How American Power Girds the Globe with a Ring of Steel
Monday 21 April 2003
New Bases Take Pentagon's Armed Presence Far And Wide
Whenever America goes to war, the spoils of victory invariably include more US military bases overseas.
Having vanquished Saddam Hussein, the Pentagon is planning to establish four US bases in Iraq, according to reports in Washington yesterday.
The Iraqi deployment plans fall into the century-old pattern of US foreign bases being built on the back of military victory. They are also the latest episode in an extraordinary surge in America's projection of military muscle since September 11.
The past two years have seen a rapid expansion of American deployments across thousands of miles stretching from the Balkans to the Chinese border and taking in the Caucasus, central Asia, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
From Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, a result of the 1999 Nato campaign, to the Bishkek airbase in Kyrgyzstan, appropriated for the Afghanistan war, the Americans are establishing an armed presence in places they have never been before.
Thirteen new bases in nine countries ringing Afghanistan were rapidly established as Russia's underbelly in central Asia became an American theatre for the first time.
"In every meaningful sense, the reach and spread of the US bases is growing very strongly, alarmingly from the point of view of the rest of the world," said Marcus Corbin, a security analyst at the Center for Defense Information thinktank in Washington
Further plans are in the pipeline to move US assets out of Germany, where they have been since 1945, into the new Nato countries of eastern Europe, notably Poland as well as Romania and Bulgaria on the Black sea, prized for their proximity to Turkey and the Middle East.
Earlier this month, the top US air force officer in Europe, General Gregory Martin, was in Bulgaria and Romania, sizing up real estate options for the American move into the Balkans.
"All of those places now represent opportunities for us to create relationships that some day will allow us the access we need," Gen Martin told the Stars and Stripes US military newspaper.
At Poznan in western Poland, millions of dollars are being spent on repairing runways, improving infrastructure and building roads at the Krzesiny air base, in the expectation that Uncle Sam is moving in there, too.
"The shift is to small, mobile forces at bases in Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, with the number of bases in Germany being reduced substantially," said Phil Mitchell, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The biggest shock of the Iraq war for the Pentagon, said Mr Corbin, was not being able to use Turkey as a launchpad.
"The big thing to come out of Iraq is that the US will redouble its efforts to diversify its assets and potential."
Barred from exploiting Turkey, the US military used the Romanian air base near Constanta on the Black sea to ferry servicemen and women and equipment into northern Iraq, while 400 US troops commandeered the Burgas airport down the Black sea coast in Bulgaria for refueling operations.
The new bases in central Asia, the Middle East, and the Balkans mean that the US military now girds the globe as no power has done before, from the frozen wastes of Greenland to the deserts of southern Afghanistan.
But more can also mean less. At the close of the cold war, America was sustaining more than 1 million of its citizens abroad in the service of the military, including some 400,000 dependents.
Under the strategic revolution being fashioned by the US Defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and his hawks at the Pentagon, the number of US military personnel deployed overseas is about 60% of 10 years ago, at about 1,000 military bases.
Strategic airlift, technological advances, and the shift in military doctrine from deterrence to preemption and rapid reaction entail a leaner and meaner fighting machine.
Under Mr Rumsfeld, said Mr Corbin, "you have four or five people who have hijacked the US government and whose ambition cannot be understated. Their plan is for the US to control events in many important regions of the world."
The message of the Rumsfeld doctrine on bases is as much political as military. The policy is to cultivate "relationships" with the host countries, obtain secret basing agreements, reconnoitre assets, and then use them, not necessarily immediately and not so much as permanent US bases, but as and when the Americans see fit, in their determination to be able to go anywhere any time they want.
"Their function may be more political than actually military, they send a message to everyone," the administration hawk and deputy Defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, told the New York Times last year.
It is a policy that involves risks, with the bases becoming a target for terrorists. The Pentagon is spending billions of dollars on 45,000 guards and security personnel to police US deployments abroad. And there is perhaps another danger.
"There's a risk of not knowing your limits, of over-extending yourself," cautions Mark Vicenzino, a Washington strategic policy analyst. "That's the lesson of history, the lesson of empire."
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