Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-2bg86 Total loading time: 0.001 Render date: 2023-09-28T06:20:31.344Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

“The Empire Will Compensate You”: The Structural Dynamics of the U.S. Overseas Basing Network

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 December 2013

Alexander Cooley
Barnard College
Daniel H. Nexon
Georgetown University


Many commentators refer to the U.S. overseas network of military installations as an “empire,” yet very few have examined the theoretical and practical significance of such an analogy. This article explores the similarities and differences between the basing network and imperial systems. We argue that American basing practices and relations combine elements of liberal multilateralism with “neo-imperial” hegemony. Much, but far from all, of the network shares with ideal-typical empires a hub-and-spoke system of unequal relations among the United States and its base-host country “peripheries.” But Washington rarely exercises rule over host-country leaders and their constituents. Historical examples suggest that this combination of imperial and non-imperial elements has rendered the United States vulnerable to political cross-pressures, intermediary exits, and periodic bargaining failures when dealing with overseas base hosts. Moreover, globalizing processes, especially increasing information flows and the transnational networking of anti-base movements, further erode U.S. capacity to maintain multivocal legitimation strategies and keep the terms of its individual basing bargains isolated from one another. Case studies of the rapid contestation of the terms of the U.S. basing presence in post-Soviet Central Asia and post-2003 Iraq illustrate some of these dynamics.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2013 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Adesnick, David, and McFaul, Michael. 2006. “Engaging Autocratic Allies to Promote Democracy.” The Washington Quarterly 29(2): 726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Akbarzadeh, Shahram. 2005. Uzbekistan and the United States: Authoritarianism, Islamism & Washington's Security Agenda. New York: ZED.Google Scholar
Al-Rikabi, Jaffar. 2010. “Iraq and the Theory of Base Politics: Cooley, Institutionalism and Culture.” M.A. Dissertation, Georgetown University.Google Scholar
Altinay, Ayse Gul, and Holmes, Amy. 2009. “Opposition to the US Military Presence in Turkey in the Context of the Iraq War.” In The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle Against US Military Posts, ed. Lutz, Catherine. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
Bacevich, Andrew. 2002. American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Ball, Desmond. 1980. A Suitable Piece of Real Estate: American Installations in Australia. Sydney: Hale & Iremonger.Google Scholar
Barry, Colleen. 2007. “Thousands Protest US Base Expansion in Northern Italian City,” International Herald Tribune. February 17, 2007.Google Scholar
Beissinger, Mark. 2007. “Structure and Example in Modular Political Phenomena: The Diffusion of Bulldozer/Rose/Orange/Tulip Revolutions.” Perspectives on Politics 5(2): 259–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Berry, William E. 1989. US Bases in the Philippines: The Evolution of the Special Relationship. Boulder: Westview.Google Scholar
Bob, Clifford. 2005. The Marketing of Rebellion. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bozo, Frédéric. 2006. “The NATO Crisis of 1966–1967: A French Point of View.” In The Strategic Triangle: France, Germany, and the United States in the Shaping of the New Europe, eds. Haftendorn, al.Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Brass, Jennifer. 2008. “Djibouti's Unusual Resource Curse.” Journal of Modern African Studies 46(4): 523–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brownlee, Jason. 2012. Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.-Egyptian Alliance. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bunce, Valerie J., and Wolchik, Sharon L.. 2006. “Favorable Conditions and Electoral Revolutions.” Journal of Democracy 17(4): 518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Calder, Kent E. 2006. “Beneath the Eagle's Wings? The Political Economy of Northeast Asian Burden-Sharing in Comparative Perspective.” Asian Security 2(3): 148–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Calder, Kent E. 2007. Embattled Garrisons: Comparative Base Politics and American Globalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Campbell, Kurt M., and Ward, Celeste Johnson. 2003. “New Battle Stations?Foreign Affairs 82(5): 95103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clarke, Duncan L., and O'Connor, Daniel. 1993. “US Base Rights Payments after the Cold War.” Orbis 37(3): 441–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cloud, David. 2005. “Pentagon's Fuel Deal is Lesson in Risks of Graft-Prone Regions.” New York Times (November 15): A1.Google Scholar
Cooley, Alexander. 2005. Logics of Hierarchy: The Organization of Empires, States and Military Occupations. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Cooley, Alexander. 2008. Base Politics: Democratic Change and the US Military Overseas. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Cooley, Alexander. 2012. Great Games, Local Rules: the New Great Power Contest for Central Asia. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cooley, Alexander, and Marten, Kimberly. 2006. “Base Motives: The Political Economy of Okinawa's Antimilitarism.” Armed Forces & Society 32(4): 566–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cooley, Alexander, and Nexon, Daniel. 2011. “Bahrain's Base Politics: The Arab Spring and America's Military Bases.” In The New Arab Revolt: What Happened, What it Means, and What Comes Next. New York: Council on Foreign Relations.Google Scholar
Cooley, Alexander, and Spruyt, Hendrik. 2009. Contracting States: Sovereign Transfers in International Relations. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Crisis Group. 2005. “Uzbekistan: The Andijan Uprising.” Asia Briefing No. 38. May.Google Scholar
Delbrück, Jost. 1993. “International Law and Military Forces Abroad: US Military Presence in Europe, 1945–1965.” In US Military Forces in Europe: the Early Years, 1945–1970, eds. Duke, Simon W. and Krieger, Wolfgang. Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
Desch, Michael C. 1992. “Bases for the Future: US Post-Cold War Military Requirements in the Third World.” Security Studies 2(2): 201–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dobbins, Jameset al. 2003. America's Role in Nation-Building. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.Google Scholar
Doyle, Michael. 1986. Empires. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Duke, Simon. 1987. US Defence Bases in the United Kingdom: A Matter for Joint Decision? Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers Ltd.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Duke, Simon. 1989. United States Military Forces and Installations in Europe. Stockholm and New York: SIPRI and Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Dunning, Thad. 2004. “Conditioning the Effects of Aid: Cold War Politics, Donor Credibility, and Democracy in Africa.” International Organization 58(2): 409–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Egan, John W. 2006. “The Future of Criminal Jurisdiction Over the Deployed American Soldier: Four Major Trends in Bilateral US Status of Forces Agreements.” Emory International Law Review 20: 291344.Google Scholar
Eichelman, Mark E. 2000. “International Criminal Jurisdiction Issues for the United States Military.” Army Lawyer 10: 2332.Google Scholar
Erickson, Richard J. 1994. “Status of Forces Agreements: A Sharing of Sovereign Prerogative.” Air Force Law Review 37: 137–53.Google Scholar
Feith, Douglas J. 2004. “Prepared Statement before the House Armed Services Committee.” Washington, DC, June 23, 2004. (, accessed August 2013.Google Scholar
Finney, John W. 1977. “Kissinger Legacy: US Bases Around the World Are Not Cheap.” New York Times (January 2): 112.Google Scholar
Forero, Juan, and Goodman, Peter S.. 2007. “Chávez Builds His Sphere of Influence: Venezuelan Spends to Counter US.” Washington Post: 1.Google Scholar
Fumagalli, Matteo. 2007. “Alignments and Re-alignments in Central Asia: Rationale and Implications of Uzbekistan's Rapprochement with Russia.” International Political Science Review 28(3): 253–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Galtung, Johan. 1971. “A Structural Theory of Imperialism.” Journal of Peace Research 8(2): 81117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Greenhill, Kelly. 2002. “Extortive Engineered Migration: Asymmetric Weapon of the Weak.” Conflict, Security & Development 2(3): 105–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grey, Stephen. 2006. Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program. New York: St. Martins.Google Scholar
Harkavy, Robert. 1989. Bases Abroad. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press and SIPRI.Google Scholar
Hemmer, Christopher, and Katzenstein, Peter J.. 2002. “Why Is There no NATO in Asia? Collective Identity, Regionalism and the Origins of Multilateralism.” International Organization 56(3): 575609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hobson, John M., and Sharman, J.C.. 2005. “The Enduring Place of Hierarchy in World Politics: Tracing the Social Logics of Hierarchy and Political Change.” European Journal of International Relations 11(1): 6398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hohn, Maria, and Moon, Seungsook, eds. 2010. Over There: Living with the US Military Empire from World War Two to the Present. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Human Rights Watch. 2005. “Bullets were Flying Like Rain: The Andijan Massacre, May 13 2005.” New York: June.Google Scholar
Ignatieff, Michael. 2003. “Empire Lite.” Prospect 83: 3643.Google Scholar
Ignatieff, Michael. 2005. “Power and Liberal Order: America's Postwar World Order in Transition.” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 5(2): 133–52.Google Scholar
Ikenberry, G. John. 2005. “Power and Liberal Order: America's Postwar World Order in Transition.” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 5(2): 133–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ikenberry, G. John, and Kupchan, Charles. 1990. “Socialization and Hegemonic Power.” International Organization 44(3): 283315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus. 2011. The Conduct of Inquiry in International-Relations Theory. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Jakarta Peace Consensus. 2003. “Jakarta Peace Consensus: Declaration of Unity” (, accessed January 9, 2013.Google Scholar
Jamal, Amney. 2012. Of Empires and Citizens. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Joffe, Jose. 1987. “Peace and Populism: Why the European Anti-Nuclear Movement Failed.” International Security 11(4): 340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Johnson, Chalmers. 2000. Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. New York: Owl Books.Google Scholar
Johnson, Chalmers. 2004. The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic. New York: Metropolitan Books.Google Scholar
Jung, Youngjin, and Hwang, Jun-Shik. 2003. “Where Does Inequality Come From? An Analysis of the Korea-United States Status of Forces Agreement.” American University International Law Review 18(5): 1103–144.Google Scholar
Kagan, Robert. 2007. “End of Dreams, Return of History.” Policy Review (144): 1744.Google Scholar
Kaplan, Robert D. 2005. Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
Kealey, Robert. 1987. “Bargaining Over US Bases in Europe Intensifies as Their Relative Importance Gains.” Wall Street Journal (November 5): 1.Google Scholar
Keohane, Robert O., and Nye, Joseph S. Jr. 1989. Power and Interdependence. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
Kinzer, Stephen. 2006. Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. New York: Henry Holt.Google Scholar
Lake, David A. 2009. Hierarchy in International Relations. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Lostumbo, Michael al. 2013. Overseas Basing of U.S. Military Forces: An Assessment of Relative Costs and Strategic Benefits. Washington DC: RAND.Google Scholar
Lundestad, Geir. 1986. “Empire by Invitation? The United States and Western Europe, 1945–1952.” Journal of Peace Research 23(3): 263–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lutz, Catherine, ed. 2009. The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle Against US Military Posts. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
Lynch, Marc. 2006. Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Marty, Dick. 2006. “Report by Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, on Alleged secret detentions in Council of Europe member states.” Council of Europe. (, accessed May 5, 2013.Google Scholar
Mason, R. Chuck. 2012. “Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA): What Is It and How Has It Been Utilized?” Congressional Research Service (March 15).Google Scholar
McDonald, John W. Jr., and Bendahmane, Diane B.. 1990. US Bases Overseas: Negotiations with Spain, Greece, and the Philippines. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
Meppen, Kurt. 2006. “U.S.-Uzbek Bilateral Relations: Policy Options.” In Anatomy of a Crisis: U.S.-Uzbek Relations 2001–2005., eds. John Daly et al. Silk Road Paper, February.Google Scholar
Miles, Donna. 2013. DoD Considers BRAC-Like Cuts in Europe. US Department of Defense (April 26). (, accessed May 5, 2013.Google Scholar
Moon, Katharine. 2003. “Korea Nationalism, Anti-Americanism, and Democratic Consolidation.” In Korea's Democratization, ed. Kim, Samuel L.. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Moon, Katharine. 2007. “Resurrecting Prostitutes and Overturning Treaties: Gender Politics in the ‘Anti-American’ Movement in South Korea.” Journal of Asian Studies 66(1): 129157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Morley, Jefferson. 2006. “Guantanamo as Backdrop to Bush's Trip to Europe.” Washington Post (June 21). ( Scholar
Motyl, Alexander J. 1999. Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Motyl, Alexander J. 2001. Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Motyl, Alexander J. 2006. “Empire Falls.” Foreign Affairs 85(4): 190–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Murphy, Sean D. 1991. “The Role of Bilateral Defense Agreements in Maintaining the European Security Equilibrium.” Cornell International Law Journal 24: 415–36.Google Scholar
“Mystery at Manas: Strategic Blind Spots in the Department of Defense's Fuel Contracts in Kyrgyzstan.” Washington, DC: Report of the Majority Staff, Subcommittee on National Security, and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government, December 2010.Google Scholar
Nexon, Daniel, and Wright, Thomas. 2007. “What's at Stake in the American Empire Debate.” American Political Science Review 101(2): 253–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nichol, Jim. 2005. “Uzbekistan's Closure of the Airbase at Karshi-Khanabad: Context and Implications.” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress (October 7).Google Scholar
Nye, Joseph S. 2002. The Paradox of American Power: Why the World's Only Superpower Can't Go it Alone. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Oatley, Thomas, et al. 2013. “The Political Economy of Global Finance: A Network Model.” Perspectives on Politics 11(1): 133–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pettyjohn, Stacie L. 2012. U.S. Global Defense Posture, 1783–2011. Washington, DC: RAND.Google Scholar
Posen, Barry. 2003. “Command of the Commons.” International Security 28(1): 546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rodrigues, Luís Nuno. 2004. “About Face: The United States and Portuguese Colonialism in 1961.” Electronic Journal of Portuguese History 2(1): 110.Google Scholar
Roeder, Philip G. 1985. “The Ties that Bind: Aid, Trade, and Political Compliance in Soviet-Third World Relations.” International Studies Quarterly 29(2): 191216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rosen, Stephen Peter. 2003. “An Empire, If You Can Keep It.” The National Interest (71): 5162.Google Scholar
Sandars, Christopher T. 2000. America's Overseas Garrisons: The Leasehold Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schmitz, David F. 2006. The United States and Right-Wing Dictatorships. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Schwartz, Stephen, and Kristol, William. 2005. “Our Uzbek Problem.” Weekly Standard (May 30, 2005). (, accessed June 6, 2007.Google Scholar
Sky, Emma. 2011. “From Surge to Sovereignty.” Foreign Affairs 90(2): 117–27.Google Scholar
Spar, Deborah L. 1998. “The Spotlight and the Bottom Line.” Foreign Affairs 77(2): 712.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Spencer, Caroline. 2003. “Meeting of the Dugongs and the Cooking Pots: Anti-military Base Citizens' Groups on Okinawa.” Japanese Studies 23(2): 126–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stambuk, George. 1963. American Military Forces Abroad: Their Impact on the Western State System. Mershon Center, Ohio: Ohio State University Press.Google Scholar
Stearns, Montague. 1992. Entangled Allies: US Policy toward Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. New York: Council on Foreign Relations.Google Scholar
Tilly, Charles. 1997. “How Empires End.” In After Empire: Multiethnic Societies and Nation-Building, eds. Barkey, Karen and von Hagen, Mark. Boulder: CO: Westview.Google Scholar
United States Department of Defense. 2011. Base Structure Report, Fiscal Year 2011 Baseline. Washington, DC.Google Scholar
U.S. Embassy, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. 2006. “Joint Statement the United States and the Kyrgyz Republic on Coalition Airbase, July 14, 2006” (, accessed May 9, 2013.Google Scholar
“US Stresses Manila Democracy,” New York Times, November 13, 1985, A4.Google Scholar
Viñas, Angel. 1981. Los pactos secretos de Franco con los Estados Unidos. Barcelona: Grijalbo.Google Scholar
Vine, David. 2009. Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Whitaker, Arthur P. 1962. Spain and the Defense of the West: Ally and Liability. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
Woodliffe, John. 1992. The Peacetime Use of Foreign Military Installations under Modern International Law. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Martinuus Nijoff Publishers.Google Scholar
Worrall, Richard John. 2007. “The Strategic Limitations of a Middle East Client State by the Mid-1950s: Britain, Libya, and the Suez Crisis.” Journal of Strategic Studies 30(2): 309–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yeo, Andrew. 2009. “Not in Anyone's Backyard: The Emergence and Identity of a Transnational Anti-Base Network.” International Studies Quarterly 53(3): 571–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yeo, Andrew. 2011. Activists, Alliances, and Anti-US Base Protests. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar