The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight


What’s the book?

Sebastian Schmidt. 2020. Armed Guests: Territorial Sovereignty and Foreign Military Basing (New York, Oxford University Press).

The argument?

The United States maintains a massive global military footprint. Some of its overseas military bases are located in dependencies like Puerto Rico and Guam. The vast majority of base hosts are sovereign states.

The practice of maintaining a long-term, peacetime military presence in another state (or “sovereign basing”) only developed in the last century. Before World War II, a foreign military presence usually meant one of three things: occupation, colonization, or a wartime alliance. This changed radically in the years after 1945. The United States and its allies needed to develop security practices that addressed, first, the vastly increased range and destructiveness of weaponry and, second, what they saw as the major threat posed by transnational communism.

Sovereign basing was one of the solutions they arrived at. It didn’t emerge overnight. It developed over time as allies improvised and negotiated peacetime military arrangements.

Why should we care?

Without sovereign basing, contemporary security politics would be unrecognizable. The globe-spanning alliances of the United States depend on the ability to station troops on foreign territory during peacetime (which can get tricky). Overseas basing arrangements shape nearly every aspect of security competition. They are a source of tensions with Russia and China. They are a crucial element of U.S. strategy for deterring other great powers. China, for its part, has begun to establish foreign bases. Russia intervened in Syria, at least in part, to preserve one of its only remaining overseas bases; it annexed the other one, which it had previously leased from Ukraine, in 2014.

Why will we find the book convincing?

There are a lot of reasons, but perhaps the most important one is that the book marshals extensive archival evidence, not only from the United States but also from early basing partners who played a central role in the emergence of sovereign basing, including Britain, Canada, Iceland, Portugal, and France.

Why did you decide to write it in the first place?

The novelty of sovereign basing first occurred to me while flipping through a 1963 book on America’s foreign military presence by George Stambuk (American Military Forces Abroad: Their Impact on the Western States System). I wanted to get a better handle on what exactly was new about this practice and why it developed. The result was my dissertation, which served as the basis for this book.

What would you most like to change about the piece, and why?

I draw significant connections between sovereign basing and earlier colonial practices, but ideally I would’ve had the time and space to look at how postwar occupations shaped, and were shaped by, sovereign basing arrangements. 

How difficulty was it to get the piece accepted?

I suppose I had a fairly standard experience. I shopped the draft to several academic publishers at conferences and over email. Some weren’t that interested, others were more positive. I ended up with Oxford University Press. I am very pleased with the support that I’ve received during the review and copy-editing processes. I know not everyone has good experiences with manuscript reviews, but I was thrilled with the careful feedback that I received.

Sebastian Schmidt is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. His research focuses on sovereignty and the historical origins and sociological foundations of security strategies.

Posted on 10 December, 2021