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Vol. 4 No. 1 | Summer 2017
Issues of Acce...

Issues of Access

A Conversation with Stacie L. Pettyjohn & Jennifer Kavanagh

Interviewed by Robert Pulwer

Fletcher Security Review: I wanted to start with just a brief rundown if possible of the work that you’ve done for RAND recently, particularly the long publication (Access Granted: Political Challenges to the U.S. Overseas Military Presence, 1945–2014, published by RAND) that you recently published.


Stacie L. Pettyjohn: Sure. RAND has a long history of doing work on the U.S.’ overseas military posture, its overseas military presence. This is one of the latest studies on that topic. This was an effort to try to examine the access issue, which basically means when the United States military is given permission to use another country’s territory, airspace, or military facilities — or actually civilian facilities — and when and why that happens. We tried to break that down and to look at it fairly comprehensively where we thought about access in terms of peacetime, the routine regular access that the United States has, which can include things like permanent bases in Germany or the United Kingdom or Japan. But also regular but intermittent access to partner-nation facilities in countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Oman, where the U.S doesn’t have a permanent presence, but still uses it pretty routinely in peacetime. Also, contingency access, which is the ability to use another country’s territory or bases for particular operations.


Jennifer Kavanagh: One thing that I would add or reiterate is that there’s a lot of work going on at RAND about the topic of the U.S. overseas presence and its impact. In part, that’s because everyone talks about presence, but there’s much less work looking rigorously at what presence looks like, where it exists, and what the implications are. There are a number of studies at RAND looking at questions like: What is the economic value of the U.S. presence? What is the deterrent value of the U.S. presence? So I think that this particular study was a really big contribution to that larger body of work, which tries to actually dig down deeper and understand what presence looks like, the trends and historical patterns, and what it means and contributes to U.S. security and economic prosperity.


SP: I think that where RAND’s real value added is — and what you’ll see with a lot of our work — is that a lot of the existing literature on presence is often sort of light on empirical evidence. We tried in all of these different studies to actually empirically test some of these propositions and to provide more evidence to see what actually has happened.


FSR: One of the things that struck me was that one of your recommendations is that the United States should “maintain access in enduring partner nations and wherever possible avoid transactional partners”. You discuss the dangers or risks associated with transactional partners and you say, “since 2001 the United States has increasingly forged transactional basing agreements. As this practice expands, access problems are likely to grow”. Could speak to any issues you see on the horizon with transactional partners and how that might impact the U.S. presence overseas?


SP: Sure. The transactional and enduring partners are part of a typology that I developed for some earlier work that we had done at RAND for a project called The Posture Triangle. This basically identified primary reasons that countries provided the United States with access and differentiated between nations that where there is a mutual security interest and that’s the primary driver. There’s some shared sense of threat. That has sort of been the most common reason that the U.S. has been given access to foreign bases. That was the primary reason at the beginning of the Cold War after World War II when the U.S. established this big network of overseas military facilities that it still has today.


There are also partners that don’t have a shared security interest with the United States, but they’re more looking for some sort of quid pro quo. Those are the ones that we call “transactional partners” and that we think are problematic relationships. So they’re in it for some specific benefit, often monetary, though it might also be arms sales or other types of things that the United States can provide them. They’re looking at the relationship as something that they’re trying to extract as much benefit from as possible. This provides them with an incentive to try to get the best bargain possible and to renegotiate frequently and to make sure that the terms are lopsided in their favor. This tends to be fairly unstable in peacetime and less reliable when the United States asks for access during contingencies.


The final type of partners, the enduring partners, are a new category that really didn’t exist before the end of the Cold War in 1990–91. But at that point the initial reason that the United States had had bases in these countries had gone away. So the Soviet Union had dissolved, that threat had gone. Yet you found that for many reasons these nations decided to continue to host U.S. forces. And at this point it shifted from the threat rationale to something that was deeper and more about shared interests, sometimes shared identity. You also had some countries that had been transactional partners, like Spain or the Philippines, which actually shifted to an enduring partnership model, or a mutual-defense model eventually. So those reasons can change over time, but the enduring partners tend to be the ones that provide the most stable access in peacetime, and they are also the most reliable in contingencies.


JK: Across the board, the relationship between the U.S. and the country where the access request was targeted came out to be one of the most significant variables, both in terms of determining where access was granted and the type of access that was granted. We tested a lot of variables and a lot of them didn’t matter. But the type of relationship that the U.S. has or had with the country and the way the access relationship is or was set up, that was an incredibly robust finding across all the models.


SP: The poster children for transactional relationships would have been Kyrgyzstan post-9/11, where the United States was paying for access to Manas Air Base and there were a series of rather contentious negotiations where the U.S. had to pay an increasingly large amount of money to maintain access, which included a bidding war with Russia at one point. The government pitted the United States against Russia, which also has bases there, and Russia was offering more money. Eventually, the United States was this bidding war, but its access to Manas was always somewhat in question. And then eventually this dynamic contributed to the expulsion of the U.S. in 2014.


And then on the other side of the spectrum you have enduring partners, which would be the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Australia — countries like that, where the United States has been for a long time, has a very strong relationship across the board. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t sometimes problems and disagreements about the U.S. military presence, but it is supported strongly in that nation and provides a very durable foundation for access in peacetime and in contingencies.


Two [relationships that became transactional] are Spain in 1988 and then Greece a little bit later than that in the early 90s. Spain had been one of the countries where the U.S. is constantly in negotiations over the bases. It was paying a lot of money during the Cold War so it’s sort of the Kyrgyzstan [situation] of the Cold War. And then there was a large drawdown and reduction in the U.S. presence in the late 80s when a Socialist government was elected and there were fears that the U.S. was going to be kicked out of the country entirely. But what eventually happened was the U.S. reduced its footprint to fewer locations that were not in as sensitive of places — for instance, leaving the airbase near Madrid — and agreed to more restrictions on its access.


And this new government had more legitimacy, and the Spanish government and people felt it was a fair bargain, which they had voluntarily entered into, so they agreed to eliminate the U.S. base payments. And Spain has actually provided very stable access since then, even in Desert Storm, the deterrence operation against Iraq in 1990–1991, when the U.S. military presence in Spain was still controversial. The Spanish government still let the U.S. use the bases for operations against Iraq. And then more recently during the 2003 Iraq War, which was very unpopular in Spain, the Spanish government never questioned the U.S. ability to use its bases to support that operation.


FSR: What are the issues of access and partnerships that you see coming in the Trump administration, both given the nature of the administration itself and the nature of regimes and administrations around the world?


SP: I would caveat that anything that I say is purely speculation. But if you sort of extend and apply the findings that we saw from the past and believe that they will still hold in the future, you will imagine that we might enter a world in which access becomes much more problematic. This would be a fairly significant departure from the findings of our report, which actually found that access has been a persistent challenge, but a relatively manageable one for the most part, and that the United States has been incredibly successful at having access to a peacetime network of bases and then securing access to key facilities that it needed to execute particular operations.


If the Trump administration starts to change the nature of the relationship with different allies, you can imagine that they would shift in terms of the basing model that they’re in. If we go in to viewing relationships as purely transactional, it seems unlikely that our partners will continue to view us as partners that have a deep relationship based on shared beliefs, shared interests, and a shared history together. And they’ll start to treat the U.S. in a more expedient and transactional manner, which is likely to lead to a larger number of access denials and restrictions in peacetime and contingencies.


FSR: My next question is about the four anti-access strategies that you talk about — bullying, bribing, delegitimizing, and inciting — which you list as means that states have used to deny U.S. access to their state or states around them. I was wondering if you could speak more to those threats and the sort of what lessons might be learned from the case studies that you use (the Arab–Israeli War in 1973, Iran, Panama, Saudi Arabia) as the Trump administration works with access issues.


SP: And I think these relate to some of the other findings that we have from the case studies in terms of other factors that tend to have an effect on whether you have you get an access permission or denial. The strategies are common and they were quite pervasive, especially during the Cold War, and they continue to be employed by U.S. adversaries today.


Some of these things, like bullying, issuing coercive threats, attempting to pay off other states, delegitimizing, just general propaganda that tries to challenge the right of the United States to have these forces overseas and then trying to actually incite anti-basing movements…I think that one could argue that these tactics might fall into the sort of gray zone or hybrid conflict…but they were certainly going on throughout the Cold War by the Soviet Union against the United States.


And in the cases, you find that while it may be hard to attribute any specific access denial directly to these factors, they certainly had an influence on U.S. decision makers and could impact factors that partner nations often weigh when they are making these access decisions, particularly with respect to their fears about retaliation. So [in] Libya, with the strikes on Qaddafi in 1986, the United States had to fly very long flights from the U.K. instead of being able to overfly France and Spain. It could not fly from its permanent bases in Spain or Italy, because these nations were concerned that some of the terrorist groups that the Libyan government supported might target them in retaliation if they supported this attack.


All types of retaliation are something of a concern to nations that provide the United States military with base access. In 1973, it was the economic retaliation that took the form of the Arab oil embargo and oil production cuts. At other times, it could be conventional retaliation in terms of firing missiles at different countries, which is something that some in China have threatened to do against Japan if the U.S. were to allow us to use Japanese bases in the event of a conflict over Taiwan. If there’s a lot of opposition within a country to the U.S. bases, it is much more difficult for a partner nation’s government to ignore that sentiment and to provide the United States with access because it threatens their control over power.


JK: I would also add to that that it’s worth noting that in addition to denying access, countries can restrict access or limit what the U.S. can use that access for. We saw in the data that sometimes instead of denying access, the target country might say, “well you can use our land, but only to transit troops for a non-combat operation.” And of course that, while it’s potentially better than a denial, still infringes on the ability of the United States to accomplish its objectives and carry out operations the way it wants to.


FSR: Is there anything else that you would like to add with regards to U.S. military access, any issues you see coming in the future under the Trump administration, or anything else that you would like to mention?


JK: I would add that there’s a lot of talk about how getting access overseas is becoming harder for the U.S. or that access is being denied more frequently. One of the interesting things that came out of the report is that our data don’t really support that. Instead, it suggests that higher levels of access have been provided since the Cold War. We don’t see this downward trend that is often pointed to discussion about this topic.


The U.S. has been pretty successful in getting access when it is asked. Now, we were unable to capture cases where the U.S. felt censored and didn’t ask because it didn’t think that access would be granted. But in terms of what we can capture, the U.S. has been pretty successful. We also don’t see a sharp downward trend. So while there are certainly things that could affect U.S. access in the future that are worth keeping in mind, I also think it is important to learn from the data about trends in the U.S. presence that may sometimes not match with the popular perception.


FSR: Thank you both for speaking to me today.



Stacie L. Pettyjohn  


Stacie L. Pettyjohn is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and co-director of the Center for Gaming. She is also an adjunct professor and Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Her primary research areas include wargaming, military posture, Internet freedom, and American foreign policy in the Middle East. She is the author of the RAND monograph U.S. Global Defense Posture, 1783-2011 and the coauthor of several other reports, including Access Granted: Political Challenges to the U.S. Overseas Military Presence, 1945-2011, The Posture Triangle: A New Framework for U.S. Air Force Global Presence, Overseas Basing of U.S. Military Forces: An Assessment of the Relative Costs and Strategic Benefits, and Deradicalizing Islamist Extremists. Her work has also been published in academic journals such as Security Studies and International Negotiation, and her commentary has appeared in Foreign Affairs, War on the Rocks, Defense NewsThe National Interest, Asia Times, and The Daily Star. Previously, she was a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Peace Scholar at the United States Institute of Peace, and a TAPIR fellow at the RAND Corporation. She has a Ph.D. and M.A. in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and a B.A. in history and political science from the Ohio State University.

Jennifer Kavanagh  


Jennifer Kavanagh is a political scientist at the RAND Corporation. Her research focuses on defense strategy and planning; trends in international conflict and military interventions; domestic and international terrorism; military personnel policy; and U.S. public opinion. She has also recently studied the resurgence of populism in the United States and its implications for U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Jennifer is also a faculty member at the Pardee RAND Graduate School and has taught research methods courses as an adjunct professor at Georgetown and American University. While completing her Ph.D., she was a Department of Homeland Security Fellow and completed a research internship at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. She was a research assistant at RAND from 2003-2006. Dr. Kavanagh graduated from Harvard University with a BA in Government and a minor in the Russian language. She completed her Ph.D. in Political Science and Public Policy at University of Michigan. Her dissertation, "The Dynamics of Protracted Terror Campaigns: Domestic Politics, Terrorist Violence, Counterterror Responses" was named the best dissertation in the Public Policy subfield in 2010 by the American Political Science Association.

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