The US’ Overseas Military Base Strategy

The US’ Overseas Military Base Strategy


This video was made possible by Brilliant. Learn complex topics simply with Brilliant
for 20% off by being one of the first 200 to sign up at brilliant.org/Wendover. 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 ones—Ramstein 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 is—the 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 bases—the 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 permanent—they 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
here—at 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 Germany—Johnny 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 universities—University 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 possible—both 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 power—political, economic, international,
or military—to 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 controversial—both
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 bases—they’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 controversial… but 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? If you’re a viewer of Wendover Productions
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100 thoughts on “The US’ Overseas Military Base Strategy

  • "the real number could be far different than that". far different than 800? 2 million? i mean, if they ended up being 1200 bases, it woulnt be far different

  • Very interesting video as always and yup loss of strenght gradient is probably one of the reason of so many bases all over the World but let's not forget the need of intelligence, the protection of geo-strategic interests or just political domination.

  • US military bases also provide employment for locals (all those 50,000 personnel working rammstein are german citizens), military training with allies, economic growth and infrastructure development, and political stability (looking at you, south korea). The DOD also pays for the lands they occupy, and ensure personnel abide by rules set forth by the native country and the US. Also, AFRICOM (Africa Command) is headquartered in Germany

  • So it's mean America is 18 year old virgen and everyone want to take advantage of it

    One thing there is no bases of us in Pakistan and India

  • America has a lot of bases and is very powerful. It's definitely a benefit for the host nation cuz its extra security provided by the most powerful Armed Forces in the world.

  • Economic burden on Okinawa….. yep thats why every time we went on lockdown for more than a couple days the whole island lost millions because US servicemembers wernt spending their money. Yep, economic burden. More economically dependent than anything else.

  • CCP China already are spreading theirs military in other small countries by lending money . Also CCP China want all the countries knee down to the emperor of CCP China by using their people who lives in America, England , Australia… and their money….

  • US military soldiers raped at least dozens of Japanese school girls in Okinawa. There is even a Japanese movie about it.

  • Damn dude, you did well on your video. Better explanation than most military members could give, and more accurate. Although, depending on the location, the locals want the bases. Not for security or protection, but for our money. I was stationed around 30-45 min from Rammstein (depending on the weather and if the Autobahn was dry), and the locals actually thrived off of a bunch of overpaid Americans exploring the local economy. Not saying that's the case everywhere, rather far from it, but many overseas (Europe) bases are valued by the locals more than bases in the US.

  • Aww, greenland isn't in the northern command, that's too bad America. Guess it'll have to remain as danish controlled soil.

  • Probably not worth it, no. I'm tired of watching my government spend my tax money on debt interest, turn around and go further into debt just to keep rouge regimes, and the East in line. For all of that: I, and other fellow citizens, have the pleasure of regularly being insulted on social media for being American. I'm tired of paying to protect people who don't want to be protected, especially when they can do it much more cheaply, efficiently, and ultimately more effectively themselves (especially Europe). They don't want it, we don't want it, and Ironically, the only president to cater to the isolationist mood in this country, has also been the cringiest POTUS in this country's history xD That's right, the great cheeto dicktater!

  • With all its imperfections, America is still the good superpower. A world control by Russia, China, nazi Germany, or Racist Japan would be an extremely awful world.

  • Wtf. Are we doing. No wonder the rest of the world looks at us like assholes. How bout building some. Bases. Here for. The homeless. Or really fighting the opiate crisis. Or fixing roads. And etc. Etc. Etc. The governments. Out of fucking. Control

  • Yes, so secret that it's publicly available knowledge on YouTube. ACTUAL secret bases are not this easy to figure out and would not be on an Unclas document.

  • Still after that much bases and power. US completely failed in the war in Afghanistan and IRAQ. Now begging Pakistan to mediate between US and Taliban in Afghanistan. While you can see what they did in Iraq.

  • It is indeed, worth it. especially bases like in Nigeria, when in 2015 Boko haram kidnapped 200 daughters and bragged about it. pledged allegiance to Islamic state whom of which is another threat to the world. America is keeping the south half of the country safe from terrorism. they are also protecting their own assets, American oil company chevron, and given that Nigeria is the 5th biggest resource for Uranium. America is preserving much valuable resources, securing energy, (and against its enemies) and are the biggest employers in Nigeria, and bringing the southern half of Nigeria to 1st world status. they secure a safety and a livelihood for what otherwise would have been third world by doing lots of business with the local natives. they are securing valuable resources from Nigeria and preventing Americas enemies from getting their hands on it.

    America is actively pulling a country out of danger and third world status while simultaneously benefiting from it.

    alternatively they can mind their own business, let terrorist have free reign to kidnap rape prostitute and kill women and children, lose all of the resources to enemies allow the people to be plundered and leave them to rot in a third world status.

    Okinawa base is particularly for a missile defense against nkorea. possibly many of the bases are redundant and might not be worth it, but Nigeria bases are a prime example of when it IS worth it.

  • The reason why those bases don't exist is because we don't either own the land or rent the land. Which means it belongs wholesale to a foreign government.

    PS you also forgot the largest Navy bases in the pacific

  • I feel we should down size to just the most critical bases; people talk about how rich we are, but we have a huge debt. You can't convince me that every one of these bases are that critical, that with modern technology we can't consolidate.

  • great video, explanation of US drone base in Germany was my fav part! The current morality and economics with overseas military bases is dauntingly complicated. Every country(even city) has its own reasons, controversy and economy to consider while the US mulls its own specific reasons.

  • If your an American you should be fucking ashamed of yourself. Im your average American and my stance on people like you is that people like you should be tried, convicted, and hung for treason. Shut your fucking mouth and quit spreading knowledge that keep us safe u fucking traitor.

  • Panama alone has a LOT of US military installations for protection of the canal. The number isn't exactly known (I'm assuming its secret?), but from what I've heard from first hand accounts of people who have operated in the region, there are hundreds upon hundreds of facilities. Not large barracks and bases, but small outposts manned by US soldiers and contractors. It pisses off the locals apparently.

    The US is also legally allowed to invade and occupy the entirety of Panama should the canal ever come under threat without congressional approval. That includes international terrorists, or rebel groups operating in Panama.

  • Philippines have no US Bases, but it has installation. The US Bases back in the 1990s is a somewhat great economic good and really beneficial to the PHL, but one of the former bases of US called Clark Air Force base, just 80 miles north of Manila is now converted into a smart city and an airport that proposed to cater 80 million passengers a year.

  • As much as we all know these bases represent a muffled colonialism, if you live in America and enjoy your life you can’t say anything about it…the falklands war revealed once and for all that if your military reduces its presence in any theater on earth below a certain undetermined threshold there will immediately be a response from the region to test the weakened presence…if America officially abandoned all bases and relied on airstrips, shipping, and nuclear threats within two weeks every us fleet would be combat deployed and the largest navy on earth would be woefully inadequate

  • Yes, these bases are necessary. We are threatened by ruthless and aggressive enemies – Russia, China, jihadists, North Korea. Our safety and freedom depend on our strength 🙂

  • Trust the biggest warmongers to have military bases all over the world US has been around for 239 year's and out of that has only been at peace for 20 years and also remains the only county that has used nuclear weapons in conflict.

  • Is an embassy a military installation? They have military guards, who live in barracks, and are insular to the place where they are located. So… add all foreign embassies.

  • If Okinawa didn't want US there, maybe they shouldn't have lost the invasion. That was hard won ground, and with China now doing… stuff nearby, we aren't about to leave any time soon. Plus, it's close to NK. But without the annual joint services war games with South Korea, maybe they will leave. Doubt it, though.

  • MEMbers of the INTERNATIONAL parking industry ARE currently ON A tour TO egypt. you are speaking like a robot dude

  • Lived in Germany for 2 years, our post had protestors monthly, if not more often. They were really nice, they just didn't like the noise from all of our helicopters. The delivery guys loved us though, cause even though people don't really tip over there, a lot of Americans do so just out of habit.

  • I would like to see a breakdown of which branch of the service has these bases. The ones at ports are probably Navy, of course. You can’t always tell the others. It would also be interesting to know related info: maybe U. S. bases.

  • Yes, it is.

    Would you rather have Russia or China extending like that? No, no thank you. For all it's faults (and there are many) the US is still far preferable to the two alternatives.

    That said, the two have been projecting power in other ways.

    Eh.

  • A situação é óbiva. As bases americanas estão posicionadas como uma rede de proteção para proteger os EUA, tanto dos comunistas (URSS, China, América Central, …) como dos islamicos (Irã, Iraque, Afeganistão, …) .
    E as bases americanas não são imprtantes só para a defesa dos EUA, mas para defender todo o mundo livre. Tanto isso é verdade que a Polônia quer pagar para os EUA instalar uma grande base americana lá, como a Ucrania, que está ansiosa para entrar para a OTAN.

    Quem reclama da bases americanas, ou são os equerdistas, ou são pessoas instigadas e ludibriadas por eles. A esquerda é uma força maligna que gosta da destruição e da opressão.

    A defesa que os EUA tem que reforçar rapidamente é a defesa interna contra o "liberalismo" e o "progressismo", que são termos que tentam camuflar a sua verdadeira natureza : o socialismo (e seus vários sinônimos).

  • For more information on this wicked strategy watch "Untold History of the United States", VERY enlightening series…

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