Overseas Presence:

More Data and Analysis Needed to Determine Whether Cost-Effective Alternatives Exist

NSIAD-97-133: Published: Jun 3, 1997. Publicly Released: Jun 3, 1997.

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GAO provided information on the Department of Defense's (DOD) approaches to providing U.S. overseas military presence, focusing on: (1) changes in these approaches since the end of the Cold War; (2) funding related to presence; (3) views of regional command officials on the relative importance of security objectives and presence approaches in their regions; and (4) DOD's process for determining presence requirements and alternatives for meeting them.

GAO noted that: (1) in response to changes in the security environment since the end of the Cold War, U.S. presence has changed significantly in different regions of the world; (2) for example, as a result of force reductions since 1988, fewer military forces are located overseas to provide presence; (3) also, because of these overseas force reductions and the changing security environment, DOD has restructured land-based prepositioned equipment and is maintaining more prepositioned equipment afloat; (4) the funding for presence approaches can be significant and varies widely by approach, ranging from millions to billions of dollars; (5) DOD requires the largest amount of funds to maintain the forces that provide presence; (6) officials from regional commands view all national security objectives and presence approaches to be important, but differ on their relative importance; (7) U.S. Atlantic Command and U.S. Central Command officials view initial crises response and deterrence as the most important objectives, while U.S. European Command officials cite deterrence; (8) U.S. Pacific Command officials believe all four objectives are equally important; (9) U.S. Southern Command officials cite reassurance and influence as the most important objectives; (10) these officials also differ on the approaches they consider most important to meeting these objectives; (11) some prefer using various types of forces, while others preferred military interaction activities; (12) in prioritizing objectives and approaches, command officials considered a number of factors, including the threats and the availability of forward-based U.S. forces in their respective region; (13) DOD does not have a specific process for determining Commander in Chief (CINC) presence requirements; (14) most of the forces used to provide an overseas presence are also needed to meet warfighting needs, diplomatic commitments, and other purposes; (15) DOD generally allocates forces to the CINCs based on these requirements, rather than on presence; (16) currently, DOD does not compile comprehensive information on all CINC presence approaches nor does it completely analyze the effectiveness of these approaches or whether more cost-effective alternatives might exist; and (17) DOD and CINC efforts to develop planning processes related to presence, if expanded, would provide an opportunity for DOD to better assess presence requirements and approaches.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation and is developing a process that will address the planning of engagement (activities) aspect of overseas presence. The recommendation addressed all aspects of presence (activities and forces). GAO continues to believe that DOD should integrate and analyze information on all presence approaches. However, DOD, in its response to Congress, maintained its position that the process it is developing will address engagement activities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the CINCs and the Secretary of State, should compile and analyze information on CINCs' presence requirements and approaches in a manner that would allow assessments of the effectiveness of current levels and mixes of forces and activities, and whether alternatives exist that could achieve national security objectives more cost-effectively.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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