As the Defense Department begins to look beyond the war in Iraq, a major priority will be to commence a systematic realignment of US forces and bases abroad. This massive undertaking will result in a substantial reduction of American forces in Germany and South Korea, and the establishment of new facilities in Eastern Europe, the Caspian Sea basin, Southeast Asia and Africa. Tens of thousands of troops (and their dependents) now stationed abroad will be redeployed to the United States, while fresh contingents will be sent to areas that have never before housed a permanent US military presence. These steps are largely justified in terms of military effectiveness–to eliminate obsolete cold war facilities and ease the transport of American troops to likely scenes of conflict. Underlying the planning, however, is a new approach to combat and a fresh calculus of the nation’s geopolitical interests.
The first big steps in the Pentagon’s basing realignment were announced last summer by President Bush during a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Cincinnati. Up to 70,000 American combat troops will be redeployed from bases in Germany, Japan and South Korea to bases in the United States or to US territories abroad, including Guam. Most of these forces–approximately 40,000 troops from the First Armored Division and the First Infantry Division–will be withdrawn from Germany. At the same time, however, the Army will station one of its Stryker Brigades, built around the Stryker light armored vehicle, at the Grafenwöhr training area in what used to be East Germany. Bush also indicated that new basing facilities will be acquired in other countries, in order to facilitate the rapid movement of American troops to likely areas of combat. “We’ll move some of our troops and capabilities to new locations,” Bush explained, “so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats.”
In conjunction with this announcement, the Defense Department disclosed that it is looking at two new types of basing facilities in areas that at present do not house permanent US military installations. The first type, designated “forward operating sites” or “forward operating locations,” will consist of logistical facilities (an airstrip or port complex) plus weapons stockpiles; these installations will house a small permanent crew of US military technicians but no large combat units. The second type, termed “cooperative security locations,” will be “bare bones” facilities utilized at times of crisis only; such sites will have no permanent US presence but will be maintained by military contractors and host-country personnel.
In discussing these new facilities, the Defense Department has gone out of its way to avoid using the term “military base.” A base, in the Pentagon’s lexicon, is a major facility with permanent barracks, armories, recreation facilities, housing for dependents and so on. Such installations typically have been in place for many years and are sanctioned by a formal security partnership with the host country involved. The new types of facilities, on the other hand, will contain no amenities, house no dependents and not be tied to a formal security arrangement. This distinction is necessary, the Pentagon explains, to avoid giving the impression that the United States is seeking a permanent, colonial-like presence in the countries it views as possible hosts for such installations.
“We have no plans [for military bases] on a permanent basis in those areas,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld averred when speaking of Eastern Europe and the Caspian Sea region. “We’re trying to find the right phraseology. We know the word ‘base’ is not right for what we do…. We have bases in Germany and we will continue to. But we also have had things that we call ‘Forward Operating Locations’ or sites that are not permanent bases: they’re not places where you have families; they are not places where you have large numbers of US military on a permanent basis…. [They are places] where you’d locate people in and out or where you use it for refueling–these types of things.”