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Don’t Just Close Bases at Home, Close Them Overseas | No DalMolin

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16 agosto 2015

Don’t Just Close Bases at Home, Close Them Overseas

 

THERE are signs that Congress may soon approve another series of domestic military base closings, after the Pentagon threatened earlier this month to cut nearly 90,000 jobs instead. For years, the military has been trying to save money with new rounds of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), the congressionally mandated process for shuttering underutilized domestic military installations.

from New York Times

WASHINGTON — THERE are signs that Congress may soon approve another series of domestic military base closings, after the Pentagon threatened earlier this month to cut nearly 90,000 jobs instead. For years, the military has been trying to save money with new rounds of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), the congressionally mandated process for shuttering underutilized domestic military installations.

The move could save billions since, by the Pentagon’s own estimate, our network of domestic bases is bloated by more than 20 percent. But Congress has resisted, since local bases mean local jobs, and votes.

BRAC, however, does not apply to the more than 700 United States bases overseas, including 174 in Germany, 113 in Japan and 83 in South Korea, as well as hundreds more in some 70 countries from Aruba to Kenya to Thailand. The military and Congress should go further by closing installations abroad. They both waste taxpayer money and undermine national security.

Each year, United States taxpayers pay on average $10,000 to $40,000 more for each service member stationed abroad, compared with those at home. By my very conservative calculations completed during a six-year study of overseas bases, maintaining installations and troops overseas cost at least $85 billion in 2014 — more than the discretionary budget of every government agency except the Defense Department itself. Adding our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the bill could reach $156 billion.

The Bush and Obama administrations have made some progress closing bases, especially in Europe. Still, the military has acknowledged having excess base capacity worldwide.

Unfortunately, many inside and outside the military are committed to maintaining a large and extravagant system of bases abroad. In Europe, for example, the Pentagon has spent billions building new bases at the same time it’s been closing others. President Obama’s “Pacific pivot” has meant billions more in spending in a region where the military already has hundreds of bases and tens of thousands of troops. Billions of dollars have likewise gone to building a new and permanent base infrastructure in the Persian Gulf.

Halting new construction and closing more Cold War bases in Europe are obvious ways to achieve savings, and scrapping ill-conceived multibillion-dollar buildups in the Pacific and Persian Gulf are other important steps.

Many, understandably, worry that closing overseas bases will signal an isolationist turn and weaken national security, especially given growing Chinese power and increasing tensions with Russia. Proponents of our outdated Cold War “forward strategy” feel that national security requires overseas bases because they deter enemies and keep the peace.

However, studies by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Bush administration and by the RAND Corporation 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. And little if any empirical research proves the effectiveness of overseas bases as a form of long-term deterrence.

Meanwhile, our presence abroad has provoked antipathy toward Americans. In some cases, troops have been convenient targets, as in bombings in Germany in the 1980s or the 2000 attack on the Navy destroyer Cole in Yemen. United States troops in Saudi Arabia were part of Osama bin Laden’s professed motivation for the 9/11 attacks. Research shows that United States bases and troops in the Middle East correlate with Al Qaeda recruitment and have been, in the words of the foreign policy analyst Bradley F. Bowman, “major catalysts for anti-Americanism and radicalization.”

The military also shows a troubling preference for keeping bases in undemocratic states like Bahrain and Qatar, making a mockery of rhetoric that says bases spread democracy. Worldwide, bases have resulted in environmental damage, forced displacement, prostitution, accidents and crime. Military families likewise suffer the strain of distant postings and separations.

The Pentagon and Congress should pair a new round of domestic base closings with base closings abroad. While base communities will need transition assistance, dire predictions about post-closing life are exaggerated. Research reveals that the economic impact of base closures on surrounding communities is generally limited and in some cases actually positive. This is unsurprising: Bases are unproductive uses of land compared with other forms of economic activity, employing relatively few people given the large expanses occupied and contributing little to local economic growth.

Shuttering overseas installations should be easy compared with the political challenge of closing domestic bases. After all, United States politicians have few constituents abroad facing a loss of local employment or income.

Closing unneeded domestic and overseas bases is a realistic and necessary step toward improving the country’s financial and physical security.

Correction: July 28, 2015
Because of a production error, the headline and illustration credit, and more than 100 words from two paragraphs, were omitted in some editions from an Op-Ed article Monday about United States military bases. The illustration was by Angus Greig.

David Vine, an associate professor of anthropology at American University, is the author of the forthcoming book “Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World.”