Mapping the growth of bases worldwide

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 

Even though the U.S. military has fewer bases that it did at the end of the Cold War, it has increasingly inserted itself into new corners of the globe with the help of small, often secretive “lily pad” bases; today, there are bases in around 80 countries and U.S. territories — roughly twice as many as in 1989.

Formally called “cooperative security locations,” lily pads are small, spartan installations that often house prepositioned weaponry and allow troops to deploy quickly into battle, like frogs jumping across a pond. While the new bases appear to offer a low-cost, low-profile alternative to giant, city-sized installations, lily pads can easily transform into larger bases and commitments, potentially plunging the country into new, little-known conflicts.

The sheer number of bases as well as the secrecy and lack of transparency of the overseas base network make any graphic depiction challenging. Lily pad bases are frequently secretive and difficult to distinguish from host-nation facilities, making an authoritative list especially hard to assemble.

This map reflects the number and positioning of bases given the best available information as of August 2015. Installations vary in size from giant “Little Americas,” hosting tens of thousands of troops and family members, to small, radar facilities and lily pads built or acquired since around the turn of the 21st century.

Sources: Department of Defense, “Base Structure Report Fiscal Year 2014 Baseline”; Robert E. Harkavy, "Strategic Basing and the Great Powers, 1200–2000"; Michael J. Lostumbo et al., “Overseas Basing of U.S. Military Forces”; Chalmers Johnson, "The Sorrows of Empire and Nemesis"; Alexander Cooley, "Base Politics"; Nick Turse, TomDispatch.com; Craig Whitlock, The Washington Post; Lauren Ploch, Congressional Research Service reports; John Lindsay-Poland, Fellowship of Reconciliation blog; news reports.