Withdrawing from Overseas Bases: Why a Forward-Deployed Military Posture Is Unnecessary, Outdated, and Dangerous
The United States maintains a veritable empire of military bases throughout the world—about 800 of them in more than 70 countries. This forward-deployed military posture incurs substantial costs and disadvantages, exposing the United States to vulnerabilities and unintended consequences. The strategic justifications for overseas bases—that they deter adversaries, reassure allies, and enable rapid deployment operations—have lost much of their value and relevance in the contemporary security environment.
Deterrence is usually achieved by means other than nearby U.S. military bases, and a forward-deployed presence frequently exacerbates international tensions by causing fear and counterbalancing efforts by adversaries. In an era of reduced global threats, reassurance is not as important as it was during the early years of the Cold War, and most U.S. allies are wealthy and powerful enough to provide for their own defense. Furthermore, overseas bases are not necessary to retain long-range capabilities for most military interventions, thanks to revolutions in technology that have reduced travel times. Finally, forward bases and the rapid deployment capabilities they enable tempt policymakers to take military action for bad reasons, or in pursuit of counterterrorism goals that are not well served by the deployment of ground forces.
In the absence of a major peer competitor, and in an era of low security threats, the policy of maintaining a constant worldwide overseas military presence is unwise. The United States should withdraw its permanent peacetime military presence abroad and abandon its forward-deployed posture in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.