In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section US Military Bases Abroad

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Surveys
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals
  • Functions and Strategic Roles
  • International Law and Legal Issues
  • Negotiations
  • Social Aspects and Public Opinion
  • Opposition Movements

Political Science US Military Bases Abroad
Alexander Cooley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0034


Since World II, the United States has maintained a network of hundreds of military bases, installations, and facilities across the globe. Some bases in Germany, Japan, and Korea are large cities that host tens of thousands of troops and their families, while others are as small as a communications station in a remote part of a host country. The basing network is central to US power projection and military capabilities, and while some scholars have regarded the network as indispensable to America’s establishment of the global “liberal order,” others refer to it as America’s “empire of bases.” Analytically, the topic of foreign overseas military bases interfaces with several subfields in political science and the broader social sciences. International security scholars and grand strategists look at the strategic roles of bases, as well as their overall functions within US global strategy. Disputes about bases, cost-sharing formulas, and access rights have frequently risen to the top of the security agenda between the United States and its NATO and East Asian allies, while negotiations over basing rights also interface with the study of foreign policy, diplomacy, and international bargaining. International law scholars have analyzed the unusual legal regimes and status of forces agreements that govern the US presence abroad, including the often politically sensitive issue of which side exercises jurisdiction over foreign military personnel in the host country who are involved in accidents or are accused of committing crimes. More recently, comparativists have begun examining the social and political impact of bases on host countries, while a broad range of social scientists has researched domestic opposition to the US military presence and the emergence of anti-base protest and citizens’ movements.

General Overviews and Surveys

A number of multi-country surveys and overviews of the US basing network have appeared, though each emphasizes a different facet of the topic. Harkavy 1989 surveys bases and access agreements and their Cold War role, while Sandars 2000 provides a good set of political histories of US facilities around the world. Duke 1989 offers a comprehensive inventory of US facilities in Europe and their history. Calder 2007 provides an analytically useful investigation of the variety of bilateral relations that can inform the “base politics” between the United States and overseas hosts, while Cooley 2008 and Smith 2006 focus more on the domestic politics, especially democratization processes, that inform the US base issue in southern Europe and East Asia. Baker 2004 provides a social history of key overseas US deployments, including Germany and Japan.

  • Baker, Anni P. American Soldiers Overseas: The Global Military Presence. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.

    Survey of the US base deployments provides background material and insights into social interactions between soldiers and host countries. Detailed on the US presence in the former West Germany.

  • Calder, Kent. Embattled Garrisons: Base Politics and American Globalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

    Charts the origins and evolution of the US basing system and advances a typology of four different types of bilateral relations or “base politics” between the sending and host country: fiat, bazaar, compensation, and affective relations. Particularly strong on the Japanese and Korean cases, analyzing the thorny issue of “host-nation support” or cost-sharing for the US basing presence.

  • Cooley, Alexander. Base Politics: Democratic Change and the US Military Overseas. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.

    Focuses on the varying domestic political reactions to US bases, particularly during turbulent democratic transitions in host countries. The case chapters are paired comparisons between East Asian and southern European base hosts, including a chapter on the triangular politics in the island hosts of the Azores and Okinawa, with a final chapter on the political dynamics of the new US bases in Central Asia and the Black Sea.

  • Duke, Simon. United States Forces and Military Installations in Europe. Stockholm: SIPRI and Oxford University Press, 1989.

    The definitive source on US military facilities in Europe. For each European country, Duke catalogues each installation and also provides the broad political history of the US presence. Clearly drafted, original maps.

  • Harkavy, Robert. Bases Abroad: The Global Foreign Military Presence. New York: SIPRI and Oxford University Press, 1989.

    The follow-up to Harkavy’s 1982 volume Great Power Competition for Overseas Bases (New York: Pergamon), this volume provides the definitive inventory of US (and Soviet) installations abroad and discusses their functions and Cold War strategic rationale. Also contains an invaluable chapter that shows the close connection between US security assistance programs and the granting of basing rights.

  • Sandars, Christopher T. America’s Overseas Garrisons: The Leasehold Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    A broad but often nuanced political history of the evolution of the US basing system across the globe, which emphasizes the various bargains that the United States has reached with hosts to station its forces. Mostly drawing on secondary sources and leaders’ memoirs, Sandars’s survey is strongest in discussing the Mediterranean cases (Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Turkey).

  • Smith, Sheila A. Shifting Terrain: the Domestic Politics of the U.S. Military Presence in Asia. East-West Center Special Reports 8. Honolulu, HI: East-West Center, 2006.

    A first-rate project, comprising several essays and case studies, that examines the mounting domestic political pressures confronting the US military presence across Asia. Smith’s volume draws on wealth of domestic interviews, useful data, and the involvement of respected scholars with detailed knowledge of the Japan, Korean, and Philippine cases. The project’s introduction is available online.

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