Thursday, November 17, 2011

is it worth it?

i've long wondered about how the cost-benefit analysis for all those foreign military bases the u.s. maintains abroad plays out. i understand why, when the u.s. was concerned that soviet tanks might roll across europe, it might want to base substantial forces in europe (and for that matter, substantial forces in japan, to hedge the USSR in from the other side).

but that doesn't explain why we bother to maintain (and pay for) large bases there now. i don't think germany and japan need a substantial u.s. presence anymore. the military seems to use germany as a staging ground for deployments into the middle east and north africa. and forces in japan are probably seen as a deterrent to north korea (though we have substantial troops in south korea to do that already). so the rationale for these deployments is evolving, which means that they will never end because there will always be a trouble spot you can point to for justification for the status quo.

but the "is it worth it" question really comes to the fore when the u.s. considers a new deployment. like the newly announced marine base in northern australia. how much can 2,000 soldiers really do that the australian military couldn't already do? the potential benefit of this decision isn't clear at all.

meanwhile, the cost looks substantial. i mean, it may be a drop in the bucket of the overall american military budget, but rotating marines in and out of australia is still not cheap. plus there's the political costs. the NYT article mentions how the move is pissing off china, but i also imagine that there are other asians who are not happy with a projection of american power into their neighborhood. what will this do to u.s. relations with indonesia and malaysia? will they view the marines as a protector against a potentially aggressive china? it seems more likely that they would feel more threatened by the u.s., a country which, unlike china, seems quite willing to intervene militarily in countries (especially muslim countries) whenever it feels like.

my guess is the plan can't survive a simple cost-benefit analysis, which is why none of the articles i have read about it bother to look at it that way.