Why America Is Investing in Future Wars

Michael E. Flynn, Carla Martinez Machain, Michael A. Allen

Since the start of Donald Trump’s run for the U.S. presidency in 2015, he has been critical of the amount of money U.S. allies contribute to their own defense.

Now, the Trump administration is demanding that Japan and South Korea pay more for hosting U.S. troops stationed in those countries.

The media also reported that U.S. military leadership in South Korea discussed the possibility of withdrawing up to 4,000 troops from South Korea if it does not increase its contributions. The Pentagon has since denied having such plans.

We have each studied overseas deployments of U.S. military personnel for nearly a decade and have recently come together to research the costs and benefits of such deployments.

1. What’s in it for the US?

The U.S. currently has approximately 174,000 active-duty personnel deployed to overseas locations in approximately 140 countries. The Department of Defense Comptroller’s Office estimates the total cost of overseas bases and deployments at US$24.4 billion in fiscal year 2020. These figures generally exclude the costs of ongoing combat operations.

When stronger countries provide security for weaker countries, they receive non-material benefits in return.

For example, the weaker country may sacrifice control over their foreign policy and give the major power access to territory or airspace it otherwise would not have. Deployments in Japan and Korea gave the U.S. influence in Southeast and East Asian regional matters during the Cold War.

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