THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
January 15, 2004
Nation Institute

America's Empire of Bases

by Chalmers Johnson

As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize -- or do not want to recognize -- that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire -- an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class. Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can't begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order.

Our military deploys well over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in other nations. To dominate the oceans and seas of the world, we are creating some thirteen naval task forces built around aircraft carriers whose names sum up our martial heritage . . .

Our installations abroad bring profits to civilian industries, which design and manufacture weapons for the armed forces or, like the now well-publicized Kellogg, Brown & Root company, a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation of Houston, undertake contract services to build and maintain our far-flung outposts. . . .

It's not easy to assess the size or exact value of our empire of bases. Official records on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department's annual "Base Structure Report" for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and HAS another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories. Pentagon bureaucrats calculate that it would require at least $113.2 billion to replace just the foreign bases -- surely far too low a figure but still larger than the gross domestic product of most countries -- and an estimated $591.5 billion to replace all of them. The military high command deploys to our overseas bases some 253,288 uniformed personnel, plus an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials, and employs an additional 44,446 locally hired foreigners. The Pentagon claims that these bases contain 44,870 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and that it leases 4,844 more.

These numbers, although staggeringly large, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally. The 2003 Base Status Report fails to mention, for instance, any garrisons in Kosovo -- even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel, built in 1999 and maintained ever since by Kellogg, Brown & Root. The Report similarly omits bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, although the U.S. military has established colossal base structures throughout the so-called arc of instability in the two-and-a-half years since 9/11.

For Okinawa, the southernmost island of Japan, which has been an American military colony for the past 58 years, the report deceptively lists only one Marine base, Camp Butler, when in fact Okinawa "hosts" ten Marine Corps bases, including Marine Corps Air Station Futenma occupying 1,186 acres in the center of that modest-sized island's second largest city. (Manhattan's Central Park, by contrast, is only 843 acres.) The Pentagon similarly fails to note all of the $5-billion-worth of military and espionage installations in Britain, which have long been conveniently disguised as Royal Air Force bases. If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases in other people's countries, but no one -- possibly not even the Pentagon -- knows the exact number for sure, although it has been distinctly on the rise in recent years. . . .

In addition, we plan to keep under our control the whole northern quarter of Kuwait -- 1,600 square miles out of Kuwait's 6,900 square miles -- that we now use to resupply our Iraq legions and as a place for Green Zone bureaucrats to relax. . . .

In his notorious "long, hard slog" memo on Iraq of October 16, 2003, Defense secretary Rumsfeld wrote, "Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror." Correlli-Barnett's "metrics" indicate otherwise. But the "war on terrorism" is at best only a small part of the reason for all our military strategizing. The real reason for constructing this new ring of American bases along the equator is to expand our empire and reinforce our military domination of the world.

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[Chalmers Johnson's latest book is The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (Metropolitan). His previous book, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire , has just been updated with a new introduction.]

General Smedley Darlington Butler, "'War is just a racket'," 1933

"U.S. Military Bases Worldwide," militarybases.com

Edward W. Said, "Culture and Imperialism," 1st Vintage Books Edition (May 28, 1994)

Jon Basil Utley, "A Beacon, Not An Empire," The Wisdom Fund, June 14, 2001

Zoltan Grossman, "A CENTURY OF U.S. MILITARY INTERVENTIONS," zmag.org, September 20, 2001

POWERPOINT: Zoltan Grossman, "New US Military Bases: Side Effects or Causes of War," counterpunch.org, February 2, 2002

Standard Schaeffer, "'Al Qaeda Itself Does Not Exist'," CounterPunch, June 21, 2003

M. Shahid Alam, "Bernard Lewis and the New Orientalism ," The Wisdom Fund, June 29, 2003

Edward Said, "Orientalists' Altruistic Empire," The Guardian, August 2, 2003

[Late Republican Senator Jesse Helms used to call Israel "America's aircraft carrier in the Middle East," when explaining why the US viewed Israel as such a strategic ally--"Top Secret American Military Installations in Israel," Arutz7 News, January 28, 2004]

Gore Vidal, "Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia," Thunder's Mouth Press / Nation Books (2004)

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John Pilger, "THE ROGUE STATE," Mirror, August 21, 2004

"The Warlords of America," The Wisdom Fund, August 23, 2004

Book Review: Ivan Eland, "The Empire Has No Clothes," Independent Institute (September 28, 2004)

[Three long-term trends are threatening to bankrupt America: the burgeoning costs of waging the war on terrorism, the U.S. economy's increasing reliance on foreign capital, and rapid aging throughout the developed world.--Peter G. Peterson, "Riding for a Fall," Foreign Affairs, September/October 2004]

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Kirkpatrick Sale, "Collapse of the American Empire," CounterPunch, February 22, 2005

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[. . . the Defense Department has gone out of its way to avoid using the term "military base." . . . 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.--Michael T. Klare, "Imperial Reach," The Nation, April 25, 2005]

Robert W. Merry, "Sands of Empire : Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition," Simon & Schuster (May 31, 2005)

[Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor at the first Nuremberg trial, called waging aggressive war "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole", said Benjamin B. Ferencz, in a tribute to Jackson.

"The same view," Ferencz, himself a prosecutor at Nuremburg, wrote, "would later be confirmed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Far East. It was also confirmed in the detailed judgment in the 'Ministries Case' of the Subsequent Proceedings held at Nuremberg."--Enver Masud, "Iraq War: 'Supreme International Crime'," Washington Times, June 29, 2005]

Peter Spiegel, "Seabees buzz in to build up bases," Washington Times, February 3, 2006

[Japan's southern island has long accommodated - unwillingly - three quarters of the US military's 45,000 Japanese complement spread over 90 bases and installations.--Chirstopher Reed, "Washington Gives the Green Light: Japan's Neo-Militarists," counterpunch.org, February 23, 2006]

Barry Lando, "Total Withdrawal? What About the Superbases," alternet.org, March 12, 2007

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, "The Enormous Cost of War," Nation, August 17, 2007

[With U.S. markets crashing and wealth vanishing, what are we doing with 750 bases and troops in over 100 countries?--Patrick J. Buchanan, "Liquidating the Empire," antiwar.com, October 14, 2008]

[The Pentagon's most recent inventory of bases lists a total of 716 overseas sites. . . . one conspicuously absent site is al-Udeid air base, a billion-dollar facility in nearby Qatar, where the US Air Force secretly oversees its ongoing unmanned drone wars.

. . . close to 700 US, allied, and Afghan military bases dot Afghanistan. Until now, however, they have existed as black sites known to few Americans outside the Pentagon.--Nick Turse, "Black sites in the empire of bases," atimes.com, February 11, 2010]

[By one Pentagon count there are 865 foreign facilities. But that doesn't count bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, which probably pushes the total past 1000.--Doug Bandow, "Just What Is America Doing all Over the World?," campaignforliberty.com, July 15, 2010]

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[The Defense budget alone exceeds $526 billion. We have 4,855 military bases, including 4,169 in the United States, 110 in U.S. territories, and 576 abroad. Defense civilian employees number 718,000, supplemented by countless contractors who operate in a monopolistic or oligopolistic environment. The national debt is $17 trillion and growing.--Bruce Fein, "Faustian bargain of global leadership," washingtontimes.com, November 13, 2014]

Nick Turse, "U.S. Special Ops Forces Deployed in 135 Nations," tomdispatch.com, September 24, 2015

[Today, the United States empire has over 800 U.S. military installations around the world. . . . more bases in foreign lands than any other people, nation or empire in history.

Other countries have a combined total of about 30 foreign bases. Great Britain has seven bases and France five bases in their former colonies. Russia has eight military bases in the former Soviet republics and one in Syria.--Ann Wright, "Challenging US Overseas Military Bases," consortiumnews.com, December 19, 2015]

Chris Hedges, "The American Empire: Murder Inc," truthdig.com, January 3, 2016

[Special Operations forces, now at almost 70,000 and growing. . . . our secret "warriors" now outnumber the military contingents of major nations.--David Vine and Tom Engelhardt, "Enduring Bases, Enduring War in the Middle East," tomdispatch.com, January 15, 2016]

[According to retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, . . . "There is a cowardly empire killing them from the skies and the only way for them to fight back is asymmetrical. The things they do seem like heinous acts of terrorism to us, but in fact that is the only option we've left them with."--Vegas Tenold, "The Untold Casualties of the Drone War," rollingstone.com, February 18, 2016]

Judah Ari Gross, "In first, US establishes permanent military base in Israel," timesofisrael.com, September 18, 2017

[Officially, the Department of Defense maintains 4,775 "sites," spread across all 50 states, eight U.S. territories, and 45 foreign countries. A total of 514 of these outposts are located overseas, according to the Pentagon's worldwide property portfolio. Just to start down a long list, these include bases on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, as well as in Peru and Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. But the most recent version of that portfolio, issued in early 2018 and known as the Base Structure Report (BSR), doesn't include any mention of al-Tanf. Or, for that matter, any other base in Syria. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Niger. Or Tunisia. Or Cameroon. Or Somalia. Or any number of locales where such military outposts are known to exist and even, unlike in Syria, to be expanding.--Nick Turse, "Bases, Bases, Everywhere . . . Except in the Pentagon's Report," consortiumnews.com, January 16, 2019]

[Britain split the archipelago off from its colonial island territory of Mauritius in 1965, . . .

In the early 1970s, it evicted almost 2,000 residents to Mauritius and the Seychelles to make way for the base on the largest island, Diego Garcia, which it had leased to the United States.--Stephanie van den Berg, "World Court: Britain must return Indian Ocean islands to Mauritius," reuters.com, February 24, 2019]

"Richard Wolff Reveals How Empires End," Thom Hartman Program, March 14, 2019

Against the background of a thousand years of vivid history, acclaimed writer Marie Arana exposes the three driving forces that have shaped the character of Latin America: exploitation (silver), violence (sword), and religion (stone).--Marie Arana, "Silver, Sword, and Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story," Simon & Schuster (August 27, 2019)

During the war, the United States possessed an astonishing thirty thousand installations on two thousand overseas base sites (p.219)--Daniel Immerwahr, "How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States," Picador; Reprint edition (March 3, 2020)

"How the U.S. Stole an Island," Johnny Harris, June 9, 2020

"Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2020," Congressional Research Service, July 20, 2020

Modern imperialism is primarily a Christian phenomenon. The British Empire and now the American Empire were created by countries regarding themselves as primarily Christian. But it has been the period since the second world war, when the US became especially dominant, that imperialism has come to be seen as a threat to the very existence of civilization. Throughout much of the 20th century, America's most famous theologian was Reinhold Niebuhr. . . . For decades, Niebuhr brought a Christian perspective to the national discourse on issues of war, peace, international affairs, and global democracy.--David Ray Griffin, "Reinhold Niebuhr and the Question of Global Democracy," Process Century Press (January 21, 2021)

The US Military is EVERYWHERE, Johnny Harris, February 24, 2021

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