by Matt Hoh
I was pleased to be one of the signatories calling for the Pentagon to be more transparent about its overseas bases.
The US has at least 800 military bases in foreign countries. By comparison, the rest of the world combined has less than 30 bases in foreign countries. There are also US special operations and CIA bases, so called “black sites”, that are notorious for torture, illegal detention, disregard for military, US and international law, and operated without civilian or congressional oversight.
It’s argued that these US bases are welcomed by the host nations, but in many nations, such as South Korea, Okinawa and Germany, large segments of the population, in some cases majorities, do not want the US bases.
Claims that the bases provide economic benefits greater than the absence of the bases would provide have been proven untrue by studies in Korea, Japan and Germany. In a conversation I recently had with a Polish citizen, I was informed the anger at the lack of benefits provided, as opposed to those that were promised, by the relatively recent establishment of US bases is beginning to coalesce.
The third major claim for the munificence of overseas US bases is that the mass US military presence brings stability. This, of course, is belied by the wars over the last thirty years throughout the Middle East, Ukraine, and the Balkans. Perhaps the most egregious example of the instability provided by US bases is in Africa where in the year prior to the establishment of the United States African Command (Africom), less than 20 terror attacks were recorded on the African continent. More than ten years after the establishment of Africom more than 2,000 terror attacks were recorded last year.
These overseas bases embody not just the infrastructure of the US Empire, but the worst aspects of the Empire’s illegality, immorality and harm.
The Overseas Base Realignment and Closure Coalition, “a group of military base experts from across the political spectrum,” is calling on Congress to mandate a reporting requirement on overseas bases. In a letter to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, the group of experts says the information that the Department of Defense currently provides on the cost and location of overseas bases is very “limited” and the “data is frequently incomplete.” This lack of transparency, they write, has allowed the Pentagon to erroneously claim America’s empire of overseas military bases - some 800 installations in 70 or 80 countries around the world - only costs taxpayers $20 billion per year, even while more inclusive independent estimates go as high as $150 billion per year.
Dear President Donald J. Trump, Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, Members of Congress,
The undersigned represent a broad group of military analysts, scholars, advocates, and other military base experts from across the political spectrum who support closing U.S. military bases overseas. As a result of a forward deployment strategy that dates to the first years of the Cold War, the United States today maintains approximately 800 base sites in around 80 foreign countries. The rest of the world’s nations together have fewer than 80 foreign bases.
The signatories have different ideas about how many bases to close but find broad agreement about the following nine reasons to begin closing foreign bases and improve national and international security in the process:
- Overseas bases cost taxpayers billions every year. It costs an average of $10,000-$40,000 more per year to station military personnel on overseas bases compared to domestic bases. The country spends an estimated $51.5 billion annually to build and run bases abroad—at a time when the national debt exceeds $21 trillion and domestic infrastructure is crumbling.
- Overseas bases are now largely obsolete thanks to technological advancements. Because of advances in air and sealift and other military technology, rapid response forces can deploy to virtually any region fast enough to be based in the continental United States. The development of extremely accurate intermediate- and long-range ballistic missiles also makes overseas bases vulnerable to asymmetric attacks that are very difficult to defend against. In northeast Asia, for example, more than 90 percent of U.S. air facilities are in high-threat areas.
- Overseas bases entangle the U.S. in wars. Bases dotting the globe fuel hyper-interventionist foreign policy by making war look like an easy solution while offering targets for militants.
- Overseas bases increase military tension. Rather than deterring adversaries, U.S. bases can exacerbate security threats by antagonizing other countries into greater military spending and aggression. Russia, for example, justifies its interventions in Georgia and Ukraine by pointing to encroaching U.S. bases in Eastern Europe. China feels encircled by the more than 250 U.S. bases in the region, leading to a more assertive policy in the South China Sea.
- Overseas bases support dictators and repressive, undemocratic regimes. Scores of U.S. bases are in more than 40 authoritarian and less-than-democratic countries, including Bahrain, Turkey, Thailand, and Niger. These bases are a sign of support for governments implicated in murder, torture, suppressing democratic rights, oppressing women and minorities, and other human rights abuses. Far from spreading democracy, bases abroad often block the spread of democracy.
- Overseas bases cause blowback. In the Middle East in particular, U.S. bases and troops have provoked terrorist threats, radicalization, and anti-American propaganda. Bases near Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia were a major recruiting tool for al-Qaeda.
- Overseas bases damage the environment. Bases abroad have a long track record of damaging local environments as a result of toxic leaks, accidents, the dumping of hazardous materials, and base construction.
- Overseas bases damage America’s international reputation and generate protest. Because people tend not to like their land occupied by foreign militaries, it’s unsurprising that bases abroad generate some degree of opposition almost everywhere they’re found (causing problems for the military). Crimes by military personnel, including rapes and murders, and deadly accidents also damage America’s reputation and generate protest. Bases in colonized U.S. territories perpetuate their diminished sovereignty and 2nd class citizenship.
- Overseas bases are bad for families. Deployments overseas can separate military personnel from their families for months and years, damaging relationships. Even when families enjoy the opportunity to accompany military personnel abroad, frequent moves are disruptive to the careers, schooling, and lives of spouses and children.
Compared to closing domestic bases, closing overseas bases is easy. Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush closed hundreds of unnecessary bases in Europe and Asia. The Trump administration can do the same. This would mean bringing home thousands of personnel and family members who would contribute to the domestic economy.
In the interest of national, global, and fiscal security, we urge President Trump and Secretary Mattis, supported by Congress, to begin a process to close bases overseas and relocate military personnel and families to domestic bases, where there is well-documented excess capacity.
Affiliations are for identification purposes only.
Gordon Adams, Professor Emeritus, School of International Service, American University
Christine Ahn, Founder and International Coordinator, Women Cross DMZ
Noam Chomsky, Laureate Professor of Linguistics, Agnese Nelms Haury Chair, University of
Arizona/Professor Emeritus Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Andrew Bacevich, Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History, Boston University,
Colonel, US Army (Ret.)
Medea Benjamin, Author and Co-director, CODEPINK for Peace
Phyllis Bennis, Director, New Internationalism Project, Institute for Policy Studies
Hon. Kerry Bentivolio, 113th US Congress (2013-15)/US Army (Ret.)
Leah Bolger, Commander, US Navy (Ret.)/Chair, World Beyond War
Ivan Eland, Director, Center on Peace and Liberty, The Lighthouse Institute
Cynthia Enloe, Research Professor, Political Science, Clark University
John Feffer, Director, Foreign Policy in Focus, Institute for Policy Studies
Irene Gendzier, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Boston University
Joseph Gerson, President, Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security
Eugene Gholz, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame
William Hartung, Director, Arms and Security Project, Center for International Policy
David C. Hendrickson, Professor of Political Science, Colorado College
Patrick Hiller, Executive Director, War Prevention Initiative
Amy Holmes, Associate Professor, American University in Cairo/Visiting Scholar, Harvard
Kyle Kajihiro, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa/Hawaiʻi Peace and Justice
Gwyn Kirk, Women for Genuine Security
Kate Kizer, Policy Director, Win Without War
Lawrence Korb, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower Installations and Logistics
Lindsay Koshgarian, Program Director, National Priorities Project
Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University
Major General Dennis Laich, US Army (Ret.)/Executive Director, The All-Volunteer Force Forum
John Lindsay-Poland, Coordinator, Stop US Arms to Mexico Project/Global Exchange
Catherine Lutz, Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Family Professor of Anthropology and International
Studies, The Watson Institute and Department of Anthropology, Brown University
Kevin Martin, President, Peace Action
Paul Kawika Martin, Senior Director, Policy and Political Affairs, Peace Action
Satoko Oka Norimatsu, Editor, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus
Miriam Pemberton, Associate Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies
Elaine Scarry, Cabot Professor of Aesthetics, Harvard University
Mark Selden, Senior Research Associate, East Asia Program, Cornell University
Mandy Smithberger, Director, Straus Military Reform Project, Center for Defense Information,
Project on Government Oversight
Del Spurlock, Former General Counsel and Assistant Secretary of the US Army for Manpower
and Reserve Affairs
David Swanson, Coalition Against U.S. Foreign Military Bases/Director, World BEYOND War
John Tierney, Former Member of Congress (1997-2015)/Executive Director, Council for a Livable World, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
David Vine, Professor of Anthropology, American University
Allan Vogel, Director, Foreign Policy Alliance, Inc.
Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Colonel, US Army (Ret.)/Former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin
Powell/Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy, College of William and Mary
Ann Wright, Colonel US Army (Ret.)/Former Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassies in
Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, and Mongolia