Answer to Map #25

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Answer: This proportional symbol map depicts the locations of the largest overseas American military bases. The larger circles indicate that more troops on active duty are stationed there.

The largest red circles correspond to bases where more than 5,000 troops are stationed. There are five such bases: Ramstein Air Base in Germany (home to 8,225 American soldiers); Kadena Air Base on Okinawa (6,408); Camp Kinser, a Marine Corps base on Okinawa (5,800); the naval base in Yokosuka, Japan (5,451); and Osan Air Bas in South Korea (5,168). The countries with the most bases are the three main Axis Powers that were defeated in World War II (Japan, Germany, and Italy) and South Korea, an American ally during the Korean War. The only bases shown on this proportional symbol map are those that are officially home to at least 200 American soldiers.

The easiest way to solve this map was probably to think about the dots that are most isolated. The dot in Cuba indicates the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which is famously home to a prison used to detain enemy combatants. The dot in the middle of the Indian Ocean is the naval base on Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory, from which the U.S. Navy coordinates many of its operations in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. The natives of the Chagos Islands, the archipelago that includes Diego Garcia, were forcibly evicted from their homes by the British military beginning in 1968 in order to clear the way for a military base. Another remote island that stands out on this map is Guam, which the U.S. captured in the Spanish-American War at the end of the nineteenth century. Today, 29% of the island of Guam is taken up by American military bases.

The data used to make this map came from the Base Structure Report for fiscal year 2015 published by the Department of Defense. Although this data is official, it is not entirely reliable. For starters, there are a lot of troop deployments which are classified. There are also military bases that are not on this list, perhaps because they are not “permanent.” You may have noticed that there are no circles on our map in Iraq or Afghanistan, even though it is widely acknowledged that the United States has troops in both countries. At the height of the war in Afghanistan, Bagram Air Base housed some 40,000 soldiers and contractors—a number far larger than any of the bases included on the Base Structure Report.

The Base Structure Report also omits information about some bases that are frequently in the news. For example, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, a base from which the U.S. frequently flies missions over Somalia and Yemen, is listed on this report as being home to only one soldier on active duty. You may have read in the news about a raid in Yemen on January 29 that resulted in the deaths of, among others, one Navy SEAL and an 8-year-old girl who held American citizenship. The SEALs trained for that raid and planned its logistics from Camp Lemonnier.

In 2015, a professor named David Vine published a book titled Base Nation, in which he attempted to chart how many bases the U.S. military maintains, what they cost, and how they operate. One of Vine’s conclusions is that there are probably about 800 U.S. bases in foreign countries. This number includes a variety of different kinds of facilities, including hospitals, prisons, small bases knowna as “lily pads,” CIA intelligence facilities, and special recreation areas for soldiers. The U.S. military even runs at least 170 golf courses for soldiers to use while deployed. In Vine’s estimation, the maintenance of foreign bases costs the American government about $156 billion each year.

The need to protect strategic military bases has a significant impact on American foreign policy. Thursday’s hint asked you about the dot near Adana, Turkey, and drew your attention to the week of July 26, 2016. That was the week of a coup attempt against the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Some of the coup plotters were officers in the Turkish air force stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Adana, a base that Turkey, as a member of NATO, shares with the U.S. Incirlik Air Base is one of the main air bases from which American planes can fly missions over Syria and northern Iraq. It is also reportedly home to fifty nuclear bombs. In the aftermath of the coup, the Turkish government cut the electricity to Incirlik Air Base and grounded all flights, sparking a period of tense conversations between the American and Turkish governments. As Washington and Ankara negotiate an increasingly rocky relationship, Incirlik Air Base will continue to be a point of intense interest on both sides.

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