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Imperial Reach | The Nation

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Imperial Reach

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Equally strong geopolitical considerations link the pursuit of foreign oil to American concern over the rise of China. Like the United States, China needs to import vast amounts of petroleum in order to satisfy skyrocketing demand at home. In 2010, the Energy Department predicts, China will have to import 4 million barrels of oil per day; by 2025 it will be importing 9.4 million barrels. China will also be dependent on major producers in the Middle East and Africa, and so it has sought to curry favor with these countries using the same methods long employed by the United States: by forging military ties with friendly regimes, supplying them with weapons and stationing military advisers in them. A conspicuous Chinese presence has been established, for example, in Iran, Sudan and the Central Asian republics. To counter these incursions, the United States has expanded its own military ties with local powers--and this in turn has helped spark the drive for new basing facilities in the Gulf and Caspian regions.

Correction: Grafenwöhr training area is not in the former East Germany. It's in western Germany, about forty miles from the old border.

About the Author

Michael T. Klare
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the defense correspondent...

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The search for new bases is also being driven by the Pentagon's new strategic outlook. During the cold war era, most overseas US troop deployments were defensive--intended to deter Soviet expansionism in Europe and Asia and to provide the means for effective resistance should deterrence fail. True, some of these bases were also used to support covert operations against pro-Soviet regimes in the Third World and to promote other US interests, but for the most part their role was static and defensive--and it is this passivity that Rumsfeld and his associates seek to do away with. Instead, the Bush Administration and its neocon allies seek to fashion a more assertive, usable combat force. This new outlook is encapsulated in The National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, a report just released by the Defense Department: "Our role in the world depends on effectively projecting and sustaining our forces in distant environments where adversaries may seek to deny US access," the document says. The military doctrine forged by the Bush Administration also envisions pre-emptive military action or, more accurately, preventive strikes intended to cripple an enemy's combat capability before it can be developed to the point of actually posing a threat to American interests.

Being able to strike first against all conceivable future adversaries translates into two types of military capabilities: a capacity to move forces into combat quickly and seize the battlefield initiative; and an ability to deliver combat power to any corner of the globe, no matter how distant or inhospitable. These necessitate a whole new constellation of overseas bases. Because speed and agility require installations that are geared to logistical efficiency rather than defensive might, older bastions must be replaced by new facilities geared to transiting offensive forces; and because new adversaries could arise in areas far removed from existing US bases, new facilities are needed in any potential site of conflict. Hence the desire for new logistical hubs and "bare bones" facilities in every region of the world.

Finally, the Pentagon's search for new basing facilities is being driven by the altered political landscape of the post-cold war era. The installations acquired in Germany, Japan and South Korea during the cold war were primarily intended for the defense of those and neighboring countries, and so were largely welcomed by the governments involved. In most cases, these bases were embedded in an alliance relationship and reflected a shared strategic vision. "The cold war provided an overarching framework," John Hamre of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the Congressional Overseas Basing Commission in November. "The important factor in that strategic framework is that it incorporated the national interests of host nations, not just the United States. Our military presence in a given country protected them from invasion or hostile action by others--the host country and the United States shared the same risks and the same enemy."

Today, save for South Korea, such facilities are no longer intended to buttress the common defense but rather for use as steppingstones for the deployment of American forces to other areas of the world--often in operations that do not have the support of the host nation, such as the war in Iraq. And the South Koreans have begun to express strong differences with the United States over how best to deal with Pyongyang--with many favoring a strategy of reconciliation instead of confrontation. Even Turkey, a long-term US ally, refused to allow the Pentagon to use its territory as a launching pad for the invasion of Iraq. All of this has led to considerable anxiety at the Pentagon over the possibility that more restrictions will be placed on the use of bases in these countries for what are called "out of area" operations.

In the face of this challenge there is "a purposeful effort to possibly leave places where they may not want us or they are snubbing us," a senior military official told Esther Schrader of the Los Angeles Times in May 2003. "The Eastern Bloc countries have reached out to us.... They are looking for a partnership." These more welcoming states, presumably including Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, are not as concerned as some of our older allies over the use of their territory to facilitate US military operations in other countries. And their acquiescence is a major factor in the base-realignment plan.

It is not clear exactly when the Defense Department will complete the reassessment of its overseas basing requirements and complete the actual redeployment of American forces. Some of the initiatives described above have already begun, while others remain on the drawing board. There is no doubt, however, that a major realignment of American power is under way that entails a seismic shift in the center of gravity of American military capabilities from the western and eastern fringes of Eurasia to its central and southern reaches, and to adjacent areas of Africa and the Middle East. This is certain to involve the United States more deeply in the tangled internal politics of these regions, and to invite resistance from local forces--and there are many of them--that object to current US policies and will resent a conspicuous American military presence in their midst. Far from leading to a reduction in terrorism, as advertised, these moves are certain to provoke more of it.

Finally, the American power shift from outer Eurasia to its troubled interior is certain to arouse concern and antipathy in Russia, China, India and other established or rising powers in the region. Already, Russian leaders have expressed dismay at the presence of American bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan--territories that were once part of the Soviet Union. The recent political upheaval in Kyrgyzstan and the ouster of President Askar Akayev--long considered friendly to Moscow--is certain to exacerbate their concerns. At the same time, Chinese officials have begun to complain about what they view as the "encirclement" of their country. Although reluctant to take on the Americans directly, leaders of Russia and China have talked of a "strategic partnership" between their two countries and have collaborated in the establishment of a new regional security organ, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. None of this is likely to lead soon to the outbreak of hostilities, but the foundation is being set for a great-power geopolitical contest akin to the European rivalries that preceded World Wars I and II.

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