06 May 2014

Bases for America’s Asia-Pacific Rebalance (Part 2 of 2)

Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson, “Bases for America’s Asia-Pacific Rebalance (Part 2 of 2),” The Diplomat, 6 May 2014.

Part two of a two part series evaluating the evolving network of US bases in the Asia-Pacific.

The second part of a two-part series that evaluates the United States’ evolving network of bases in the Asia-Pacific and which opportunities and challenges each brings to the table moving forward. Read part one here.

Moving toward Asia from the West Coast, one immediately encounters the reality of America’s status as an Asia-Pacific power: it possesses a sweeping array of sovereign territory in which to base Pacific-focused forces. Hawaii and Alaska first come into view. Although they are integral parts of the United States, their geographical proximity to Asia gives them unique importance in any discussion of military bases on American soil. Already home to a significant military presence, both are likely candidates for an enhanced military presence in the coming years as part of the Obama administration’s strategic reorientation toward Asia: Hawaii, thanks to its central location, and Alaska thanks to its nearly unparalleled strategic depth.

Hawaii constitutes the backbone of U.S. military presence and power projection capabilities in Asia. Home to the headquarters of U.S. Pacific Command, the largest of the Unified Commands, Hawaii hosts 161 military installations that facilitate all aspects of U.S. military activities, from land, air and space operations, to training, to communications. It has been estimated that military-connected personnel account for 17 percent of Hawaii’s population. As a strategically important forward location in the Pacific, Hawaii has seen a buildup in Army and Marine forces since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At the same time, the U.S. Navy has increased its visibility in the Western- Pacific in an effort to dissuade and deter potential regional threats from traditional and trans-national actors.

Alaska hosts America’s nascent missile defense umbrella in the Asia-Pacific, one of two locations for the deployment of America’s first-generation ground-based ballistic missile defense system. Globally, the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) is a major concern for policy makers and military planners; the spread of nuclear weapons within the Asia-Pacific region is perhaps the most serious issue in contemporary security policy. The threat to the U.S. posed by ballistic missiles looms largest in the Asia-Pacific region. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions coupled with the continued development of long-range ballistic missiles already threaten America’s regional allies such as Japan, and in time could pose a similar hazard to portions of the U.S. homeland. Developments in China’s nuclear forces and even adjacent countries such as Pakistan raise similar concerns. Concentrated around the Air Force bases at Eielson and Ft. Greely, the mid-course ground based interceptors are the first line of defense against ballistic missile attacks. Alaska’s significance to Asia-Pacific security goes beyond ballistic missile defense. It is also home to three Air Force bases, three Army bases, and five Coast Guard stations. Its 24,016 personnel include 13,406 from the Air Force. As defense in depth and homeland security become increasingly important to U.S. national security, Alaska will have an increasingly important role to play.

The U.S. also retains other sovereign or associated territories scattered across the Pacific that currently serve some military functions (notably, the missile-testing facility at Kwajalein), or could serve such functions in the future – as of course many of them did during World War II. It is not difficult to envision the U.S. reactivating a network of austere sites for contingency use at places like Midway or Wake Island that could provide the nation greater strategic depth in the Western and Central Pacific than it enjoys today. …


“Essential Reading: Pacific Overtures: A New US Study Calls Into Question the Viability of Major USN Fleet Elements,” Important New Strategic Literature; review of Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2014);Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis 32.18 (25 February 2014): 1-2.

Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson, “Introduction,” in Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2014), 1-13.

Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Guam and American Security in the Pacific,” in Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2014), 14-35.

Walter C. Ladwig III, Andrew S. Erickson, and Justin D. Mikolay, “Diego Garcia and American Security in the Indian Ocean,” in Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2014), 130-79.

Rebalancing US Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific. Edited by Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson. Annapolis, May 2014: US Naval Institute Press. 240pp, hardcover; seven maps. ISBN: 978-1-61251-465-9. $47.95.  

Few military strategic priorities in the United States preoccupy the minds of planners more than the competition the US faces with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for dominance in the Western and Northern Pacific. And it is the US Navy which bears the major burden of the challenge, particularly since Pres. Barack Obama in late 2011 indicated that the US would “re-balance” its military posture to focus on the Asia-Pacific realm. …

…the Navy-run US Pacific Command (USPACOM) has… spent years bending its not inconsiderable experience to conceiving strategies and operational capabilities to meet the challenge. And leading US naval thinkers Carnes Lord, professor of strategic leadership at the US Naval War College, and Andrew S. Erickson, an associate professor at the college, were clearly key thinkers in bringing together the new US Naval Institute book, Rebalancing US Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, due to be published in May 2014.

The book is a collected work of the faculty of the US Naval War College and its external contributors, but it draws very much on the College’s roots and association with the great maritime strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, who so clearly saw, in the late 19th and early 20thcenturies, the need for US basing options in the Pacific.

What is significant about this study is the fact that, for the first time in decades, the US has been thinking from a clean-sheet perspective about its basing needs. It had inherited, as editors Lord and Erickson point out in their introduction, a globe-girdling array of bases at the end of World War II. The US lost naval and air basing in the Philippines—at Subic Bay and Clark Field—and other basing during the 1990s, and largely did not seem to notice the loss. It turned over some 60 percent of its overseas military installations to host governments, and withdrew some 300,000 foreign-deployed US military personnel. Even the abandonment of its military complex in Panama—and the Panama Canal itself—raised little comment. The Cold War was ending or over as these events transpired, right up to the so-called “global war on terror” during the George W. Bush presidency and its Global Posture Review (GPR). The scaling back of US bases in Europe took place with scarcely a nod from the US media.

The US “re-balancing” toward Asia and the Pacific has begun to raise major planning issues for the US, and that is what this important new book addresses. Lord and Erickson, in concluding their introduction, note:

“[I]t makes a great deal of difference whether or not US ballistic missile defense technologies and field systems will be capable at some future point (as they currently are not) of providing serious protection against a conventional missile strike by the Chinese on its [US] forward bases in the western Pacific. Not only fixed land bases, however, but also American naval vessels on the high seas are becoming increasingly vulnerable to attack by the burgeoning arsenal of conventionally armed, precision-guided Chinese ballistic missiles; and the Chinese are also becoming increasingly competitive in the air as well as undersea, space, and cyber warfare. All of this raises serious questions as to whether the United States can continue to rely on major surface combatants and, above all, its formidable nuclear-powered aircraft carriers to sustain a forward American presence in the Asia-Pacific region in the coming years.”

This summation alone is sufficiently sobering for the reader to be drawn into this provocative book.

All the chapters raise different perspectives, whether on the vulnerability and prospects of Guam, to the largely unreported rise of the importance of Singapore to US maritime power projection (more significant, the author indicates, than US links to the Philippines or Thailand).

Despite the stovepiping of much US strategic thinking which has artificially separated the Red Sea/Suez, the Persian Gulf/Arabian Sea, and the broader Indian Ocean areas away from US Pacific Ocean thinking—while parceling consideration of the Middle East and Northern Tier to US Central Command (US-CENTCOM) or the US African Command (USAFRICOM)—the reality is that the Indo-Pacific zone needs to be viewed as the integrated space that it is, albeit linked by critical choke-points.

Rebalancing US Forces does address some aspect of the Indian Ocean in an outstandingly well researched chapter entitled “Diego Garcia and American Security in the Indian Ocean,” by Walter C. Ladwig III, Andrew S. Erickson, and Justin D. Mikolay. Together, they also chronicle India’s and the PRC’s interests and concerns in the Indian Ocean. Chapters such as this, in the book, make it a vital resource.

… Rebalancing US Forces reinforces the perception that the Indian Ocean region is neither understood nor appreciated by US strategic planners (or even those in Canberra, on Australia’s Pacific Ocean side) in the same way that it is by Chinese thinkers, who harken back to the centrality of the Indian Ocean to the great exploratory voyages of Admiral Zheng He in the early 15th Century. Even today, to comprehend the importance of South-East Asian chokepoints, it is critical to understand the Indian Ocean.

The book seriously addresses, as would be expected, the US basing and relationships in Japan and South Korea, and the function of sea-basing, and of Guam. But it also has a chapter on “US Bases and Domestic Politics in Central Asia.” This chapter by Alexander Cooley has a good chronology and data….

Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2014).

As the U.S. military presence in the Middle East winds down, the Asia-Pacific is receiving increased attention from the American national security community. The Obama administration has announced a “rebalancing” of the U.S. military posture in the region, in reaction primarily to the startling improvement in Chinese air and naval capabilities over the last decade or so. This timely study sets out to assess the implications of this shift for the long-established U.S. military presence in Asia and the Pacific. This presence is anchored in a complex basing infrastructure that scholars–and Americans generally–too often take for granted. In remedying this state of affairs, this volume offers a detailed survey and analysis of this infrastructure, its history, the political complications it has frequently given rise to, and its recent and likely future evolution. 

American seapower requires a robust constellation of bases to support global power projection. Given the rise of China and the emergence of the Asia-Pacific as the center of global economic growth and strategic contention, nowhere is American basing access more important than in this region. Yet manifold political and military challenges, stemming not least of which from rapidly-improving Chinese long-range precision strike capabilities, complicate the future of American access and security here. This book addresses what will be needed to maintain the fundamentals of U.S. seapower and force projection in the Asia-Pacific, and where the key trend lines are headed in that regard. 

This book demonstrates that U.S. Asia-Pacific basing and access is increasingly vital, yet increasingly vulnerable. This important strategic component demands far more attention than the limited coverage it has received to date, and it cannot be taken for granted. More must be done to preserve capabilities and access upon which American and allied security and prosperity depend.


Carnes Lord, currently Professor of Strategic Leadership at the Naval War College and director of the Naval War College Press, is a political scientist with broad interests in international and strategic studies, national security organization and management, and political philosophy. He has taught at the University of Virginia and the Fletcher School, and served in a variety of senior positions in the U.S. government. (For further details, seehttp://www.usnwc.edu/Academics/Faculty/Carnes-Lord.aspx).

Andrew S. Erickson is an Associate Professor at the Naval War College and an Associate in Research at Harvard’s Fairbank Center. In spring 2013, he deployed as a Regional Security Education Program scholar aboard the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group. Erickson runs the research websites www.andrewerickson.com and www.chinasignpost.com.


“Maritime power depends on many things, Mahan taught, not least of which is an array of well-positioned, amply supplied, and strongly defended bases. The United States can no longer take for granted its ability to operate unhindered in the Asia-Pacific, which makes this volume of thoughtful essays all the more timely and important. If the shift in American power and interest to Asia is to mean anything, decision-makers will have to heed the arguments advanced here.”

Dr. Eliot A. CohenRobert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies, Johns Hopkins SAIS; former Counselor of the Department of State; author of Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime.

“World order in the 21st century will depend more and more upon the terms of the political and strategic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. In this very timely book, Lord and Erickson and their authors examine expertly the likelihood of achievement of an effective U.S. pivot to Asia. This is, and needs to be, largely a maritime shift in U.S. posture. A seismic correction in U.S. geostrategy is happening.”

Dr. Colin S. GrayProfessor and Director, Centre for Strategic Studies, University of Reading

“The announced U.S. ‘pivot to Asia’ raised expectations and uncertainties among allies and adversaries throughout Asia and beyond.  In Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, Carnes Lord and Andrew Erickson have produced a well-considered, written and researched primer on the political-military considerations and drivers that will shape the future U.S. military posture throughout the Asia-Pacific region.  Informed by the relevant historical background and host-country access issues in several key locations hosting or servicing U.S. forces, this book is a timely and invaluable resource that policymakers and analysts involved in Asian security affairs will want to keep close at hand.”

Ambassador Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr., former PDASD/ISA and Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs

Rebalancing U.S. Forces provides a detailed introduction to the complex, often contentious questions surrounding the deployment of U.S. forces in Asia and the Pacific. As the United States pursues an increasingly differentiated basing strategy across the region, a deeper understanding of the history of this issue is much needed, and this volume helps point the way.”

Dr. Jonathan D. Pollack, Senior Fellow, China and East Asian Strategy, The Brookings Institution

“In Rebalancing U.S. Forces, Carnes Lord and Andrew Erickson have drawn together the powerful writing of the very best thinkers concerning the Pacific, US forces in the region, and the atmospheric debates about the levels, location, and employment of military force in this most nautical part of the globe. This is a book that must be on the shelf of any 21st century geopolitical analyst.”

Admiral James G. Stavridis, USN (Ret.), Ph.D.Dean, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University; Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, 2009-13