US National Security
Strategy and the Imperative of "Geopresence"

Gen Gregory S. Martin, USAF

Wilaya 4
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The last two years have brought a number of unforeseen developments to the world stage, and with them have come major challenges for American foreign policy- even aside from the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., on 11 September 2001. In Europe alone, the scope of political and military changes taking place may be the largest since World War II. For example, in 2002 alone we have witnessed substantial government shifts in both Western and Central Europe, unparalleled expansion and integration by the European Union, unprecedented enlargement and restructuring of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and new patterns of international cooperation and relationships resulting from the US-led global war on terrorism (GWOT).

These historic events, transitions, and circumstances obviously have contributed to the way we now think about national defense and foreign policy, and their impact is clearly present in President George W. Bush’s new National Security Strategy of the United States of America (NSS), unveiled last September.1 The past 18 months in particular have served to solidify the new defense perspectives and themes evident in this new strategy. If nothing else, we now recognize that the world is inherently a much more dangerous place than we had imagined after the Cold War, and with that realization the Bush administration’s national security and defense strategy is significantly different than the interim strategies we pursued for more than a decade.

At the heart of this strategy is the new awareness described so well by President Bush: "The gravest danger to freedom [now] lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology."2 This crossroads highlights the new challenges before us in a much less certain world, where we face both state and non-state adversaries and where our military operations increasingly cross multiple theaters and unified commands, occurring both in and out of alliance areas. If nothing else, the attacks of 11 September awakened us to the fact that no longer are our country and global interests threatened only by nation-states with organized militaries and the advanced technologies of war. Now there exists a much more fleeting and dangerous set of international actors bent on radical change, who may possess the means to effect that change. This new enemy is a supranational entity- one without borders, postured in a network of execution nodes that hide in a global array of shadows, and able to conduct operations on a global scale.

This new understanding, in turn, has helped create a defense posture that clearly has moved from the traditional threat-based model that guided strategic planning for over half a century to a new capabilities-based model that concentrates on identifying and arranging the required means to meet the new security challenges. During the Cold War years, we developed a very refined process by which we analyzed the enemy’s force structure; his operational, strategic, and geographic laydowns; and his operation of forces and weapon systems in a tactical environment. We then built, positioned, equipped, and trained our forces to fight that known enemy forward with both operational and strategic reserves based in the United States. This threat-based approach served us well in our preparations to conduct war-fighting operations against the Soviet Union and other similarly equipped forces (e.g., Iraq during Operation Desert Storm), but it did not prepare us as well for conducting operations in so-called low-intensity conflicts (e.g., Lebanon and Somalia).

As we departed the Cold War era and entered what seemed to be a period of "simmering peace," we increased our attention on being able to conduct military operations other than war. In many cases, this required developing special capabilities that we had previously assumed were lesser abilities residing within our threat-based force structure. More so than ever before, our military today must be able to conduct operations across the full spectrum- from nuclear deterrence and high-end conventional warfare to lower-end, yet potentially volatile, peacekeeping, humanitarian, and noncombatant-evacuation operations- and it must have the capability to execute those operations rapidly, anywhere in the world.

The challenge we face in building a capabilities-based force structure lies in deciding how much of any given capability the United States requires and how best to position it to provide appropriate global response. Although this article does not presume to design the size of the capabilities-based force structure, the methodology for doing so would be based on the following considerations: (1) the interests of the United States and its allies and friends that would justify the use of military forces; (2) the types of threats and areas of the world that would most likely require the use of military forces; (3) the contributions of allies and friends for use in concert with the application of US military forces; and (4) the number of simultaneous contingencies in which US forces would likely be employed. On the other hand, this article does discuss the imperatives for carefully designing and executing an appropriate strategy of overseas presence in order to provide our nation’s leadership, as well as that of our allies and friends, with the most effective military options during any crisis response.

Our experiences in Operation Enduring Freedom and other ongoing missions in the GWOT clearly illustrate the importance of developing strong geostrategic relationships with all of those national and international players with whom we must interact in pursuit of our foreign policy and defense goals. Most importantly, the lessons of these recent experiences also have greatly contributed to our current strategic thinking. During these operations, it became very evident that those fundamental geopolitical relationships that we needed to conduct combat operations, training, and contingencies in various regions of the world were made possible by past and ongoing US forward military presence or relationships in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. During the fall of 2001 in particular, we quickly understood how this presence translated into those necessary political and diplomatic capabilities that enabled American armed forces and their coalition partners to operate over many countries and areas for which they had not planned- and on a geographic scale and scope larger than anything seen since 1945.

In other words, it is clearer now than ever before that we must foster and maintain sufficient overseas presence and international relationships in order to conduct future training as well as contingency or combat operations. In essence, this is "geopresence"- a multifaceted presence that allows the US military to operate in any region of the world, promoted by conscious diplomatic, economic, military, and political involvement in the necessary regions and with the necessary countries. More specifically, geopresence helps us access various regions of importance, engender cooperation, achieve effective interoperability, and ultimately influence the outcomes of events wherever it seems appropriate and beneficial.

Consequently, the new NSS supports this view of the importance of geopresence throughout. Its call for strengthening alliances and enhancing cooperation, preventing enemies from using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to threaten friends and allies, and transforming the military in order to define the battle space on our own terms underscores the importance of geopresence in support of our new defense policies. In the words of the NSS, "the presence of American forces overseas is one of the most profound symbols of the U.S. commitment to allies and friends. . . . The United States will require bases and stations . . . as well as temporary access arrangements for the long-distance deployment of U.S. Forces."3

In short, our recent experiences in this new, dynamic environment emphasize the need not only to develop new force and technological capabilities, but also to conduct a sophisticated, proactive approach to prepare the geopolitical and diplomatic battle space. The president’s new NSS codifies this perspective.

A New Strategy for a
Changed World

Although the NSS has important diplomatic, economic, legal, and philosophical aspects, I would like to concentrate on the major themes that apply directly to the US military in underpinning the new strategy.4 The US military must execute the president’s NSS by focusing its efforts on five major strategic goals delineated in that strategy. They are not mutually exclusive since significant areas of overlap exist.

1. Defend the United States, the American people, and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders.

2. Prevent enemies from threatening friends and allies with WMDs.

3. Transform the instruments of national defense to allow us to define the battle space on our own terms.

4. Strengthen alliances and work with other nations to defeat global terrorists and defuse regional conflicts.

5. Enhance agendas for cooperative action with other great powers.

Defend the United States, the American People, and 
Our Interests at Home and Abroad by Identifying and
Destroying the Threat Before It Reaches Our Borders

The first and most important mission of the US military is to provide the president with the capabilities he needs to defend the United States, its people, and its interests around the world. The concept of "identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders" is very important. It requires that we have the ability to understand the nature of the external threats we face- their locations, capabilities, methods, and intentions- and that we have the means to deal with them before they cause harm to our nation, people, or interests abroad. In order to meet these expectations, we must have the appropriate intelligence and military forces, as well as established and appropriate geostrategic relationships with other nations in the form of either a bilateral, multinational coalition or alliance agreements to provide for cooperative effort in the application of the right instrument of power at the right time.

Prevent Enemies from Threatening Friends and Allies
 with WMDs

From the start, the new NSS outlines the predominant enemies we face in the post–11 September world- especially the dangers of their acquiring WMDs. In that regard, the president makes it very clear that, in addition to traditional threats from organized states or armies with which we have always had to contend, America now faces a whole spectrum of new threats- most of which are tied to terrorism in some way, shape, or form: "The enemy is terrorism- premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents. . . . We make no distinction between terrorists and those who knowingly harbor or provide aid to them."5 Therefore, these new enemies include both terrorists and the various states and nonstate organizations that support them. They represent entities with global reach that may not conform to the same "views of rationality" or respect for recognized international rules or norms of behavior that most democratic societies share.

Importantly, the NSS also makes it clear that we in the United States currently believe that this international situation is one in which we are in fact waging a war against those who threaten our very values and way of life. What is more, to defend ourselves successfully, we will act against imminent danger of attack, and- above all- we will do so to prevent the use of vastly destructive weapons by those who have no qualms about directing them against us or our friends and allies.

The president’s strategy outlines a variety of responses and capabilities to meet this challenge. These include focusing more on innovation and improvement in the areas of foreign diplomacy, technology, military forces, and intelligence gathering. Perhaps most importantly, it also calls for a drastic change in how we view the traditional concept of deterrence with which we have lived for over 50 years. No longer will we predominantly rely on deterring state actors from undertaking dangerous and irrational military actions, but now we will focus more on actively defending against all dangers and attacks that, for the most part, we expect to occur. Deterrence remains a part of our strategy, but instead of simply concentrating on deterring particular threats with the overwhelming power of weapons, we must also prepare to defend ourselves against any danger from a much broader array of actors for whom the concept of deterrence may hold no meaning. This new focus on defense also dictates that we maintain the capability to project forces of all kinds anywhere in the world.

Transform the Instruments of National Defense to
Allow Us to Define the Battle Space on Our Own Terms

Another major theme of our new strategic vision builds on the need to move from addressing the traditional threats of the last few decades to putting in place the things we need to meet both traditional and nontraditional enemies in a changed world. This calls for a transformation of US national security institutions to (1) assure our allies and friends; (2) dissuade future military competition and adversaries; (3) deter threats against the United States, together with its interests or allies and friends; and (4) decisively defeat any adversary if deterrence fails.6 For the military in particular, this transformation encompasses the new capabilities-based aspects of the strategy and recognizes the need for new developments in intelligence, standoff and precision weapons, a reorganized focus on homeland defense, information operations, protection of space assets, and- most relevant to this article- the ability to "ensure access to distant theaters."7 This means developing new concepts of basing, forward presence, and overseas access that enable any level of long-distance deployment of US and coalition forces.

Simply put, transformation encompasses new technologies, organizations, and infrastructures that will enable us to define the battle space on our own terms, anywhere in the world.8 We must concentrate on bringing the capabilities together to do that- just as the terrorists seem to have done not only on 11 September, but also on many occasions over the last 20 years, when they clearly defined the battle space on their terms.

Strengthen Alliances and Work with Other Nations to
Defeat Global Terrorists and Defuse Regional Conflicts

In order to defend effectively against new international threats to our security, we need international cooperation. Our new strategy, therefore, outlines building new avenues of interdependence and interaction with regional friends and powers- both states and nonstate organizations- in order to fight terrorism.

At the same time, we must revamp, expand, or create more effective international structures and organizations to deal adequately with the new circumstances we face. Whether law-enforcement organizations, financial institutions, or military structures, the United States will enlist international support and build the necessary relationships to effectively prevent acts of terrorism, visibly remove support for terrorism, and delegitimize its acceptance in any form. The new strategy clearly defines international cooperation as one of the most effective tools in doing so.

Enhance Agendas for Cooperative Action with Other
Great Powers

Similarly, as we build international cooperation, we also must concentrate on organizing and/or strengthening broad coalitions of those states most capable of helping us in the defense of our country, friends, and allies. Obviously, this suggests enhancing many aspects of our most important alliance- NATO. Expanding its membership, increasing military contributions from all members, creating more effective planning and command structures, improving technological capabilities, and increasing interoperability among all its militaries will, in the words of the NSS, "sustain a common perspective on the threats to our societies and improve our ability to take common action in defense of our nations and their interests."9 We have moved a long way along this line with the latest NATO summit in Prague, Czech Republic, in November 2002, during which the alliance offered new memberships to seven nations and agreed to revamp its command structures to the greatest extent in perhaps 40 years.

Our new strategy also calls for reenergizing our other existing alliances, especially in Asia, as we build our growing relationships with Russia, India, and China. All of these views of increasing cooperative action with other powerful nations obviously include bolstering our capabilities to maintain a viable overseas diplomatic and military presence. After all, relationships with key international states are the foundations upon which we build access to all regions for military cooperation, training, and current and future operations.

Clearly, the last two major themes are interrelated and together highlight the importance of international cooperation and engagement in general- from regional, global, and great-power perspectives. This means strengthening alliances, building international coalitions and cooperation, working with other global powers, and taking advantage of existing international structures and institutions. Indeed, this common perspective about the importance of international-security cooperation on a global scale threads its way throughout the NSS and clearly prescribes that the United States must maintain and intensify all aspects of its foreign relationships in order to meet whatever dangers and situations that may arise anywhere on the globe. The military plays a substantial role in this effort, whether in peacetime or war, and its presence overseas ensures success in strengthening those relationships.

Foundations of the
New Security Paradigm: From
Containment to Embracement

To understand our new defense vision, we can view it in terms of how it compares to what came before; clearly, it differs from our former strategies. Primarily, our NSS during the Cold War was based on containing the expansion of Soviet and Chinese communism. Our primary strategic goals entailed stopping the spread of communism through a network of alliances and the forward basing of a significant number of our forces to deter any aggressions by our adversaries, all underpinned by the potential use of nuclear weapons. When necessary, however, we did use conventional military force, as in Korea and Vietnam, in an effort to contain communist expansion without upsetting the critical balance of nuclear deterrence, which remained the cornerstone for all our policies in pursuing overall containment of the communist threat.

Deterrence was based not only upon nuclear capability and huge, modern arsenals, but also upon the determination by American leaders to remain overseas politically and militarily. We resolved to draw the line against these looming threats, and a large, permanent forward deployment was the most logical means to deter military action and contain communist influence. Although we periodically tailored our forces and doctrine over the five decades of the Cold War, we always did so in response to the perceived nature of the threat from communist states and their surrogates, basing our actions on deterring rational state actors from crossing the thresholds of war. This truly was a strategy based upon a "stability of fear" understood by both sides in the conflict. Therefore, deterrence was the primary concept around which we pursued containment up through the 1990s, and vestiges of this strategy remained even until 11 September.

The end of the Cold War did not automatically bring changes to our view of how best to protect America’s homeland, friends and allies, and interests abroad. US foreign policy quickly moved in new directions, especially in its relations with old allies and former adversaries and as a result of world events. We fought the Gulf War in 1990–91 and have remained involved in the region. Also, in 1991 Germany officially reunified as a single nation-state. The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty became final in 1992, negotiated between two alliances- NATO and the Warsaw Pact- but implemented multilaterally among numerous nations on the Continent. Yugoslavia quickly disintegrated throughout the early 1990s, ultimately requiring US and NATO intervention for peacekeeping in 1995- and since then.

However, perhaps one of the most important developments in response to the global events of the first half of the 1990s occurred in 1994, when NATO created the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, which included 27 participants, many of whom represented states and republics formerly controlled by the Soviet Union. This event was important because it refocused NATO, both to take on a more stabilizing role for all of Europe and to redefine itself as a more political institution in its quest for a new raison d’être. The United States led this effort. As I discuss later, PfP also played an unforeseen but vital role in our operations in Enduring Freedom.

All of these developments right after the Cold War illustrate that international events and exigencies forced the United States to reexamine the world in which it found itself, as well as its changing roles in it- an experience very similar to the one we had just after World War II. Anybody even remotely interested in foreign policy soon recognized the apparent mismatch between the old threat-based defense policies and the new, rapid changes going on in the world. In that context, numerous scholars, policy makers, journalists, and others struggled with the debate over what the US defense policy after the Cold War should be, and what forces we really needed.

Consequently, by the mid-1990s in the United States, several panels, committees, and studies had dedicated themselves to framing a new US strategic concept. A very evident leap forward on a new strategy began with the Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) of 199710 and its subsequent appraisal by the National Defense Panel (NDP), chaired by Phil Odeen.11 Both of these efforts introduced important concepts into post–Cold War strategy by trying to address the new reality of more numerous contingencies in the face of force reductions, along with the tremendous ongoing revolution in military affairs. Both studies recognized the need for a "strategic concept for shaping the geo-strategic environment, responding to the full spectrum of conflict, and preparing for future challenges."12 Everyone also agreed that we now faced the prospect of more asymmetric warfare, which would result in increasing numbers of smaller-scale contingencies.

The NDP in particular introduced several themes echoed by the new Bush strategy, but especially the importance of maintaining and increasing "access to and use of forward basing facilities,"13 as well as initiating greater coalition capability and interoperability. At the same time, several scholars outside of government also reached similar conclusions, recognizing that national security challenges were now very different and encompassed a whole spectrum of potential regional situations and dangers not necessarily tied to predictable, monolithic threats (as had been the case during the Cold War). For example, according to Richard Kugler,

the great drama of the 20th century was democracy’s struggle against totalitarianism; the defining issue of the 21st century will be whether the democratic community can control chaotic strategic affairs in the vast, troubled regions outside its borders. . . . It will face the challenge of fostering greater strategic stability at key places outside them, not only to protect its own interests and values but also to help progress take hold there. This challenge . . . will especially fall on the United States.14

Clearly, the Bush administration’s current strategy builds upon these earlier efforts, embracing many of their concepts and recommendations; it is bolstered by some of the contemporary academic studies as well. The effort continued over the first few months of the new presidency as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld directed at least 19 panels, commissions, and studies to further the strategic thought initiated by the NDP specifically.15

The major outcome of all of these studies was the new capabilities-based strategy outlined in the new QDR, released in the fall of 2001 and then further refined in the NSS of 2002. Both documents also call for the readiness to operate anywhere in the world at any time. Again, overseas presence and coalition capabilities are fundamental. But as I mentioned earlier, the method by which we determine the size of the forces and the way we position them globally to be able to identify and destroy the threat before it reaches our borders call for a different approach than the Cold War strategy of containment undergirded by a threat-based analysis of what it would take to deter a rational adversary.

Interestingly, terrorist organizations and those states that support them have unwittingly provided allies and former adversaries of the Cold War the motivation to bury the hatchet and embrace one another in a common effort to destroy the growing, global network of terrorist nodes. The opportunity to pursue a policy of embracement, coupled with a responsible analysis of the capabilities required to ferret out terrorist nodes and their state sponsors and to act preemptively on behalf of free peoples, is a new and important vector for the United States and its friends. It is high time that we pursue this new opportunity, given the potentially devastating consequences facing the free world as these terrorist elements gain the potential to use WMDs.

So, in contrast to the Cold War policy of building our forces on threat-based models designed to deter our adversaries for the purpose of containing their growth, we need to move to a strategy based on embracing freedom-seeking nations that will build a cooperative network of capabilities designed to preempt the gravest danger facing our world- "the crossroads of radicalism and technology." Indeed, this new vector provides an overarching template for enabling the five major strategic goals discussed earlier.

Understanding Geopresence

Since the Cold War, the military has been used more than ever as a tool for global stability and a defense against the new enemies we face in the twenty-first century. Clearly, the presence of US forces overseas, along with international cooperation, is fundamental to the ability of the United States to carry out its strategy. During the decade of the 1990s alone, the men and women assigned to United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) witnessed a sevenfold increase in their employment taskings to support US objectives in contingencies and combat operations throughout Europe, Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East.16 Further, one should note that in most of its responses to emerging crises or natural disasters, the United States participated with other nations in a coalition. This points out that, as US strategy has evolved over the last decade, so has the realization that continued regional presence and engagement are crucial to our ability to gain necessary access and garner coalition support to conduct operations. Certainly, our foreign military presence and ongoing military relationships were absolutely vital to our quick successes in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks during Enduring Freedom.

One must also understand that, when the United States projects and sustains forces on a global basis, its airpower will require access to air bases or international airports spaced about every 2,500–3,500 miles. These bases allow our airlift aircraft to land, refuel, change crews, and relaunch- or allow our air-to-air refueling aircraft to position themselves in such a way that they can refuel the airlifters and extend the mission distance. For maritime forces, that translates into needing access to ports or bases positioned throughout the world to replenish surface ships with fuel, food, munitions, or other supplies.

In the past, these capabilities generally were sustained by a fairly permanent overseas system of ports and bases that, although reduced dramatically over the last decade, maintained enough permanent US presence in key locations to support global-projection requirements. Moreover, while preserving that long-term presence, we not only sustained important relationships with our host nations, but also participated in other bilateral and regional training exercises- or other cooperative security efforts- that promoted relationships with many nations. This in turn enabled other less permanent "footprints" in a variety of regions and areas. It is this combination of both permanent and temporary overseas military basing that contributes to the vital US posture of geopresence, which enables us to maintain these essential locations and arrange for new ones as the need arises.

What is geopresence exactly? It is a multidimensional strategy designed to provide access to all regions- a capability that comes from carefully selecting and engaging in the right locations politically and geographically, and putting in place those military structures that can present the appropriate balance of permanent and rotational forces able to meet all potential diplomatic and military requirements. This entails a broad spectrum of regional cooperation, military-to-military engagement, and a certain level of force presence oriented towards ensuring that we have the right force at the right place at the right time in order to accomplish the strategic goals of the NSS.

Geopresence is also dynamic. Governments, regional relationships, and situations constantly change around the globe, forcing us continually to review the calculus on location, size, and methods we consider for stationing and deploying our forces abroad. At the same time, however, the concept of geopresence itself is immutable and provides us with a static framework by which we can maintain the flexibility and options to meet our objectives. Therefore, geopresence is a key to any future operation, especially within the context of the new NSS. The multidimensional access and broad flexibility that come from conscious geopresence equate to increased capabilities that enable the assure-dissuade-deter-defeat formula of the new strategy.

But how does the concept of geopresence guide us in determining the nature of our future overseas presence? Although no guaranteed formulas exist for computing the optimum geopresence laydown, one should consider some important rules of thumb when contemplating changes to the current overseas footprint. First, it is useful to understand four capabilities that our overseas presence should achieve: access, cooperation, interoperability, and influence. Both from a power-projection perspective and from an ability to conduct appropriate response, contingency, and- if necessary- combat operations, it is crucial to have selected countries and areas where we are most likely to need access to carry out our tasked missions. The willingness of a nation to cooperate with the United States and the extent to which it does so are functions of its familiarity and compatibility with our goals, its trust in the character of our relationship, and the reliability of our forces to conduct themselves in accordance with prescribed agreements. The more we participate in training and exercise events with our different partner nations, the more likely we are to have interoperable equipment, procedures, techniques, and operating standards. Last, the more often we work with one another, understand each other’s cultures, and deal with similar challenges together, the more likely we will be able to influence events and situations as they arise.

Second, as already stated, we must take into account the distance requirements associated with our ability to project forces on a global basis; but we must also consider the need for flexibility in that base or airport construct to account for disagreements that might occur between the United States and other nations with regard to a specific response plan. In general, for every base needed, the United States probably should cultivate relationships with about three nations. Further, the United States will need two to three bases in the region to support contingencies that involve humanitarian relief or noncombatant evacuations. Additionally, if the objective area for relief or evacuation is greater than 2,500–3,500 miles away, we will require two or three en route support bases to enable an "air bridge" operation. On the other hand, in order to deploy and then sustain major combat forces to participate in a conflict similar to Desert Storm, the United States will require five to six en route bases.

Third, in order for the United States to conduct a major campaign, airpower will need between 15 and 20 air bases within a major region, and, once again, it is best not to plan on having all of them in any one nation. To enhance redundancy and flexibility, we should cultivate the number of relationships to allow only three or four bases each.

Armed with these rules of thumb, US planners can then begin to develop an appropriate geopresence structure based on the number and location of nations or regions in which we are likely to be asked to provide support for various contingency operations- both now and in our planning future. That structure will include both en route support during deployment and sustainment operations and employment bases for conducting the actual operations themselves.

Once that structure has been developed, we then must begin to make appropriate assessments about whether our presence should be permanent or temporary. If the former, we must determine whether it should be robust or more of a caretaker nature; if the latter, we must consider how often, how large, and for how long. It should go without saying that we must conduct such an analysis with respect to our current overseas presence before we initiate any changes to that structure in the near future.

USAFE’s basing infrastructure is a good example of an appropriate geopresence laydown. Although we may tailor the footprint somewhat in the future, our current structure remains generally appropriate for the challenges we now face, primarily because a considerable amount of that basing infrastructure supports our essential mission of acting as a strategic-mobility hub for forces flowing into US European Command’s (EUCOM) area of responsibility (AOR) or moving on to US Central Command’s (CENTCOM) AOR. This capability consists of robust bases with substantial ramp space that also allow us to operate further forward when needed.

Our strategic mobility to and from the European theater is grounded in a "six lose one" strategy. That is, we have six en route bases that have the flexibility to accomplish our mission should we lose our most capable base for any reason. Thus, our European en route infrastructure (EERI) system is focused inside a so-called lens represented by an array of bases that lie in a band between 2,500 nautical miles (NM) and 3,500 NM from hubs in the continental United States such as Dover AFB, Delaware, or McGuire AFB, New Jersey. Our EERI bases also happen to be between 2,500 and 3,500 miles from theater aerial ports of debarkation in Southwest Asia. The area inside this lens represents the optimum range of a C-17, where the en route system is most efficient.17

Five USAFE bases- Mildenhall and Fairford, England; Ramstein and Rhein-Main (to be replaced by Spangdahlem in 2005), Germany; and Moron, Spain- are approved to support the EERI system, and Naval Station Rota, Spain, is the sixth EERI base. All are considered to be of an enduring nature, based upon their high level of capability and fixed-infrastructure investment.

With regard to the African continent, our ability to project airpower is supported by a network of intermediate staging bases- less robust than those in Europe but of critical importance as preplanned refueling stops as we continue to conduct periodic humanitarian, noncombatant-evacuation or crisis-relief operations into sub-Saharan Africa from our bases in USAFE. These missions will continue well into the foreseeable future, given the ongoing political, economic, demographic, and climatic instability in the region. Consequently, just as we maintain an east-west strategic-airlift lens for movement from the United States through Europe, so do we maintain a north-south lens to operate into Africa from our main air bases in EUCOM.

Geopresence, therefore, is not theoretical but exists in what we are doing today, and the flexibility and advantages it provides are very real. As the following shows, it has proved vital to our successes in our latest military operations in the GWOT and will continue to be so as we constantly develop and adjust the locations, relationships, and access requirements necessary to execute our NSS.

Geopresence in Action:
Operation Enduring Freedom

Military operations and planning after 11 September accentuated the importance of geopresence. Our military around the globe depended upon the numerous relationships that we had built in order to open up new avenues of access to the regions in which we needed to operate against terrorists. Immediately following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., we realized that our forces would be involved quickly in operations- probably in the Afghanistan region. Consequently, as we found ourselves increasing our force-protection posture and initiating sustained 24-hour operations, we also began to gather and consolidate our knowledge of the Central Asian region and other regions surrounding it, concentrating on the nature of the political, cultural, and geographical challenges. After all, since we generally did not operate in many of these areas, we needed to understand them more fully. Part of that understanding also involved calculating the true extent of the military-to-military relationships we had recently built with many of these nations.

Central Asia also fell squarely on the seam between two combatant commands- EUCOM and CENTCOM. Although CENTCOM prepared to conduct the major combat operations, EUCOM was designated as a supporting command and tasked to set up and manage the humanitarian airlift of food for the thousands of Afghan refugees and others in the region who already faced starvation- or who could be even further displaced by pending operations beyond those already caused by the Taliban. We also prepared to provide airlift support for special operations and medical-evacuation missions, in addition to ongoing airlift for delivering troops and other supplies throughout the theater. Over a period of only four weeks, we expended tremendous efforts to prepare for all of these missions, quickly accomplishing the detailed planning required to organize, load, and execute combat, resupply, and humanitarian missions. Bases throughout Europe and the Middle East witnessed a massive increase in air traffic as planes moved people and cargo forward.

Importantly, right after 11 September, we also immediately began to ascertain the status of diplomatic relations and permissions to fly over, base forces in, or transit countries from the Balkans to the Caucasus and Caspian Sea areas- and on to the Central Asian region. We discovered that, in many cases, the fundamental foundations we needed, such as the necessary diplomatic agreements, mechanisms, or clearances to fly over and into these nation-states, did not exist. Personnel throughout all military combatant and component commands worked diligently to identify requirements and pass through channels to the State Department in order to start this vital process. Again, the scope of effort in preparing and obtaining the number of diplomatic permissions from so many countries across separate unified commands had not occurred since World War II.

By 29 September, when the first C-17 arrived at Ramstein Air Base, at least 26 countries had granted basing or overflight for the GWOT. By 9 October, American airlift aircraft were flying directly from Germany through Central Europe; over the Black Sea, the Transcaucasian region, and the Caspian Sea; and on into Central Asia and Afghanistan. In other areas as well, aircraft transited the Mediterranean and flew from the Pacific regions into the theater of operations. By November we also had set up for the first time tanker operations in Bulgaria. This allowed refueling of aircraft over the Black Sea, reducing the transit time for our tanker crews on their way to refueling points, and increased the amount of fuel available for the C-17s.

In addition, the US military also needed to set up new bases in Central Asia for ongoing operations. Most of the governments in this region were very supportive, and we quickly negotiated for basing in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan that allowed US and coalition aircraft to begin operating directly into Afghanistan. In all, the US military created or reinforced 12 bases in the Central Asian and Middle Eastern regions during this time.

Taken together, these operations represented an important feat of diplomacy and coalition building with friends and partners in a new region of operations, accomplished in only a few weeks. One of the most important factors that allowed us to arrange and conduct our operations to such an extent so quickly was our ongoing security-cooperation programs in which we already had established military-to-military relationships with most of the countries of the former Soviet Union through several venues- but especially NATO’s PfP program.

Ongoing proximity to these countries within an already robust security-cooperation regime enabled this significant military-to-military engagement. For example, during the year prior to the attack on the World Trade Center, EUCOM devoted over 84,000 man-days; 4,500 sorties; and 11,000 personnel to important interaction with foreign militaries within the AOR.18 The relationships produced by this level of cooperation formed the essential foundations we needed to conduct Enduring Freedom in and over these new regions.

One important example of this level of cooperation became very evident in May 2001, when Gen Tommy Franks, commander of CENTCOM, and USAFE’s Warrior Preparation Center hosted a major, high-level PfP exercise with many of the chiefs of defense from those countries (including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) that would become so crucial a few months later in Enduring Freedom. The personal relationships fostered in this exercise alone provided vital avenues of interaction necessary to work many of the diplomatic and political agreements we needed to conduct missions in Central Asia- missions that continue today. We also must not underestimate the roles that our NATO allies and other long-term partners played in this effort. As of the summer of 2002, over 69 nations were supporting our war on terrorism, including over 16,000 troops (from 20 countries) deployed into CENTCOM’s region of responsibility- 7,000 in Afghanistan alone.19

Clearly, our overseas presence and NATO participation were major factors in why this level of coalition support occurred, and they are the primary reasons we were so successful in Afghanistan as well as other areas involved in the GWOT. We could not have done it without the forward presence of our military in these areas- from the perspective of both geographic necessity and the relationships that presence had fostered. Without this geopresence, any comparable degree of success would have come at a much higher price.

In sum, what we have learned from our ongoing operations in the GWOT highlights the significance of our forward basing and ongoing security cooperation. The capabilities provided by this geopresence are invaluable for any future regional challenges or humanitarian operations we may have to conduct. We benefit beyond measure from the flexibility and different levels of access that geopresence affords, and that is what our new NSS is all about.


An important realization from our recent military operations is that they have validated the wisdom (and vision) of our past political and military leaders who set up the overseas infrastructure we have today. The bases we already had in place and the relationships they engendered with other nations ultimately enabled success in an area of the world where no other single power or coalition has really dominated for centuries. The primary reason for this success is American geopresence, which is- and will continue to be- an essential capability in our military operations.

As I have attempted to show in this article, geopresence provides the necessary access that enables US forces to train, stage, and employ successfully; it also gives US forces the ability to access any region of the world as they respond to a multitude of contingencies. Further, it presents important and natural opportunities to enhance interoperability and cooperation with our partners and allies- even as we take the necessary steps to transform and modernize our own forces.

From all of this, in turn, we gain a measure of influence in the regions where we are present and involved. This influence affects all aspects of our dealings with other countries, whether diplomatic, economic, societal, or military. It fosters useful, indeed vital, channels of interaction that enable our government to garner the staunch support needed for our policies and programs, not the least of which is the ability to operate in and through any required regions and countries.20 At the same time, this influence helps us to put in place the complex political and diplomatic foundations needed for any future military operation in those regions. Perhaps most vital in this regard are the personal and organizational relationships between the US military and foreign defense personnel.

Consequently, the NSS and, from that, any emerging basing strategy call for some level of overseas geopresence from which access, cooperation, interoperability, and influence can be developed, maintained, or improved. With that in mind, we need to consider how best to posture ourselves to take full advantage of these four primary capabilities that geopresence provides.

Although no set "stationing template" exists for every region, we can logically determine both the locations and proper mix of permanent, rotational, and training force structures we need to meet today’s challenges. A viable geopresence provides both the opportunities and flexibility to implement whatever decisions we undertake as we determine where we want to station forces, as well as the reasons and the means for doing so. Therefore, whether we decide that we need overseas presence for strategic airlift, alliance commitments, humanitarian operations, training, or combat contingencies, geopresence gives us a greater range of choice for both the levels of access we require and the type of access we want.

We can then pursue a conscientious basing, exercise, and security-cooperation strategy that, I am convinced, will prove much more capable of attaining the five strategic goals of our new NSS. This geopresence strategy will make it possible to meet the varied dangers threatening the American homeland as well as our vital interests abroad. It will enable a rapid response to or even prevent those individuals who would use WMDs to threaten, blackmail, or harm the United States or its allies and friends. It will help us transform our national defense at home and overseas in a way that will let us define the future battle space on our terms- and ours alone. A geopresence strategy is the fundamental foundation for building, strengthening, and enhancing all of our relationships with individual nations, including both regional and global powers.

In that regard, geopresence also provides us the opportunity to embrace those societies throughout the world who truly are interested in pursuing freedom, democracy, and free enterprise. In particular, it ensures the existence of potential staging areas to help nations in their struggle against various forces that deny or threaten their freedom. As President Bush points out in the foreword to the NSS, "Freedom is the non-negotiable demand of human dignity; the birthright of every person- in every civilization."21 The president reiterated this statement in his latest State of the Union Address, when he stressed that "we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men- free people will set the course of history."22 Freedom, therefore, is also a primary goal of our NSS.

This commitment to an overseas basing strategy of geopresence is not cheap in the short term but will yield great potential in the long term, just as Enduring Freedom and the overall GWOT continue to show. On the other hand, failure to build and maintain American geopresence could be catastrophic to our foreign and defense policies- and, I believe, to our future national security. As recent events have so clearly shown, even the staunchest of our allies can at times disagree with us on issues of vital importance. However, our geopresence has helped us work through these issues and provides multiple solutions and avenues of cooperation on all fronts- not just from the military perspective.

Although in times of political and international conflict or crisis, it is tempting to think about withdrawing to America and relying upon new technologies to meet our security needs, we must sustain a well-planned and adaptable overseas presence. We must be there physically to do all of those things I have described here. I believe that Gen Jim Jones, our new supreme allied commander, Europe, accurately and succinctly expressed this requirement recently when he said, "Virtual presence really equals actual absence."23 In short, no nation can do it all alone. In the end, continued geopresence is the means by which we maintain the necessary capabilities that are so critical if we are to weave a net of interconnected nations to fight and win this global war on terrorism.


1. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, D.C.: President of the United States, September 2002), on-line, Internet, 17 March 2003, available from http:// Hereafter referred to as NSS.

2. Ibid., 2.

3. Ibid., 29.

4. The strategy outlines separate aspects in eight different sections within the document.

5. NSS, 5.

6. Ibid., 29.

7. Ibid., 30.

8. President Bush introduced this way of understanding transformation by stating the need to "revolutionize the battlefield of the future and to keep the peace by defining war on our terms." Speech on the occasion of signing the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2003, Pentagon, Washington, D.C., 10 January 2002.

9. NSS, 26.

10. See William S. Cohen, Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, May 1997).

11. See National Defense Panel, "National Security in the 21st Century: The Challenge of Transformation," Joint Forces Quarterly, summer 1997, 15–19; and idem, "NDP Assessment of the QDR," on-line, Internet, 17 March 2003, available from http://www.

12. "NDP Assessment of the QDR," 1.

13. Ibid., 4.

14. Richard L. Kugler, "Controlling Chaos: New Axial Strategic Principles," in The Global Century: Globalization and National Security, ed. Richard L. Kugler and Ellen L. Frost (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2001), 75.

15. John A. Tirpak, "The QDR Goes to War," Air Force Magazine, December 2001, 4, on-line, Internet, 17 March 2003, available from

16. During the decade of the 1990s, USAFE participated in over 67 major contingencies and other operations in EUCOM’s AOR.

17. Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Plans and Programs, En Route Strategic Plan, n.d.

18. Office of Plans and Programs, United States Air Forces in Europe.

19. Department of Defense Office of Public Affairs, fact sheet, 7 June 2002, 1.

20. Headquarters United States Air Forces in Europe, "USAFE Security Cooperation Strategic Concept for FY 2002–2003," draft, version 4, 30 May 2002.

21. President’s foreword, NSS.

22. President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, 28 January 2003, on-line, Internet, 17 March 2003, available from http://

23. Statement at the 2002 Marine/Air Force Warfighter Talks, Miramar, Calif., July 2002.

Gen Gregory S. Martin (USAFA; MS, Central Michigan University) is commander of United States Air Forces in Europe, commander of Allied Air Forces Northern Europe, and Air Force component commander of United States European Command, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. In addition to flying 161 combat missions in Southeast Asia, he commanded the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron, the 479th Tactical Training Wing, and the 1st and 33d Fighter Wings. He also served as the Joint Staff’s J-8 vice director and the Air Force’s director of operational requirements. Before assuming his current position, he was the principal deputy with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. A command pilot and master parachutist with more than 4,100 flying hours in various aircraft, including the AT-38, F-4, F-15, and C-20, General Martin is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and National War College.

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