‘Close US military bases and save money, lives’

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Now comes a new — and quite reasonable — proposal on what to do with the 700 US military bases overstaying in various countries across the world: Close them all, and save money and lives.

The idea comes from David Vine, associate professor at the American University in Washington and author of a forthcoming book, “Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World.” Vine, who conducted a six-year study of the bases, provides a succinct presentation of his findings in a recent op-ed piece in the International New York Times.

He takes off from the likelihood that, under a mandated Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, the US Congress will soon approve the closure of another round of military bases in America, in light of the Pentagon’s estimate that the domestic bases network is more than 20% excessive.

In agreeing with the Pentagon’s assessment, Vine urges a further step: “pair a new round of domestic base closings with base closings abroad” – no matter that the BRAC process doesn’t apply to overseas bases.

His rationale: The overseas bases are excessive too, and they “both waste taxpayers’ money and undermine [US] national security.” Each year, Vine notes, American taxpayers pay $10,000 to $40,000 more for every soldier assigned overseas than for one stationed in the homeland.

The over 700 US military bases include 174 in Germany, 113 in Japan, 83 in South Korea, and “hundreds more in some 70 countries, from Aruba [the Caribbean] to Kenya [Africa] to Thailand [Asia].” Maintaining these bases cost at least $85 billion in 2014 – and that’s a very conservative calculation, Vine emphasizes, adding that money spent for the sustained US military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq can bloat the bill to $156 billion.

“Unfortunately, many inside and outside the military are committed to maintaining a large and extravagant system of bases abroad,” he laments. For example, he says, in Europe the Pentagon has spent billions building new bases at the same time that it’s been closing others.

President Obama’s 2011 “pivot to Asia-Pacific” strategy, Vine points out, has meant “billions more in spending in a region where the military already has hundreds of bases and tens of thousands of troops.” Obama has assured no spending cuts on his program to deploy 60% of US maritime and related forces into the region. “Billions of dollars have likewise gone to building a new and permanent base infrastructure in the Persian Gulf,” he adds.

Vine debunks both the concern expressed by many that closing military bases abroad “will signal an isolationist turn [for the US] and weaken national security” and what he termed the “outdated Cold War ‘forward strategy’” that national security requires overseas bases because “they deter enemies and keep the peace.”

Studies by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Bush administration and by the Rand Corporation, he says, show that “advances in moving forces by air and sea have largely erased the advantage of forward stationing of troops; the military can generally deploy troops just as quickly from domestic bases as it can from bases abroad.”

Furthermore, “little if any empirical research proves the effectiveness of overseas bases as a form of long-term deterrence,” Vine avers. On the contrary, he mentions the following negative situations and consequences:

• US military presence abroad has provoked antipathy towards Americans. Examples: US troops became targets of bombings in Germany in the 1980s; in 2000 the US Navy destroyer Cole was attacked in Yemen.

• US troops in Saudi Arabia were part of Osama bin Laden’s “professed motivation” for the September 11, 2001 deadly attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Research shows that US military bases and troops in the Middle East “correlate with Al Qaida recruitment,” and have been (per foreign policy analyst Bradley Bowman) “major catalysts for anti-Americanism and radicalization.”

• Foreign American bases tend to heighten military tensions and discourage diplomatic solutions to conflicts. (China, Russia, and Iran view US bases near their borders as threats that encourage them to increase military spending.) Such overseas bases “can actually make war more likely and America less secure.”

• Worldwide, military bases have also engendered environmental damage [such as toxic wastes left behind in Clark Air Base], forced displacement, prostitution, accidents, and crimes.

The deleterious impacts of prolonged operations of US military bases in the Philippines, Japan, South Korea have spurred long-running campaigns by the people in the three nations demanding the withdrawal of American troops and dismantling of the bases.

In September 1991, strong popular pressure prevailed on our Senate to vote against the extension of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement – spurning then President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino’s personal appeal for extension.

Well, her only son, now President himself, has practically restored the US military bases here — and multiples of them, free of any charge, wherever in the country the US may request to set up facilities. He has done so via the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will declare the “executive agreement” unconstitutional, as urged in the petition pending before it.

Besides the primordial issues of upholding our national sovereignty and the specific provisions of the 1987 Constitution, Vine argues for sustainable economic development that would result from the permanent closure of US military bases abroad.

Compared with other forms of economic activity, he points out, “[b]ases are unproductive uses of land, employing relatively few people given the large expanses occupied, and contributing little to local economic growth.”

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E-mail: satur.ocampo@gmail.com
Published in The Philippine Star
August 1, 2015

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