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  • If you ask the US military how many bases they have overseas, you won't really get

  • an answer.

  • They don't make it all too hard to find out about the larger onesRamstein Air Base

  • in Germany, Thule Air Base in Greenland, Camp Hansen in Japan.

  • These all show up on the closest thing to an official catalogue of the US military's

  • real estate there isthe annual Department of Defence Base Structure Report.

  • According to this document the American military has some 514 sites outside of its borders,

  • but, there are some noticeable omissions to this list.

  • For example, the US has a rather secretive drone base in central Niger, however, according

  • to this list, it doesn't exist.

  • The US has more than ten sites in Syria, however, according to this list, they don't exist.

  • The US has a satellite surveillance facility in Australia's Northern Territory so well

  • known, in fact, that it has a whole fictional TV show based on it, but, according to this

  • list, it doesn't exist.

  • In fact, according to this list, there are just four defense department installations

  • in Africa—a base in Djibouti, a joint British-American base on Ascension Island, an NSA site in Kenya,

  • and a Naval Medical Research facility in Egypt.

  • Of course, if you dig a little deeper into the vast archive of unclassified military

  • documents, you find this—a slide from a presentation clearly showing 34 US military

  • sites in Africa.

  • With omissions such as these, one can assume that that total 514 number is far from the

  • real count of how many facilities the US military maintains abroad.

  • Part of this could be attributed to the fact that it's sometimes tough to define what

  • a military base is.

  • Again looking at the African continent, the only site that looks like what most would

  • traditionally think of as an overseas military base is Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.

  • It is the only permanent, exclusive US military site, at least according to their own definition,

  • on the continent, hosts about 4,000 members of the US military at a time, and is the primary

  • base of operations for the US Africa Command.

  • You see, the US military splits the world into six regions each with their own infrastructure

  • of bases.

  • Each has a hierarchy of sites.

  • The highest, in the case of Africa Command, are those permanent, full-blown basesthe

  • one in Djibouti and the one on Ascension Island.

  • One step below that are what are called Cooperative Security Locations.

  • These are, according to the US military's definition, “host-nation [facilities] with

  • little or no permanent U.S. personnel presence, which may contain pre-positioned equipment

  • and/or logistical arrangements and serve both for security cooperation activities and contingency

  • access.”

  • CSL's are useful to the US military because they are much less flashy and less permanentthey

  • don't require the same kind of political capital as to set up as a full-size base like

  • the one in Djibouti.

  • Bases are often unpopular and receive press scrutiny, both in the US and the host country,

  • so small, few-hundred person CSL's have the advantage of being able to be set up with,

  • essentially, no publicity.

  • You can think of them as smaller versions of the kind of bases you find in Djibouti

  • or Ascension island which can, rather quickly, become bigger bases should the need arise.

  • The remaining twenty known sites on the continent are what are called contingency locations.

  • Now, this terminology can be used for a lot of different types of facilities, but, in

  • essence, what it means is that these are temporary sites established as part of ongoing missions.

  • For example, the contingency location in Garoua, Cameroon was set up for the Americans to provide

  • logistics and intelligence support in the Cameroonian's fight against Boko Haram.

  • What that actually means, though, when you break through the military's PR language,

  • is that this is a drone base.

  • Unlike other American drone bases, it's relatively easy to find info about the one

  • in Garoua perhaps because it's primarily home to surveillance drones, rather than strike

  • drones.

  • For other contingency locations, though, it is much less clear what exactly their purposes

  • are and for some, they aren't even publicly acknowledged.

  • For many, the US military just has small agreements with foreign governments and the general public

  • gets very little info at all.

  • So, the final, real answer for how many US bases there are abroad is that we don't

  • know.

  • If you define every military installation as a base, compiling all publicly available

  • information, one set of research reached a number of 800.

  • Of course, the real number could be something far different from that but as the general

  • public, there's just no real way to know.

  • But the next question that arises about the US' overseas presence is why?

  • In the era of nuclear weapons that can obliterate any city on earth in an hour, aircraft carriers

  • sailing worldwide with more aircraft than some country's air forces, and airplanes

  • that could land troops in any country on earth in a day, why does the US bother spending

  • so much money maintaining bases in allied countries during peacetime?

  • The primary reason has to do with a military concept known as the loss of strength gradient.

  • This concept essentially theorizes that, the further a conflict is away from a military's

  • home country, the less military power that nation is able to bring to the fight.

  • This is largely because it is, of course, complicated and expensive to bring troops

  • and equipment over long distances.

  • The book that originally defined this loss of strength gradient proposed that the way

  • to counteract this effect was to establish bases outside of a country's home territory

  • since these can help reduce the effective distances to conflict and, therefore, it's

  • easier to bring more power to the fight.

  • The US has certainly taken this concept to heart and has put quite a lot of work into

  • trying to flatten out their loss of strength gradient.

  • That is to say, they want to make it just as likely that the US would win a war in east

  • Asia as North America.

  • As an example of how these bases aid that mission, much of the operations of the US'

  • wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were conducted hereat Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

  • This base and the other surrounding US military facilities in the Rhineland-Palatinate state

  • make up the largest grouping of American service members in the world and one of the largest

  • groupings of Americans anywhere outside the US.

  • The city that Ramstein and many of the other facilities are in is home to only about 100,000

  • full time residents, however, the American bases are staffed by more than 50,000 personnel

  • at any given time.

  • This makes Ramstein Air Base like a small American city in Europe.

  • It has outposts of plenty of American restaurant chains that you won't find anywhere else

  • in GermanyJohnny Rockets, Chili's, PF Chang's—in addition to an American-style

  • department and grocery store.

  • It has an American post office, an American high school, four baseball diamonds, two American

  • football fields, American suburban style housing, and even campuses of four American universitiesUniversity

  • of Maryland, Oklahoma, Central Texas College, and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

  • Quite a lot of work is put into making sure that Ramstein is as similar to any base in

  • the US as possibleboth in terms of lifestyle and capability.

  • One central role for Ramstein and other US bases in Europe during the wars in Iraq and

  • Afghanistan was as a stopover point for personnel and cargo en route to combat.

  • Ramstein's convenient location, less than a seven hour flight from all of the middle

  • east, where many of the US' recent military operations have been, makes it a pivotal logistics

  • hub since it would be far more complicated to fly personnel and cargo nonstop to theatre

  • over the more than eleven hour flight from the continental US to the Middle East.

  • Still today, with less US presence in the middle east, Ramstein plays a central role

  • in getting US military members to Europe.

  • There are regular flights, typically about twice a week, from Baltimore to Ramstein in

  • addition to a number of regular flights from stateside military bases like Wright-Patterson

  • Air Force Base in Ohio, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and McGuire Air Force Base in

  • New Jersey.

  • These are not flights on commercial airlines but rather charter flights available only

  • to members of the military operated by charter companies like Atlas Air and Omni Air International.

  • Beyond its role as a logistics hub, Ramstein's geographic position plays a critical role

  • in the US' use of drones in the Middle East.

  • You see, American drones are communicated with by satellite but, due to the distance

  • between the Middle East and Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, where the communications from

  • the different drone piloting sites across the US are centralized, a single satellite

  • could not convey information from Creech to the Middle East.

  • That's just because there's too much curvature in the earth for a satellite at a reasonable

  • orbit altitude to have line-of-sight with both areas.

  • They could have one satellite relay info to another, but this would significantly increase

  • the time it would take for the signal to travel from Creech to the drone and, when piloting

  • and attacking remotely, one needs as close to real-time communications as possible.

  • Therefore, the signals travel by fiber optic, transatlantic cable from the US to Ramstein

  • where a relay station then sends the signal up to a satellite based over the area that

  • can communicate with America's drones in the Middle East.

  • Without Ramstein, these drones would not be nearly as capable.

  • Beyond convenience and capability, another major reason for America's heavy overseas

  • military presence is power projection.

  • This is a term used by militaries that refers to, according to the US Department of Defense's

  • definition, “the ability of a nation to apply all or some of its elements of national

  • powerpolitical, economic, international, or militaryto rapidly and effectively deploy

  • and sustain forces in and from multiple dispersed locations to respond to crises, to contribute

  • to deterrence, and to enhance regional stability.”

  • In this context, it's essentially how fast a country can get to the fight, if a fight

  • should arise.

  • Power projection is as much an offensive power as a defensive one.

  • It's about making sure that every other country in the world knows that America can

  • and potentially will respond to whatever they decide is a threat in a timely manner.

  • According to the US Department of Defense, the four countries that currently present

  • the greatest potential national threat to the US are Iran, Russia, China, and North

  • Korea.

  • Looking at the global map of bases, it's no coincidence that the greatest concentrations

  • of overseas bases are near Russia's population center in the east, in the Middle East, and

  • in East Asia.

  • Meanwhile, there's relatively little US military presence in South America, Africa,

  • South and Southeastern Asia, and Australia since there are fewer threats to the US in

  • these areas.

  • Still, though, the US military has a nearly permanent presence on every continent.

  • Even on Antarctica, where by international treaty militarization is banned, the US military

  • skirts this regulation by dealing with the logistics of supplying American research bases,

  • which is allowed by the treaty.

  • Some might characterize this experience with Antarctic operations as, “convenient,”

  • in the event of any future conflict in this region.

  • While the US' network of overseas bases in only a part of its overall power projection

  • mission, which also includes its nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers, submarines, and more, the

  • main messaging they convey is that the US can get to anywhere fast.

  • But, predictably, these bases are controversialboth at home in the US and abroad.

  • As one example, this is the island of Okinawa, Japan and this is the land used by the US

  • military.

  • On this dense island of 1.5 million, 26,000 US service members man these sites.

  • While the Japanese government is supportive of the US presence in Okinawa and elsewhere

  • in Japan, locally, there have been decades of tensions between Okinawans and the US military.

  • The US bases there have been an economic, social, and environmental burden on the island

  • as, while the US military's presence in Japan as a whole is viewed largely as a benefit

  • for the country, Okinawans are the ones that have to put up with having a large proportion

  • of their home under the control of a foreign military.

  • Okinawans reportedly feel like they're being ignored by mainland Japan and they've therefore

  • been protesting, particularly against a forthcoming base move to a new site on the island, for

  • years.

  • This is the story for pretty much every country that hosts US military basesthey're often

  • considered by foreign governments as a benefit for the country as a whole since it give them

  • an essence of protection by perhaps the most powerful military in the world, but it comes

  • at a burden to the communities the bases are physically located in.

  • In Okinawa, while the bases do provide a decent amount of employment for locals, it's now

  • thought that the island could be better off economically with the land that these bases

  • take up being used for commercial purposes.

  • Back in the US, some believe that their tax dollars are being used to defend other countries.

  • Some consider these overseas bases antiquated in the era of international military alliances

  • like NATO, extensive aviation infrastructure that can get US forces anywhere on earth in

  • a matter of hours, and the deterrent threat of nuclear weapons.

  • Meanwhile, others would argue that they are crucial assets to US diplomacy and power projection.

  • They would argue that their very existence maintains the US' superpower status.

  • This is all to say, simply, that the US military's worldwide presence is controversialbut

  • likely effective.

  • They certainly do make the US military seem more formidable in the international eye which

  • many Americans would consider a positive, but the final, grand question is at what cost?

  • With the cost in dollars, the cost in geopolitical tensions, the cost in community detriment,

  • the simple cost in how the world views the United States as a country, is it worth it?

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B1 US military base american middle east east overseas

The US' Overseas Military Base Strategy

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/10
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