Overseas military bases have been the bedrock of the United States’ ability to project military power, exert political influence and deter potential adversaries since the Second World War. But fatigue with America’s ‘forever wars’, as well as more nuanced financial and strategic reasons, has inclined the public and policy community to favour reducing US global military activities and overseas presence.
In this Adelphi book, Jonathan Stevenson argues that this desire does not necessarily translate into sound strategy. Overseas bases are a key element of the reassurance required to resurrect and bolster America’s reputation among its allies and adversaries. Meanwhile, strategic imperatives and geopolitical realities impose restraints in every theatre. The fluidity prevailing in the Middle East and Indo-Pacific counsels maintaining forward-deployed forces there at roughly the current level. Russia’s confrontational posture towards NATO and invasion of Ukraine, as well as NATO’s short- and medium-term reliance on US capabilities, require the American presence in Europe to increase and expand eastward. The US should not commit itself to a foreign policy that is heavy on forward-deployed military power and light on diplomacy. But paradoxically, reducing forward military presence may not be consistent with a policy that is less focused on military power as a means of achieving stability and security.
Table of Contents
Chapter One - Overseas bases and US strategic posture
Some historical background
Bring the legions home?
Evolutions in military affairs
Few opportunities, many constraints
Chapter Two - Basing and US grand strategy
The Middle East
China and the Indo-Pacific
Europe and NATO
Chapter Three - Optimising US regional footprints: The Middle East
Chapter Four - Optimising US regional footprints: China and the Indo-Pacific
Chapter Five - Optimising US regional footprints: Europe
A robust presence
Chapter Six - Conclusion
The Middle East
Jonathan Stevenson is Senior Fellow for US Defence and Managing Editor of Survival at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). From 2005 to 2016, he was professor of strategic studies in the Strategic and Operational Research Department at the US Naval War College. From 2011 to 2013, he served as National Security Council Director for Political-Military Affairs, Middle East and North Africa, at The White House. He is author of two previous titles in the Adelphi series: Counter-terrorism: Containment and Beyond (2005); and Preventing Conflict: The Role of the Bretton Woods Institutions (2000).
‘In this timely Adelphi book, Jonathan Stevenson reminds us of the size and complexity of the American global footprint, and how foreign-policy imperatives have tended to override pressures to cut back on the number of overseas bases. In today's tense strategic environment, this will most likely remain the case.’
Sir Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies, King's College London
‘Jonathan Stevenson offers an indispensable look at the United States’ overseas bases in 2022 and persuasively explains why they remain critical to American strategy today and for the foreseeable future.’
Stacie L. Pettyjohn, Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security
‘US overseas basing is a much debated but little understood topic. This study offers a valuable guide to America’s strategic challenges in a volatile world.’
Hal Brands, Henry A. Kissinger Distinguished Professor of Global Affairs, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies