August 16, 2004 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense

Principles for Restructuring America's Global MilitaryInfrastructure

President Bush announced today that the United States will alter its overseas basing infrastructure in the coming years. This realignment of forces could affect up to 70,000 servicemen currently stationed abroad and nearly as many dependants. The President should be applauded for this initiative to advance America's national security.

America's global basing infrastructure must be transformed for several reasons:

  • The current base structure was developed to defend against a largely static and predictable enemy-the Soviet Union-that no longer exists;
  • Today's threats, in stark contrast to those passed, are dynamic and unpredictable, and demand flexibility that is currently lacking;
  • A flexible basing structure will promote adaptability in a world of diverse political, strategic, and diplomatic interests;
  • America's commitment to regional stability can no longer be measured by manpower alone; and
  • More efficient global basing infrastructure will free manpower resources and help to alleviate personnel strains.

Models for the Future
America's European bases are home to over 116,000 troops, 125,000 dependents, and 45,000 support personnel. Because troops are stationed at these bases for years rather then on a rotational basis, this large civilian complement is necessary. But it means that the U.S. government must provide support services for thousands of non-military personnel.


New bases will likely be smaller and maintain rotational forces. As the Army continues its efforts to develop self-deployable and modular brigades and lessens its reliance on much larger divisions, these bases will likely be geared more toward brigade-size forces. Deployments may resemble the old Reforger exercises (1969-1988), which demonstrated America's ability to move at least three brigades from the United States to Europe in short order. Smaller bases will also foster the mobility and strategic agility of America's forces. Small bases and rotational forces will, by their very natures, facilitate the lighter and more mobile force that is the Pentagon's aim.


South Korea could be one model for future bases. Equipment and infrastructure there remain on base, while troops rotate in and out on yearlong assignments. Families can stay at home because of these quick rotations. The 37,000 troops stationed in South Korea are accompanied by just over 4,000 dependents and 25,000 civilian support personnel. New bases could also be based on the deployment in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the United States maintains over 3,000 troops on six-month rotations with virtually no dependents. In either case, the United States would have the flexibility to ramp up capabilities as needed.

Principles for Future Restructuring
The United States should adhere to four principles to ensure that force-restructuring decisions advance the national interests of both the United States and its allies:

  1. Strategically, a base must advance America's overall objectives. The highest priority for any restructuring of America's bases must be to advance America's strategic objectives. These objectives include nurturing existing alliances and friendships, preventing a hostile power from dominating Europe or the Middle East, and ensuring access to regional natural resources. Committing to regional stability and increasing geostrategic flexibility will facilitate these objectives. Moreover, bases situated to advance U.S. strategic objectives will be better prepared to take on emerging missions, such as anti-terrorism, infrastructure protection, and contraband interdiction, when appropriate. 
  2. Operationally, a base must improve America's ability to respond to current threats as well as facilitate and enhance America's ongoing military transformation. Although base restructuring may be costly, Soviet-era bases are available throughout Eastern Europe; and while most would require significant improvements, some nations have already begun to upgrade them. Furthermore, due to less stringent environmental regulations than those found in Germany, such bases would allow fuller training regimens, improving military readiness. And proximity to potential hot spots will make it easier for the United States to respond to crises and will facilitate interoperability among America's likely allies.

    Most importantly, operational restructuring should help alleviate some of the manpower issues that currently hinder the force. Decreased support requirements will free more troops for combat missions. And creating a base infrastructure abroad that reflects current national security priorities will promote efficient use of available resources.
  3. Politically, the decision to maintain an existing base or open a new one must not be driven by political differences; yet it must take into consideration the evolving political realities of the 21st century. Restructuring should not be seen as a rebuke to the countries that opposed the war with Iraq. While fissures emerged over the war, the United States must reaffirm that it values its traditional alliances, especially those with its European and Asian friends, and ensure its restructuring efforts will benefit all. The United States must also stress that its commitment to a region's or nation's security cannot be judged my manpower alone. Technology allows the United States to project greater force with less manpower than in the past.
  4. Economically, base structure decisions must not be driven by cost concerns but should embrace economic prudence. Some argue that moving bases would be prohibitively expensive. While there are costs involved, cost concerns should not prohibit realignment if it enhances overall national security. There may be savings from realignment. By establishing smaller bases manned by rotational forces, the United States would not incur the same sort of costs that it now does to maintain the large, sprawling bases and family support infrastructure that were appropriate in the Cold War.

    Finally, critics of realignment argue that former host nations will lose out economically, but this is the same tired argument so often made against domestic base closings. While the U.S. presence in some countries may decrease, those nations will gain access to large swaths of usable and valuable terrain. As communities in the United States have found, land formerly occupied by bases can be put to economically productive use, especially where growth already encroaches.

There would be no logic to the redeployment of America's global forces if it were not beneficial to all parties involved. Most importantly, however, force realignment will advance America's national security. For a variety of political, military, and strategic reasons, base restructuring is in America's interests. The world has entered a new era, and it is well past time for U.S. global force structure to reflect this reality.

Jack Spencer is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Jack Spencer Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity