The question of foreign military bases

Welcome from Chairs


Dear Delegates,

My name is Germaine, and I am Head Chair of the General Assembly First Committee (also known as Disarmament and International Society or DISEC).

This is the first conference I am attending as Head Chair and I am honoured to share this experience with you! I have been doing MUN for a couple of years now and it only gets more and more interesting. Research, public speaking and problem-solving skills are only a fraction of what I have learnt – skills which are incredibly useful for the future.

Whether it is your first conference or your 100th, my Co-Chair, Eliza, and I will work hard to ensure that you have a great experience!

Looking forward to meeting all of you!


Introduction to the Committee

The General Assembly represents the main deliberative and policymaking section of the UN. As it tackles a huge range of issues, its workload is divided into six committees.

The committee for Disarmament and International Security, or the First Committee, deals with disarmament, global challenges, and threats to peace that affect the international community – attempting to find solutions to these issues via debate.

Most UN committees work closely with a variety of other UN bodies, and DISEC tends to work closely with the United Nations Disarmament Commission and the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament.

Notably, the first ever resolution passed by the UN was debated by DISEC on the issue of “the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy” in 1946. As well as this, DISEC passed the first ever resolution co-sponsored by all member states at the time (1959) on the general and complete disarmament of member states.


History of the topic

Foreign military bases are bases that are “geographically located outside the territory of the country whose armed forces are the principal occupants of the base”[1]. For example, there are around 800 foreign military bases in America in more than 70 countries and territories abroad.

One of the main issues of foreign military bases concerns spheres of influence. This is when a country has the power to affect other country’s developments without any real authority or power. This completely undermines developing countries and gives developed countries an unfair advantage and leverage of power. Foreign military bases clearly link with the problematic of the spheres of influence as essential instruments of exercising power.

Recently, the South China Sea dispute has become an increasingly larger problem. This is because China has sweeping claims of sovereignty across the sea. Throughout the years, satellite images have shown China increasingly trying to claim land in the South China Sea. Such actions are problematic to some as their authority or power to do so is contested. In March and April 2018, China increased its military activity in the South China Sea by conducting a series of naval manoeuvres and exercises. In addition, the United States has also stepped up its military activity and naval presence in the region in recent years, including freedom of navigation operations in January and March 2018. China’s claims to sovereignty over the region is causing danger for many. The sea contains an estimated 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. As early as the 1970s, countries began to claim islands and various zones in the South China Sea, such as the Spratly Islands, which possess rich natural resources and fishing areas.

Africa has become host to an increasing number of foreign military bases. This is especially on the Horn of Africa, which contains 11 foreign military bases. There has been a substantial increase in the number and size of the foreign military deployments since 2001. The most visible aspect of this presence is the proliferation of military facilities in littoral areas along the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa. However, there has also been a build-up of naval forces, notably around the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, at the entrance to the Red Sea and in the Gulf of Aden.

Foreign military bases enables a country to project its power, such as through conducting expeditionary warfare. Thus, it influences events abroad. Depending on their size and infrastructure, they can be used as staging areas or for logistical, communications and intelligence support. These bases help improve operational responsiveness to contingencies, deterring adversaries, assuring allies, and facilitating security cooperation with partner militaries. Historically, foreign military bases represent the legacy of imperialism. For example, British foreign military bases in a variety of different places are a relic of the British Empire. The establishment of military bases is a practice which has increased since the Cold War. For the USA, having access to foreign territories meant conquering spheres of influence which were needed to contain the threat of communism from the Soviet Union. Since then, the USA has become the state which has more military installations abroad in the world and its presence in many strategic regions of different continents has become part of US foreign policy.

More recently, the War on Terror has resulted in overseas military bases being established in the Middle East. The War on Terror is the ongoing international military campaign launched by the United State government following the September 11 attacks.

Considerations for debate

When considering your state’s stance on the issue of foreign military bases, you should start by understanding whether your state is one which has multiple bases in foreign countries, like the USA and the UK, or if your state is more often the host of foreign military bases, like Kenya and the Netherlands. This will be key to considering what clauses you will argue for and against in debate.

Familiarising yourself with how many foreign military bases your state operates abroad, and/or how many foreign military bases it hosts will be beneficial to debate.

Bear in mind that foreign military bases have become a symbol of dominant world power and a way to spread soft power abroad. Due to this fact, dominant global powers are more likely to want to increase their power and, thus, are more likely to argue in favour of relaxed regulations surrounding the question of foreign military bases.

Further considerations will revolve around with whom your state is allied. Having the military force of another, more powerful, country can have many benefits for an ally. For example, the presence of foreign military forces has played a significant role in fighting terror groups. These include groups like al-Shabaab in East Africa and jihadists in Mali. This explains why several African countries are willing to turn to foreign governments for advice, intelligence, and support. When considering your voting position, take into account your state’s political relationship with dominant global powers who may seek to increase foreign military presence.

A strong understanding of what your state’s political relationship is like with different key global powers will be central to informed debate. Allies with healthy political relationships, such as the Kenya and the UK, are more likely to support each other’s endeavours, while those with a more unstable relationship, such as that of Iran and the USA, are much more inclined to oppose each other.

Another complexity to research is public response to foreign military presence in your state. It is not unlikely that public opinion will differ from governmental stance on the issue of foreign military bases. One such example of this is that in Okinawa, Japan, 30% of the island has been allocated to US military bases post-WW2. For many years, local citizens have protested high levels of rapes, violent crimes, pollution, and impunity of foreign soldiers. When the US announced plans to build another base in 2004, by creating a new island where local fishermen used to fish, Okinawans started a three-year-long daily blockade of the construction work. Again, in June 2016, 65,000 Okinawans protested in the streets against the U.S. presence there. Despite this, the Japanese government continue to allow the US military to operate there. Researching both governmental position and public opinion on the question of foreign military bases will add depth to your understanding of the issue and allow for nuanced debating.

When constructing your argument, it may be helpful to understand how many state resources are allocated to maintaining foreign military presence. A key part of debate is the over-expenditure of resources to enable a foreign military presence. Some countries may choose to argue that the expense of the operation incur limited net gain. Moreover, the case could be made that foreign military bases are soon to be, if not already, rendered basically useless in terms of military strategy due to technological advancements. According to a recent RAND Corporation report, “lighter ground forces can deploy by air from the United States almost as quickly as they can from within a region.”[2] Long-range bombers can fly missions up to 9,000 miles, and after that they can be refuelled in the air, reducing the need to have in-place forces abroad. This fact may be developed into a possible counterpoint to the argument that foreign military bases are necessary to ensure domestic safety.

Some states may wish to emphasize the negative impacts of foreign military presence. According to Chicago University’s Robert Pape, “the principal cause of suicide terrorism is resistance to foreign occupation.” Interesting arguments from countries that tend to host foreign military power may stem from the negative social impacts of military presence from abroad.