American military presence abroad: trends and analsysis




Stravers, Andrew Joel

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This paper examines one basic question: what explains trends in American military deployments abroad? In other words, why does the U.S. military establish a non- combat presence in particular countries and at particular times? Scholars have posited two main answers to this question. First, many authors consider basing a purely strategic consideration rooted in Great Power rivalries, weapons technology, and polarity. Second, research since the Cold War has mainly considered basing within the context of the regime structure of the host country, with some regime types (democracies) better suited as basing partners than others. This paper examines time series cross-sectional statistical evidence for each, and it concludes that while each strain of thought provides valuable contributions to our understanding of basing trends, none fully explain American basing outcomes. I propose a theory in which the main driver of basing trends comes from within the United States. In other words, domestic political considerations within the American system of government best explain variations in American basing abroad. Presidential incentives, for instance, arise from a national constituency that judges him on how effectively he carries out the U.S. military’s missions. However, congressional incentives are such that individual representatives prefer to bring American forces back onto U.S. soil so that they may take advantage of the economic benefits that the troops provide to their home districts and to constrain the president’s power. As such, the long-term trend since 1950 is toward less overseas basing and more basing within the United States. Previous studies provided insights into the international determinants of American foreign basing. This study adds domestic American politics to the overall puzzle, leading to a more complete understanding of the intersection between foreign and domestic dynamics as regards the international deployment of American forces.



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