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
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
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
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
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
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."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003