What do the following places have in common - Afghanistan, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, Iraq, Japan, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia and South Korea? They all have US army bases. There are dozens of them. To which add enjoyment or otherwise of the presence of US Navy headquarters and warships by the Bahamas, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, El Salvador, Cuba (Guantanamo Bay), Greece, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Although it is unlikely that any more South American countries will allow the US to establish a military base (Ecuador will cancel its airbase agreement next year), the newly-created US Fourth Fleet is patrolling off the shores of Venezuela, menacing its democratically elected leader, Hugo Chavez, who has incurred the wrath of US business interests by running his country more efficiently without their presence. Venezuela has lots of oil, which may have added to Washington's priority in creating a 12-ship fleet to "build confidence and trust among nations through collective maritime security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interests." But it isn't clear what confidence and trust can be created by a nuclear aircraft carrier and amphibious assault ships whose ostensible mission involves countering drug smuggling and, inevitably, taking part in the absurd War On Terror. President Chavez said words to the effect that he wondered what US reaction be if a South American nation sent a fleet to patrol the coast of Virginia, and of course he is perfectly right in fearing the baleful American presence. Who knows what special forces knuckle-draggers and CIA psychotics are going to be deployed to assist the US-supported anti-Chavez underground that already exists. (The Fourth Fleet is commanded by Admiral Joseph D Kernan, a former special forces commander; the signal could not be clearer.) In May a US Navy Viking electronic warfare aircraft "accidentally" flew into Venezuelan airspace, which doesn't provide much confidence in a navy operating a super-sophisticated plane, with every up-to-date navigation device, that can lose its way so easily. But it could be deduced that the plane was deliberately trailing its coat to assess the effectiveness of Venezuela's defence radar system, just as is done every day in the Gulf by US aircraft and ships closing up to Iran's coastline to plot radar and other defence facilities in order to be able to bomb them if Bush decides to encourage Israel to attack Iran. There is also a US navy, Marine and air force base in Diego Garcia, a British territory, in which there is a CIA prison. This territory was given to the US illegally, and Britain's highest judiciary recently ordered that the original inhabitants should be allowed to return to their homes, but the ruling was ignored by the British government. The power of Bush Washington is such that the government of a sovereign nation considers it must put the interests of a foreign country above those of its people. The US Marines are in force in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Djibouti, Germany, the United Kingdom, Iraq, Japan (13 bases, around which protest is common as there have been several rape cases), and Kuwait, while the United States Air Force has bases in Afghanistan, Antigua, Aruba, Bulgaria, Colombia, Curacao, Ecuador, Germany, Greenland, Honduras, Italy, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Panama, Qatar and Turkey as well as in US colonies such as Guam, where "The US military maintains jurisdiction over its bases, which cover approximately 39,000 acres (160 km), or 29 percent of the island's total land area." The US has fourteen "overseas territories" including Guam, in the Pacific, in which "US Naval Forces Marianas oversees the US Navy's largest and most strategic island base located in the Western Pacific. It is home to over 160,000 residents and more than 12,000 military members and their families. Guam is the most populated island in the geographical area known as Micronesia," and in milspeak is "Supporting Command to the Warfighter" - whatever that means, as there is no war going on in the region so far as one can make out. Then there are US military bases in Australia (enormous complexes that spy electronically on the East Asian region) and in countless other countries. In addition to the some 780 major bases in all parts of the world, there is a significant US military presence in, for example, the Philippines (which chucked the US out of its many bases in 1992 because Washington would not tell its government whether or not there were nuclear weapons stored in Philippine territory), together with Algeria, Ghana, India, Mali, Morocco, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tunisia and Uganda. In all these countries there are more US military personnel than is justified by the purposes of normal diplomatic liaison. The one bright light is that the newly created US Africa Command is regarded with justifiable suspicion by African nations, who have refused to have the Command in the continent, making it necessary for the HQ to remain in Germany, of all places. It is intended to build anti-ballistic missile bases in Poland (missiles), the Czech Republic (radars), and in any other eastern European country whose governments can be bullied or bribed to take them. But it seems that the people of these countries, who will not benefit from the cosy arrangements made with senior government figures, are far from favouring close association with an imperial power. They had their fill of empire when under the yoke of Moscow, and the addled yolk of Washington has little appeal. Washington's justification for establishing these bases is that Iran has missiles from which Europe must be protected, which is balderdash, as Iran poses no threat whatever to Europe. The reason for creating military bases so close to Russia is to keep Moscow on edge regarding US capabilities. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Nato, was designed to combat the Soviet Union's military power, which posed a threat to Europe. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, its military grouping, the Warsaw Pact was disbanded. The threat disappeared. And Nato should have disappeared, too, as it is no longer relevant to North Atlantic or European defence. But the United States has made it a priority to antagonise Russia and menace it militarily, just as it is threatening Iran by surrounding it by military bases. Washington encouraged expansion of Nato to include ten countries close to the Russian border. Russia has shown independence by controlling and disciplining western oil interests whose idea of deal-making was in classic colonial tradition, and this, combined with growing economic and military self-confidence in Moscow, is deemed unacceptable by Washington and London. (For example, BP's idea of arranging contracts with a foreign company is consistent with its being registered in the Virgin Islands tax haven, and thus being immune from the laws of a host nation. Why they thought Russia would accept such arrogance is not clear.) Hence the determination to make it clear that Russian economic growth and re-establishment of national confidence are to be discouraged and curbed. The US commentator Chalmers Johnson summed up his country's foreign policy by observing that "Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism <http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Imperialism> by counting up colonies. America's version of the colony is the military base." Quite so. Which is all the more reason for Pakistan to resist establishment of US bases in its territory. American withdrawal from all these places would be welcome but will never happen. The world is stuck with a baleful military superpower, intent on continuing imperial domination. Little wonder Russia and China - and Osama bin Laden - are so popular in so many places. The writer is a South Asian political and military affairs analyst E-mail: beecluff@aol.com Website: www.briancloughley.com