Think the number of U.S. bases around the world are naturally decreasing during so-called peace time? Think again.
An article in Defense One today illustrates “mission creep” in its purest form a la Field of Dreams: Lithuania builds a military base in hopes Americans will come.
And no doubt they will — they are already there, albeit temporarily. According to the reporting by Jacqueline Feldscher, “hundreds” of U.S. service members are already at the new €7 million facility called Camp Herkus. She describes it thusly:
(Camp Herkus) includes a gym stocked with state-of-the art treadmills and weight racks, rubber-turf basketball courts surrounded by container housing stuffed with bunk beds and gear, a PX selling cigarettes and candy, and a game hall where soldiers were playing first-person-shooter video games.
Unlike their Western European counterparts who are talking more these days about “strategic autonomy,” Eastern partners (Lithuania entered NATO in 2004) are all about putting more American boots on the ground as a hedge against Russia. According to Feldscher, Belarus is less than 10 miles away and the Lithuanians hope regular military exercises with the Americans and NATO will deter the Russians, who are doing the same with their Belarusian allies. Poland is also looking for a permanent U.S. base (Fort Trump obviously isn’t happening) but it did get 1,000 American troops sent there late last year.
“We hope that this new infrastructure in Pabrade will become the second home for the U.S. force,” Lithuania’s Minister of National Defense Arvydas Anušauskas said the day it opened.
“The need for the deployment of US forces in [Lithuania] is more apparent than ever & we are providing all the necessary conditions for U.S. troops to maintain their readiness,” Anušauskas floated on Twitter two weeks later, welcoming Gen. Christopher Cavoli, commander of U.S. Army Europe and Africa.
For its part, the Biden administration hasn’t said whether there will be any permanent arrangement with Lithuania, and it is still reviewing the Polish base plans. But in the meantime, with these states offering so much for even temporary stationing, the U.S. military most resembles its Roman counterparts of two millennia ago: welcome in their Eastern client states and on Rome’s terms, all for the protection of the realm. Official Washington continues to encourage this, most recently including the “Sustaining Deterrence in Europe” initiative in the massive National Defense Authorization Act, which would position more U.S. and NATO troops in Russia’s backyard.
For an interesting overview of the 750 bases the United States has across the globe, it is worth reading the latest David Vine brief with Patterson Deppen and Leah Bolger here. Despite all of the talk about looking inward and using diplomacy rather than the military to engage the world, not much has changed, particularly in Eastern Europe.