Quora: Why Are There Still U.S. Bases in Europe?

Soldiers parade after joint African, European and U.S. military exercise
Soldiers parade during the closing ceremony of a joint military exercise between African, U.S. and European troops in Saint Louis, Senegal, February 29. The U.S. has signed an agreement increasing access to facilities in the West African country. SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images

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Answer from Jim Moore, former Press Secretary, Military Legislative Aide at U.S. Senate (1984-1986):

The initial goal in setting up U.S. bases in both Korea and Germany was to stabilize economies and social and political structures in the wake of war's devastating trauma. It was in the U.S.'s best interests—economically, politically, and strategically—to assure the non-communist populations of Western Europe and the Pacific Rim that there would be, for some indeterminate time, a solid and reliable shield against new aggression by former or current enemies.

When done properly—as was the case in West Germany, Japan, and South Korea—a dependable American presence (military and economic) allowed for robust infrastructure reconstruction and thorough assessment of future plans and programs while building in time for political and economic systems to adjust to post-war realities without having to place undue burdens on heavily depleted resources of human and financial capital.

In June of 1947, General George C. Marshall addressed the issue of European reconstruction during a speech at Harvard. In this excerpt, it is clear that, while no timelines were offered, the idea of a compassionate, extensive, and timely application of American and allied resources was on the minds of U.S. leaders:

"The modern system of the division of labor upon which the exchange of products is based is in danger of breaking down. ... Aside from the demoralizing effect on the world at large and the possibilities of disturbances arising as a result of the desperation of the people concerned, the consequences to the economy of the United States should be apparent to all.

"It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health to the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Any government that is willing to assist in recovery will find full co-operation on the part of the USA. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist."

Basing American troops and war-fighting resources on or near the conflict zones was never intended to be a permanent solution to national or regional recovery; it was, and remains, the best strategy to build partnerships and maintain strong economies upon which the nations, regions, and the global marketplace now depend. Over time, as Western Europe matured and communism lost its grip, the United States was able to begin withdrawing troops and returning U.S. built properties back to their host nations.

In the 1980s, U.S. forces in Europe numbered about 200,000 (Army and Air Force), and by the early 2000s, the numbers were down to less than 70,000. However, recent Russian troop buildups, actions in Ukraine, and Kremlin rumblings of more actions along their western border, have given U.S. military planners cause to consider adding back more troops to Europe as a show of support to our European allies. The long-term goal remains total European control of its own defenses, in partnership with the United States where such partnership adds to regional and hemispheric security.

With respect to South Korea, there is still, technically, a war going on between North and South Korea—there was never a treaty, only an uneasy armistice between the warring countries. America's presence at military bases—land, air, and sea—in and around South Korea remains vital to South Korea's stability as augmentation of its own military resources. It is unlikely that the U.S. military will, at least for the foreseeable future, depart from South Korea. Our personnel, equipment, intelligence, and training resources are crucial elements of South Korea's ever-defensive posture.

Politically, there may come a time when South Korea's citizens choose to oust the United States and regain full control over their nation's defense. I don't see that as a near-term event—our economic, tactical, and strategic support is just too important to South Korea, particularly in light of Kim Jong-Un's latest nuclear machinations. But, in the end, South Korea has the right to boot us should they tire of America's close aid and comfort.

Upon setting up the bases, did the US intend to have long-lasting presences in Germany and Korea? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions: