ATHENS — One day last February, several hundred Greek demonstrators gathered near a U.S. naval base on the island of Crete to burn the moorings of an American supply ship, the Saturn, and to throw bottles at some of the sailors.
When U.S. officials here protested that local police had stood by and done nothing to stop the demonstrators, the Greek government of Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou icily dismissed the complaint. Some crew members on the Saturn "overreacted" to the demonstrators, said Synephys Drakopoulos of the Greek Foreign Ministry.
It was just one of several tense incidents this year over the four American military bases in Greece, which serve as a linchpin for U.S. naval and intelligence operations in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
With negotiations on the future of the bases under way, security for U.S. officials in Greece is now so tight that a senior U.S. diplomat acknowledged in an interview: "We have 190 people, and the problem is how far down in the ranks do we go with armored cars and putting police inside people's homes?
The difficulties the United States faces in Greece are typical of those elsewhere in the world as U.S. officials strive to overcome growing political opposition abroad to American military bases.
The opposition comes not merely from fringe or terrorist groups, but from prominent, elected officials, such as Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and Greek Prime Minister Papandreou, who have pledged to voters to limit or get rid of U.S. military facilities.
Even in Britain, the closest of all U.S. allies, opposition to U.S. bases figured prominently in last year's general election. Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock called for the withdrawal of all U.S. nuclear forces from bases in Britain within five years. His party lost but received 33% of the vote.
Earlier this year, Spain ordered the United States to remove its planes from the Torrejon Air Base near Madrid. The United States also faces tough negotiations over the future of bases in Portugal, the Philippines and several other nations.
In many countries, government officials and intellectuals argue that the American bases should be viewed primarily as an outgrowth of the global rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. Protective of their sovereignty, the nations are increasingly sensitive about being perceived as a military outpost for one side.
The growth of the anti-nuclear movement overseas also has inflamed objections to the nuclear weapons kept at some of the 759 American base sites around the world.
In the past, the United States was often able to keep its overseas bases by making deals with foreign autocrats like Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos, dictators like Spain's Generalissimo Francisco Franco or military regimes like the Greek government of Col. George Papadopoulos.
Now, U.S. officials often find themselves negotiating with democratic governments, and in many cases the legacy of the past has become a political liability.
This year, after Spain ordered the U.S. Air Force to remove its squadron of 72 F-16s from Torrejon Air Base, Julian Santamaria, the Spanish ambassador to the United States, observed: "Had the base at Torrejon been established by a democratic government, (we) would have to take the heat for that." Instead, he noted, the agreement for the base was negotiated by Franco "without popular consent."
In recent years, the United States has taken some steps to try to defuse nationalist sentiments. It has stopped insisting on the right to fly the American flag over U.S. bases and has allowed foreign governments to place their own military commanders inside American facilities, although some areas generally remain off-limits to them.
U.S. officials have even tried making changes in the language they use in an attempt to make the bases more acceptable. "We don't call them bases any more," said a State Department official. "They're facilities to which the United States has access."
'Bases Are Not Here for Us'
American officials regularly seek to persuade foreign governments that U.S. bases help protect their nations from Soviet attack. But this argument seems to carry less and less weight. "The reality is that these bases are not here for us," said Philippine Foreign Minister Raul Manglapus this year. "They are here for the United States."
Sometimes, the most persuasive argument for keeping the American bases is money--that is, the U.S. military aid paid to some countries with bases, along with other economic benefits. "These bases are a gold mine for these countries," said Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.