Today I used my one free visit per month to Foreign Affairs on an article, The Case Against U.S. Overseas Military Bases.
Mr. Glaser started off his article wrong. It is not THE case against U.S. overseas military bases, it is “A” case.
He makes a case that these bases no longer have a deterrence effect. He also makes a case that the South Korean economy is 40 times greater than that of North Korea, and the population of the South is double that of the North, and implies South Korea does not need U.S. assistance.
The problem, Mr. Glaser, is that an attack on South Korea is also an attack on the United States, because of the presence of U.S. forces. Not only are U.S. forces on the ground defending, but they are an indication of our commitment to defend South Korea. This is where the military is presented as an element of national power and is also symbolic. A very powerful symbol, indeed, of the greatest fighting force on the earth. There is nothing on this earth which would prevent us from saving and assisting our troops on the ground, our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines and North Korea knows this.
Mr. Glaser, Russia’s invasions of Georgia and Ukraine were definitely not because of NATO’s expansion, that was just one of many excuses Putin has offered as a smokescreen, an obfuscation of the reasons for his actions. Putin illegally siezed Abkhazia in Georgia, South Ossetia in Georgia, Crimea in Ukraine, and is attempting the same in Donbas, Ukraine – because he can. He also believes Russia will get away with it. Crimea is a classic example. There was a moment after then-President Yanukovych fled to Russia where the leadership in Ukraine was incapable of responding, so Putin ordered the immediate seizure of Crimea. A mythical planned NATO seizing the port in Sevastopol was blamed, so was an ‘attack’ on the Russian language, Russian ethnicity was cited, and a myriad of other fabricated reasons. Bottom line, Putin wanted Crimea, they already had a plan, they saw an opportunity, and they took it. Russia seized the initiative.
Please don’t make the mistake of relying only on air power to defeat an enemy. We pounded islands in the Pacific for weeks with millions of tons of explosives in the Pacific Campaign in World War II, yet when our Marines and Soldiers hit the ground, the enemy popped up seemingly unscathed. You need infantry to seize terrain, to hold ground, and to provide eyes and ears for a counterattack or the next opportunity. Infantry never fights alone, just as the Army will never fight without the other Services.
The biggest advantage of forward-based forces is strategic communications. There is and will always be a deterrence effect, even if subconscious. We based forces in Germany to defend against a Soviet invasion. The British were on our left flank. Together we represented the then 16 countries of NATO and it said we are here, we are NATO. Nothing sends a strong message better than forces on the ground, an armed convoy rolling along, or a carrier battle group parked off of a coast.
The most overlooked reason you forgot Mr. Glaser is logistics. To already have forces on the ground precludes the 18-day deployment rate you speak of. It is logistically very difficult to move troops, it is even more difficult to move armor, and then to move and keep renewing all ten classes of supply gives planners nightmares. To have a toehold in a country and actively be committed to their defense means we already have a ton of knowledge. Knowing the capabilities and limitations of a port, an airport, roads, bridges, and rail can speed planning and make planning and execution quick and efficient. Putting a pin in a map and doing a map recon is a nightmare in comparison.
No, Mr. Glaser, we keep troops forward deployed because it shows a commitment, it provides a credible fighting force on the ground, and it aids in logistics and speeds everything up.
The last unclassified National Military Strategy contains these words in the section on “Integrated Military Strategy”. This has been our strategy since 1947 and it has kept the world relatively at peace since World War II.
…in multiple regions, deter aggression and assure allies through forward presence and engagement.