Rich Morales [Maj., USA], "Sea Basing Isn't Just about the Sea," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings (January 2004), pp. 32-35.

(32.) U.S. Congress, The Future of the Navy's Amphibious and Maritime Prepositioning Forces (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Budget Office, November 2004), p. ix.

(33.) Data for subsequent three paragraphs taken from ibid., pp. ix-xii.

(34.) Ibid., p. ix.

(35.) Ibid., p. xiii.

(36.) Ibid., p. 12.

(37.) U.S. Congress, Options for Changing the Army's Overseas Basing.

(38.) Ibid., p. xii, which specifically mentions Nigeria and Azerbaijan as possible future sites of conflict.

(39.) "The Sky Is Falling! Say Hollywood and, Yes, the Pentagon," New York Times, 20 February 2004, "Week in Review."

(40.) See Robert E. Harkavy, "Triangular or Indirect Deterrence/Compellence," Comparative Strategy 17, no. 1 (January-March 1998), pp. 63-81.

(41.) A good discussion of these issues is in Setsuo Takeda, U.S. Missile Defense Policy and Security in the Asia-Pacific Region (Tokyo: Sanwa, forthcoming in 2005).

Dr. Harkavy is professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University. He has also taught, performed research, or served at the U.S. Army War College, Cornell University, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Kalamazoo College, and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. He earned his PhD in international relations at Yale University in 1973, having pursued graduate study also at the University of California at Berkeley, the Harvard Business School, and Basel University in Switzerland. After earning his BA at Cornell, he was for eight years a junior officer in the U.S. Army Reserve (artillery). He has written or edited several books, most recently Warfare and the Third World (2001) and Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East (1997).

The author wishes to thank Lucian Czarnecki, Penn State undergraduate, for research assistance in connection with this project. An expanded version of this article (with additional historical and tabular material) is to be published by the Naval War College Press as a Newport Paper.
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Title Annotation:military bases
Author:Harkavy, Robert E.
Publication:Naval War College Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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