America’s Empire of Bases Gets More Expensive

In Foreign Affairs, Alexander Cooley writes about how a less unipolar world is prompting competition for foreign expansion among the great powers, particularly the US, Russia, and China in the Central Asian countries. And it means the American Empire is costing a lot more.

Most dramatically, in 2009, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan, host to the Manas Transit Center, initiated a bidding war between the United States and Russia by threatening to close the base. He extracted hundreds of millions of dollars from both sides, in the form of a Russian assistance package and a renewed lease at a higher rent with the United States. Since 2008, the United States also has paid transit fees, about $500 million annually, to the Uzbek and other Central Asian governments to ship equipment bound for Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network.

The same dynamic is playing out elsewhere. The availability of alternative patrons has made U.S. strategic engagement more expensive everywhere, both in terms of dollars and politics. In 2008, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa refused to extend a ten-year lease of the U.S. base at Manta, after having been offered $500 million to upgrade the facility by a Hong Kong port operator. Steven Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has observed that in post-revolutionary Egypt the United States has continued to provide assistance in return for overflight rights and access to the Suez Canal, even as U.S. leverage over the country diminishes. And during Pakistan’s seven-month fallout with Washington, in which it closed Afghanistan-bound supply lanes, Islamabad publicly demanded an increase in transit fees and courted China. Eventually, U.S. officials reportedly agreed to release $1.1 billion for the Pakistani military from the Coalition Support Fund to get the route back open.

Comparisons to the Roman Empire and the overextended expansionism that helped lead to its downfall can sometimes get stale, but all of these examples make it clear that maintaining an empire of military bases and client states is getting increasingly unaffordable for a US government $16 trillion in debt. The Obama administration is also in the process of surging our expensive high-tech military presence in the Persian Gulf and all throughout the Asia Pacific region. And as David Vine recently wrote for TomDispatch, America’s Empire of Bases is growing worldwide. Sooner or later, America will be drained.

Incidentally, the late, great Chalmers Johnson predicted the very scenario Cooley relays. In Baseless Expenditures he wrote: “I have a suggestion for other countries that are getting a bit weary of the American military presence on their soil: cash in now, before it’s too late. Either up the ante or tell the Americans to go home. I encourage this behavior because I’m convinced that the US Empire of Bases will soon enough bankrupt our country.”

10 thoughts on “America’s Empire of Bases Gets More Expensive”

  1. How perverse that all of these nations aren't paying us for our protective presence there. Even the European countries, by virtue of our bases, are able to divert revenues within their national budgets to domestic programs they would otherwise do without. If they really don't value our protection, we ought to withdraw it.

    It would be better to let such nations fend for themselves, as any sovereign power must do.

    1. Did it ever occur to you our "protective presence" in other countries was never asked for, nor wanted by the people of other nations as well as the majority of Americans?

      Did it also ever occur to you that we the people end up footing the bill for these overseas "protection" operations?

  2. The Romans occupied a country and demanded they pay tribute. We occupy a country pay them tribute. Americans have the stupidest Empire in history. Like the Brits they do use economic leverage to benefit crony capitalists but our soldiers are coming home without the loot of temples and palaces and have to rely on the stolen taxpayer supplied bribe money that got kicked their way.

  3. With the drum beat for war on Iran intensifying in recent weeks, the question seems to come down to whether or not Israel is bluffing about their implied military strike on Iran before the November presidential elections in the US.

  4. The Korean thieves in Seoul have the us poor duped troops to protect them–while they dump all of the stolen technology back on AMERIKA–ARE WE STUPID OR WHAT? GET OUT OF RACIST ANTI-AMERICAN SOUTH KOREA–NOW

    1. Well, I did my tour of the RoK long, long ago … and being influenced by past experiences … my sympathies are entirely with the people of South Korea.

      Were I a citizen of the RoK I wouldn't want your obnoxious, boozing, whoring, brawling, superioir-minded troops around.

      (An aside) It was commonly said by officers that the troops weren't there to protect the RoK from the North; the US was there to stop the RoK from going north.

  5. "How perverse" are some Americans who will not see US "protective presence" for the exploitation racket that it truly is. If there isn't something in it for Uncle Sam, then He wouldn't be there.

    Altruism ain't got squat to do with anything.

  6. How many times does this have to be said? The military is funded by the broad u.s. population. But the benefits are concentrated in the hands of the military contractors and the transnational corporations whose interests they are protecting. It's the old story of "Socialize the costs; privatize the gain."

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