Why do so many foreign nations host U.S. military bases?
February 14, 2006 10:42 AM   Subscribe

U.S. Military Bases: I have several questions regarding the ins and outs of the vast U.S. military presence abroad.

My questions involve U.S. military bases around the world. I read recently that America maintains over 700 such facilities in almost half of the world’s countries. This make me curious. I’m hoping someone can point me in the right direction for answers to these questions. Perhaps there is a book about it somewhere.

(1) How did these bases come to be?
(2) Why do other countries permit us to keep military personnel there?
(3) Is money involved? Do we pay for this privilege?
(4) What would happen if, say, the Germans asked the U.S. to withdraw its military presence?
(5) What’s keeping Germany, Russia, Britain, Venezuela or any other country from putting a base in Canada? Or even the U.S.?
(6) Where can I find more information on this subject?

posted by jackypaper to Law & Government (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1) Various ways,
Conquest (Japan, Germany)
Rental Agreement (Cuba)
Invitation (Suadi Arabia)
probably other ways as well

2) Various reasons:
They help defend the country in question (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait)
They don't have a choice (Japan, Germany).
They signed a stupid never-ending lease (Cuba).
They are NATO allies and want them there. etc.

3) Yes, often in cash or in military hardware, training exchanges etc.

4) I don't know.

5) there are NATO bases in Canada that host forces from all over NATO and certain other friendly nations. We've got a lot of empty space up here so we're popular for air training. But usually you want to put your army near where it might be needed, which was (for the period 1945-1990) around the Soviet Union. Now it's more around the middle east. Look up the USA's 'containment' policy re the USSR.

6) Look up 'status of forces' agreements, which are the treaties/contracts that define the role of US troops in foreign nations. They decide whether the troops can drive cars (or maybe just the males, or no one, etc), how they enter and exit the country, whether the base is considered US territory for legal purposes, etc.
posted by tiamat at 11:00 AM on February 14, 2006

The United States is rich, and gladly pays the host countries "rent". For example in the Philippines, the U.S. was paying $160 million per year for its facilities (by the time the U.S. pulled out after Pinatubo, the Philippines was demanding $825 million per year). I found it by putting a term like this in Google; you can do the same for other U.S. air bases.
posted by zek at 11:04 AM on February 14, 2006

I do not at this time have the time to develop a full answer. Suffice it to say that there are some bases throughout the world that you will not find listed on any govt or other list of bases. And there are instances where we forced people off places to install a base (Indian Ocean)...we have left, at times, when it was demanded of us (Saudi Arabia) but sometime in an odd mannert--Japan did not like our nuclear stuff on ther land so we keep inaborad ships offshore there!

It is not always, though our pushing ot get what we want. Till recently many countries got our protection (military etc) free and thus saved their own economies the expenses. Now more often than not they pay a certain percentage, but almost never more than 1/4 of costs to have us on their land to protect them. In Spain (yes!) our air bas. People not allowed offbase in uniform (to save face for country) etc etc
posted by Postroad at 11:08 AM on February 14, 2006

Countries will give up a lot to an ally to get cutting edge military hardware if it helps them protect against their own enemies. The US controls access to a lot of military hardware.
posted by smackfu at 11:13 AM on February 14, 2006

When the 800lb gorilla that is the US military decides that it would *really* be nice to have a base in a certain location, there's a lot at their disposal... they could just pay for it, offer "training" in return (which means access to technology and know-how for the host nation's military), offer favorable trade deals, get the state department to lean on them, intimidate them, etc... essentially make them an offer they can't refuse, one way or another.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:24 AM on February 14, 2006

posted by orlin at 11:43 AM on February 14, 2006

And more $$
posted by orlin at 11:44 AM on February 14, 2006

Don't forget that a base, or bases in your country, hosting tens if not hundreds of thousands of soldiers and support staff generate huge dollars for local economies. And these are people that require no locally provided infrastructure or social services. An American military base is a cash cow for many countries (of course, there are other costs).
posted by loquax at 11:55 AM on February 14, 2006

Best place for any of this is Global Security. The direct page is here.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:55 AM on February 14, 2006

(4) What would happen if, say, the Germans asked the U.S. to withdraw its military presence?

The US would offer some positive inducement to allow it. If Germany really wanted them out, the US forces would leave, almost certainly.

(5) What’s keeping Germany, Russia, Britain, Venezuela or any other country from putting a base in Canada? Or even the U.S.?

The agreement of the US government to allow it.

In practice things like this happen. There's a training detachment from the Luftwaffe permanently at Holloman AFB in New Mexico.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:57 AM on February 14, 2006

Rhomboid writes "ssentially make them an offer they can't refuse, one way or another."

I think Canada is probably one of the few, if not only, NATO member not to have American bases[1]. We've always been leery of allowing a US troop build up after the failed attempt by the US to slow motion annex the Yukon via the Alaska highway construction project.

[1]Anyone know of a US base in Canada? I can't find any googling which backs up my street knowledge but I can't find a cite saying there aren't any US bases in Canada either.
posted by Mitheral at 11:58 AM on February 14, 2006

(6) Where can I find more information on this subject?

Here's a Monthly Review article on US military bases overseas. (Monthly Review is Marxist, but the article itself seemed okay.)

You might want to check out a book on US military history. I did a quick scholar.google.com search and found a couple commonly-cited books. Russell Weigley, The American way of war: a history of United States military strategy and policy. Allan Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America.

(1) How did these bases come to be?

According to the Monthly Review article, military bases are usually acquired during wars.

A common motivation for a country to host a US military base is that it feels threatened by a hostile neighbor, e.g. Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, South Korea and Western Europe during the Cold War.

(5) What’s keeping Germany, Russia, Britain, Venezuela or any other country from putting a base in Canada?

Short answer: the Canadian government. If the Canadian government doesn't consent, then putting in a military base would mean going to war with Canada, which in turn would mean going to war with NATO (under the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty, an attack on one is an attack on all NATO members).

And the Canadian government would never agree to host military forces from a power which may be hostile either to itself or to the United States.

Generally speaking, you can only establish a military base in a country that's (a) friendly, (b) conquered by you, or (c) extremely weak (and lacking allies).
posted by russilwvong at 12:03 PM on February 14, 2006

Most of the bases are relics of the Cold War, and the positions American and British troops held at the end of World War II.

In Europe and Japan, the bases were to deter the Russians. In Korea, the North Koreans. Elsewhere, like Diego Garcia or Cairo West, they were meant to keep an eye on a region, or to promote joint training or as a place to stockpile equipment for future needs.

Bases put a lot of money into the local economies. I'm sure we pay rent for some, but I don't know the particulars.

Why would another country want to put a base in the United States, or Canada? They're not cheap. Their goals would probably be better achieved by other means. For the U.S., we keep bases in the Middle East to protect our interests, i.e., the continued flow of oil which drives our economy.
posted by atchafalaya at 12:03 PM on February 14, 2006

American overseas military bases are mostly due to the Spanish-American War, World War II, and the Cold War.

The United States got control of Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines as a result of the Spanish-American War. The "stupid never-ending lease" that gives the US control of Guantanamo Bay was the Platt Amendment. The US pressured Cuba into incorporating some of the amendment's provisions into the Cuban constitution.

Status-of-Forces Agreement [SOFA] definition

The US is expanding its overseas presence as part of the War on Terror. According to the 2004 Base Structure Report, the US has over 900 overseas military installations of various sizes. That doesn't include secret bases.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:06 PM on February 14, 2006

[1]Anyone know of a US base in Canada?

The US has many detachments on Canadian bases, like Trenton and North Bay, but no permanent bases. Then again, Canada is just about the only NATO country that a) wasn't invaded or liberated by the US at some point, or b) directly threatened by the Red Army.

Also, most of the US/Canada military cooperation falls under the auspices of NORAD and other cross-border defense initiatives which preclude the need for the permanent stationing of troops in Canada.
posted by loquax at 12:06 PM on February 14, 2006

It's expensive to have armed forces, and it's more expensive to have armed forces located somewhere other than your own country. If the cost is worth the perceived benefit, and the host country is accepting, then forces will be stationed there.

Similarly to Canada, the UK is a popular place for training, what with Salisbury Plain and such. I visited the Royal Artillery School (non-website website) a few years ago, and they had visiting officers from Oman and a couple of other places there at the time.
posted by lowlife at 12:10 PM on February 14, 2006

tiamat writes "there are NATO bases in Canada that host forces from all over NATO and certain other friendly nations. We've got a lot of empty space up here so we're popular for air training"

Note that these facilities (CFB Cold Lake, CFB Suffield, CFB Goose Bay, the Land Force Western Area Training Centre in Wainwright, etc.) are Canadian Bases that we make available to NATO members and others under bilateral treaty and fee for service. They aren't owned or operated by NATO.

loquax writes "wasn't invaded or liberated by the US at some point"

[Cough]War of 1812[/Cough]
posted by Mitheral at 12:10 PM on February 14, 2006

If the US is going to have a base in the region, it might be to your advantage to have it in your country. There is the obvious economic advantage, there is an intelligence advantage (you can watch them more easily), and it should be a diplomatic advantage to be in the 'favoured' position.
posted by Chuckles at 12:38 PM on February 14, 2006

Mitheral: Yeah, yeah, you know what I meant. Then again, we invaded them too. It might be nice to have a Canadian naval base in Hawaii or something.
posted by loquax at 12:42 PM on February 14, 2006

Cuba is probably the arrangement that breaks all of the rules. Guantanamo Bay is Cuban territory and Fidel refuses to cash the rent checks (which are not much anyway). He would like to get rid of the base altogether but what can you do in that situation? It is a funny stalemate situation with a ring of heavily mined no-mans land around the perimeter. During the early days after the revolcion there was quite a bit of shooting between the two governments.
posted by JJ86 at 12:54 PM on February 14, 2006

(6) For more information Chalmers Johnson would probably interest you. He writes about the extent of American bases in the rest of the world and the consequences for American Democracy as well as about how many there are and how they came to be.

He's been written about quite a bit here on MeFi. See An interview with Chalmers Johnson , Blowback : The cost and Consequences of American Imperialism and American Empire .

His wikipedia page is here

His two books on the subject of the US and the empire of bases that it retains are
Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire are well worth a read.

And yeah, I think he's got a very valid point of view.
posted by sien at 2:06 PM on February 14, 2006

(4) Back in the 60s, France declared its intent to regain full sovereignty over French soil and directed NATO to either leave or turn over control of any bases to French command. NATO (including the US) opted for the eviction route. SHAPE (NATO HQ) was moved from Paris to Belgium and the US shut down several AF bases.
posted by forrest at 5:42 PM on February 14, 2006

(4) What would happen if, say, the Germans asked the U.S. to withdraw its military presence?

This in no way informative, but the question reminded me of a very good TV show from the late 80's. It was a BBC production on Masterpiece Theatre and was called "A Very British Coup" and starred the late Ray McAnally. The main plot is that a very left leaning government is elected in England and one of their policy initiatives is to dis-invite the U.S. from its air bases their.

The reaction of the U.S. government officials, including the President, is very gangster-like, and threatening. The Americans come off as feeling entitled to their presence there and do not intend to leave graciously.

There is a great deal more to the show including sexual scandal, extortion, political murder. Its somewhat in the John Le Carre vein, and was very entertaining.

On the other hand when Mt. Pinatubo damaged the U.S. base Subic Bay in the Phillipines, we couldn't get out of there fast enough. The lease was set to expire in the near future, and they simply accelerated the process.
posted by hwestiii at 5:49 PM on February 14, 2006

(5) What’s keeping Germany, Russia, Britain, Venezuela or any other country from putting a base in Canada? Or even the U.S.?

[1]Anyone know of a US base in Canada?

Goose Bay in Canada has a multinational military airfoce base, and the US uses it too.
posted by easternblot at 10:26 PM on February 14, 2006

Another (6) answer is Walter Russell Mead's Special Providence, which is actually one of the very few complete histories of US foreign policy. Mead is well-known for his division in this book of policy "styles" (Wilsonian/Jeffersonian/Hamiltonian/Jacksonian), but he goes into detail about policies in different periods and how successful or influential they were.

The US has actually operated militarily overseas from almost the beginning -- the Mediterranean Squadron and Asiatic Squadron of the early 19th century helped protect US shipping interests from (mainly) piracy and (secondarily) competition from quasi-government competitors like the British East India Co. Those ships needed bases and friendly ports, and from the agreements for those stemmed much of the needs of US foreign policy and an overall style geared toward buying, begging, and sometimes stealing friendly overseas governments -- the US eschewed colonialism with some notable "accidents" such as the Spanish possessions. Mead argues among other points that this has -- despite the Zinn-type revisionists -- given foreign governments a great deal of trust in the US.

As for (4), we had a recent example. The US policy in Central Asia seemed to be geared toward developing an Afghan-war related military presence into longstanding diplomatic coin, but Russia redoubled its efforts to keep those (former Soviet) countries in its "sphere of influence", and Uzbekistan recently asked us to leave post-haste after we began criticizing their authoritarian government (yes, we really did -- but the chill had as much to do with a Moscow push-pull as anything).

As for Germany, there was resentment even during the Cold War, and since then many smaller US bases have closed. Certainly we didn't need to keep the same cavalry and infantry defenses against an invasion from the east -- but we have huge investments in palces like Landstuhl, the largest US military hospital outside the US, and Germany is basically our #1 stopover for all logistics relating to the Mideast theater. It's hugely important, and probably isn't going away anytime soon -- but the US is already redeploying elements in Germany to CONUS and forward Mideast locations as part of cost-saving and efficiency regarding the many-years Iraq deployment. This continues to be under review.

In rare cases, there's a complete change of government and we have to leave. That happened when South Vietnam lost the war, for instance -- the deep-water Vietnamese port at Cam Ranh Bay is still one of the best in the entire region and the Navy is said to at least theoretically covet returning one day if relations continue to improve.

Incidentally, the US did get bases in Newfoundland (then a separate dominion from Canada!) during WWII -- Fort Pepperall and Gander AFB. Also, the US and Canada jointly run NORAD (didn't know that, I bet), and the US has some hand in the DEW line and other radar systems.
posted by dhartung at 1:13 AM on February 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for these very informative replies. It's appreciated! Looks like I now have a lot of good resources. Off to research . . .
posted by jackypaper at 11:31 AM on February 15, 2006

dhartung writes "Also, the US and Canada jointly run NORAD (didn't know that, I bet),"

Sure I did, we help with NORAD so we can keep track of Santa at Christmas.
posted by Mitheral at 1:23 PM on February 15, 2006

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