Looming Strategic Choices for U.S. Overseas Military Presence

For Release

September 12, 2012

A new RAND Corporation report offers a revised analytical approach to defining the future U.S. military presence overseas and describes the strategic choices policymakers need to address to define the overseas presence.

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.

The study first considers U.S. global security interests and then examines threats to these interests in East Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Researchers designed a menu of global postures based on different U.S. strategic perspectives and illustrated these postures in terms of U.S. Air Force bases, combat forces, active-duty personnel and base operating costs.

Among the key findings:

  • Reducing the U.S. military presence overseas does not make sense if it is perceived that such 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.

"Policymakers have difficult decisions ahead," said lead author Lynn E. Davis, a RAND a senior political scientist and former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs for President Clinton. "They must decide if America is to depend more on its allies, if it is to rely on U.S.-based military forces or if the Pentagon should focus its presence more on East Asia or the Middle East."

The study, "U.S. Overseas Military Presence: What Are the Strategic Choices?," can be found at www.rand.org. Other authors include Stacie L. Pettyjohn, Melanie W. Sisson, Stephen M. Worman and Michael J. McNerney.

The study was conducted for the U.S. Air Force by RAND Project AIR FORCE, a federally funded research and development center for studies and analysis aimed at providing independent policy alternatives for the U.S. Air Force.

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