18 Apr

Map of the Week: U.S. Military Bases around the World

By Thomas Jang

Since its founding 248 years ago in 1776, the United States has become one of the most powerful nations in the world. With a population of at least 330 million people and a total land area of 3,532,316 square miles, it has amassed vast quantities of wealth and led a political and economic agenda through its participation in world organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the North American Treaty Organization (NATO), and the World Bank Group;  occupation of overseas territories; and the establishment of thousands of military bases across Central and South America, Western Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, East Asia, and Oceania. Domestically, as of September 2023, seven states including California, Washington, Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia host 60% of all active-duty troops. 

At least 750 military bases are installed in 80 countries around the world. 173,000 troops are deployed in at least 159 countries. Among these military sites are large bases and small bases, which are also known as “lily pads.” Large bases, which make up 60% of all US bases, are installations larger than four hectares (10 acres) and cost greater than $10 million. On the other hand, small bases, which make up 40% of all bases, are installations smaller than four hectares and serve as cooperative security locations or forward operating sites.

The largest US military occupation is in Japan, where 53,713 troops have been stationed at 120 bases around the archipelago since the end of World War II. The island of Okinawa is occupied by 70% of the U.S.’s military bases in Japan. Germany has the second-largest number of occupying US troops, with 33,948 troops stationed at 119 bases. Thirdly, South Korea has 26,414 troops at 73 bases—one of which is Camp Humphreys, the U.S.’s largest military base built in 1919. These countries combined account for the largest number of US troops and military bases. Other countries and US territories with the most bases include Guam, followed by Italy, Puerto Rico, and the UK. Others with high numbers of US troops include Italy, the UK, Guam, Iraq, and Bahrain. Whereas South Korea hosts the largest military base in size, Cuba holds the oldest base at Guantanamo Bay, taken by force in 1898 and leased in 1903. 

Since 1950, 200 countries and territories have seen US military presence. In fact, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reports the U.S. spends $778 billion on its military, becoming the world’s largest military spender. Several of the most significant deployments of US troops with loss of civilian life include Korea (1950-1953), Vietnam (1955-1975), Kuwait and neighboring Gulf countries (1990-1991), Afghanistan (2001-2021), and Iraq (2003-2011). Since the beginning of the 20th century after the September 11th attacks, the U.S.’s “war on terror” has spent $8 trillion in military spending. 

US military bases have had various political, economic, social, and environmental impacts on the countries they occupy. The Peace Science Digest states the occupied country’s forces are reduced following a “false sense of security” formed by US military presence. Several anti-base movements have emerged in Okinawa and the Philippines, calling for their disestablishment.