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Research Questions

  1. What overseas U.S. presence can achieve the U.S. security interests of deterring and dissuading North Korea, China, Iran and potentially other adversaries; reassuring U.S. allies and partners in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East; and dissuading military competition and arms races with China and Iran?
  2. What global postures emerge by combining different strategic perspectives on the role of U.S. overseas military presence in East Asia, Europe, and the Middle East and how do they compare in terms of their operational performance and ability to achieve other U.S. interests such as protecting Americans from terrorist attacks and responding to humanitarian emergencies?

Abstract

Since World War II, the United States has relied on a global network of military bases and forces to protect its interests and those of its allies. But the international environment has changed greatly over the decades, and economic concerns have risen, leading some to debate just what America's role should now be in the world. This monograph addresses one aspect of this debate by introducing a new analytical approach to defining future U.S. military presence overseas. It does so by first considering U.S. global security interests, then focusing on specific threats to them in East Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. With that, the researchers designed a menu of global postures based on different strategic perspectives. They evaluated the global postures in terms of their operational performance and then compared them in terms of their associated U.S. Air Force bases, combat forces, active-duty personnel, and base operating costs. These analyses offer insights on the critical strategic choices that policymakers need to address and that the public needs to debate as they consider future overseas U.S. military presence. Among these choices are for the United States to depend more on its allies, rely more on U.S. based military forces, focus its presence more on East Asia or on the Middle East, or retain its current overseas presence in the face of expanding threats. Those involved in debates on the future global U.S. posture will need to make explicit their implicit underlying perspectives on what role overseas military presence can play in achieving U.S. global security interests.

Key Findings

Debates Need to Take Global Security Goals and Perspectives About How Best to Achieve Them into Account

  • The choice policymakers make on the future U.S. overseas military presence needs to depend on an assessment of how the United States can help achieve its global security interests.
  • Perspectives on the role of overseas military presence in achieving U.S. global security interests differ, and these need to be made explicit in future debates.

Reductions in Overseas Presence Are Possible Depending on Perspectives

  • Reducing the U.S. military presence overseas does not make sense if one's perspective is that presence plays an important role in deterring and responding to threats posed by China, North Korea, or Iran.
  • Relying more on allies or on U.S. based military forces could lead to reductions in U.S. military presence overseas.
  • Reductions in overseas military presence may not provide much in the way of cost savings for the U.S. Air Force, unless the weapons systems and personnel are removed from the force structure.

Recommendations

  • Given the role of the United States and its global military presence are under debate, it is time for policymakers to address the critical strategic choices, which include to depend more on its allies; rely more on U.S. based military forces; focus its presence more on East Asia or on the Middle East; or retain its current overseas presence in the face of expanding threats.
  • To do this, those involved in debates on the future global U.S. posture will need to make explicit their implicit underlying perspectives on what role overseas military presence can play in achieving U.S. global security interests.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Path to Defining Future Global U.S. Postures

  • Chapter Three

    Comparison of Global Postures

  • Chapter Four

    Strategic Choices: Overseas U.S. Military Presence

  • Appendix A

    Protecting The Global Commons: Confusing Means With Ends

  • Appendix B

    Database of Current U.S. Bases Overseas

  • Appendix C

    Comparison of Global Postures

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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