April 12, 2023: A meme about the US military has been circulating on social media ever since we’ve had smartphones. It shows a map of China in which the Asian country is surrounded by numerous dots. The dots represent American military bases and flashpoints of US military activity.
What takes the cake are the sarcastic captions of various versions of the meme. One of them reads: “Look, how close they [China] have put their country to our [US] military bases.” Another caption says: “China is threatening our security, NATO leaders say at 2022 summit.”
The only other US military joke that outwits this meme is a certain stupendous claim that the American government makes from time to time – that the Chinese military is on an alarming, expansionist drive, and it threatens to someday take over the petrified planet.
In the context of China’s muscle-flexing over Taiwan, the preceding balloon drama, and China’s general activities in its own backyard, let’s look at some incredible numbers.
US military has 750+ foreign bases
The Pentagon, the world’s most hyped military establishment, had at least 750 overseas military bases as of 2021, according to conservative estimates. And American troops have been based in at least 80 countries.
But how many foreign military bases does America’s biggest foe China have? Officially, just one – in Africa’s Djibouti. Unofficially, there are a few more. Beijing is known to have placed a small unit of troops in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan region, and smaller units in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Tanzania, Mauritius, Maldives, and Myanmar. That’s it.
If China’s military rise is seen in isolation, it’s worth worrying why the country should be allowed to deploy troops to a place as far away as the Horn of Africa. But compare China’s sole official military base in Djibouti to America’s 750-plus military sites in more than 80 countries – it’s a no-brainer who is the biggest military bully on the planet.
David Vine’s report
For a country that otherwise preaches transparency at the drop of a hat, the US defence department doesn’t share precise data about its foreign military outposts. Instead, all we know so far about America’s overseas military footprint comes from David Vine, an associate professor of sociology at American University in Washington, DC, and the author of the book, Base Nation: How US Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World.
A few years back, Vine ended speculation about America’s foreign military bases with his landmark research. His investigative work has now become a ready-reckoner for those studying modern-day US military history. The Pentagon itself is so secretive about the numbers that even some military-funded studies in America are known to have used Vine’s work as reference instead of government data, which is elusive.
In fact, in 2018, the Pentagon had gone public with some data that is now known to have been grossly underplayed and somewhat misleading. It claimed back then that America had about 500 military bases on foreign soil. In the ‘2018 Base Structure Report’ made public by the US Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence, the military said that in 2017, the US Army had 202 overseas sites, US Air Force 166, US Navy 123, and US Marine Corps 23, totalling 514 foreign military bases.
Even if Vine’s research hadn’t happened, the downplayed official figure of ‘514 foreign military bases’ itself appears alarming, considering that no other country on the planet comes close to this number.
Most number of overseas military bases
If the US war machine indeed has more than 750 foreign bases in over 80 countries – a fact that so far hasn’t been categorically denied by the Pentagon – then the United States has about three times more foreign military sites as compared to the combined overseas bases of all other countries in the world.
The Pentagon-run foreign bases are known to be primarily of two sizes – large, township-size bases that host thousands of soldiers and can operate dozens of military jets; and secretive, small units informally called “lily pads”.
The Pentagon’s foreign bases come under 11 commands – Africa, Central, Cyber, European, Indo-Pacific, Northern, Southern, Space, Special Operations, Strategic, and Transportation.
One would imagine that most of the overseas US military sites are perhaps deployed in conflict zones. But paradoxically, that’s not the case – Japan, South Korea, and Germany host America’s biggest foreign military sites in terms of number of troops and number of bases.
173,000 US soldiers posted overseas
As many as 173,000 American soldiers are posted overseas, according to recent estimates. Nearly half of them are deployed in Japan and South Korea – not far from China’s eastern border. The US has 120 bases in Japan, 119 in Germany, and 73 in South Korea.
The little-known island nation of Guam in the western Pacific – never home to tensions or conflicts of any kind – plays host to as many as 54 US military hubs. America’s military has a footprint in many other faraway places, such as Peru, which hosts two bases, and Australia, which hosts seven sites.
According to data available up to 2021, America’s ally Japan hosts the highest number of US troops – totalling 53,700. Germany is the next major hub of American soldiers (33,900 troops), followed by South Korea (26,400). Japan and South Korea occasionally see the diplomatic mercury rising over tensions surrounding North Korea. But all three countries are largely peaceful, which raises the question of whether the US imperialist machine bullies them into aligning with it on various geopolitical matters on the basis of American military domination.
While Germany is the biggest US military hub in Europe – the Pentagon has around 60,000 troopers on the continent – the next big European bases are Italy (12,300 troops) and staunch military ally Britain (9,300). Germany’s Ramstein Air Base is perhaps the most popular of America’s foreign military hubs, since it’s the biggest one, hosting 9,200 US soldiers.
As for West Asia, America’s favourite destination for military interventions and diplomatic meddling, Qatar hosts the region’s biggest US military outpost. The Al Udeid Air Base is home to around 11,000 American soldiers. It is big enough to handle about 100 US military jets.
The recent exit of American troops from Afghanistan and Iraq following their illegal occupation since 2001 hasn’t quite given countries in the Persian Gulf complete relief from US meddling. That’s because the Pentagon’s footprint in Qatar is unlikely to ever shrink. It’s the US imperialist machine’s decades-old pet project to protect the petrodollar system, which is why American troops will remain posted there perpetually, whether the West Asian people like it or not.
South America hasn’t been spared either. The lone US presence on the continent has sparked enough shockwaves over the past few decades, as the Guantanamo Bay facility near eastern Cuba is a well-known US military dystopia.
As for Africa, the news website Mother Jones reported following an investigation that the US has set up “about a dozen air bases” for drones and surveillance on the continent in recent years. “In addition to Camp Lemonnier [in Djibouti, where China has its lone official foreign military base], we know that the military has created or will soon create installations in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritania, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, South Sudan, and Uganda. The Pentagon has also investigated building bases in Algeria, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria, among other places,” the article says.
Pentagon defence budget
With its tentacles in dozens of countries, the American military machine’s hunger for a hefty budget hardly ever diminishes. In March this year, the White House made a defence budget request for $886 billion for the year 2024, which is higher than the previous budget of $858 billion.
In stark contrast to the US, China pushed up its defence budget last month by 7.2% to $225 billion (1.55 trillion yuan). Evidently, Beijing’s defence spending plan is clearly four times less than that of the Pentagon.
Not just China, but the rest of the world, too, pales in comparison to the American imperialist machine when it comes to overseas footprints. Here’s a look at the official foreign military presence, through troops or just non-combat personnel, in some of the world’s wealthiest and influential nations. These are conservative estimates; the actual numbers could be higher.
Australia has two foreign military hubs, Canada has four. France has 12 foreign bases, most of which are possibly involved in intrusive operations across Africa. Germany has two such bases, while Japan has all of just one – in Djibouti.
The British military has 18 overseas stations. Russia’s troops are stationed in 10 countries, officially, and that includes Ukraine, where Russian military atrocities continue. Russia is suspected to have a military presence in a few other countries.
Turkey has a few foreign bases, too, totalling nine. Italy has three foreign outposts, and so does Iran, which the Pentagon keeps defaming and is itching to invade. Iraq, which the US military has already invaded and left mangled, has one overseas military base.
Just for the record, the Indian military is known to have some sort of direct or indirect presence, through troops or non-combat personnel, in six countries. They are Tajikistan, Bhutan, Madagascar, Oman, Mauritius, and Seychelles.
US vs. China: Western propaganda
Coming back to the incomparable comparison between America and China when it comes to foreign military bases, the numbers show that it’s incredible how people all over the world fear exactly the opposite. The Chinese military is simply no match for the Pentagon. Yet, China’s every move in the South China Sea and around Taiwan is scrutinised and feared, while America gets away unnoticed despite routinely carrying out large-scale interventionist acts.
Such a complete contortion of the narrative has been possible thanks to the sophisticated propaganda efforts of the western media. Influenced by pro-West news agencies, pro-West governments, pro-West think tanks and watchdogs, and western diplomats, the global mainstream media has been partly hoodwinked and partly co-opted into painting China into a corner as a military monster – when the numbers clearly show that America is the elephant in the room.
Such is the sway of the American Empire and its mesmerising propaganda network that nobody in the well-lit room is able to spot the elephant.
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