The US military hates to close overseas bases. It has a base in Cuba left over from the Spanish-American war, unneeded bases in Japan, England, and Germany left over from World War II, excess bases in Korea left over from that war, and newer bases in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and now Iraq left over from those adventures. Excess bases are costly to maintain and man, so some are closing. The US Army's 1st Armored Division is on its way to Iraq for peacekeeping duty and it will not return to Germany after this tour of duty. It is unknown if the division will stay in Iraq for years, be disbanded, or move to bases in the USA. The US Air Force has left it's bases in Saudi Arabia, although much just moved over to a new base in Qatar. The Air Force has also pulled most units out of Turkey and Pakistan, while the US Army has been told to reduce its unneeded presence in Korea and Germany.
This is great news for the US military and American taxpayers since the USA wastes billions of dollars each year on unneeded bases, particularly Army bases in Europe. Closing overseas bases does not require congressional approval, but is difficult since foreign governments and corporations employ lobbyists in Washington DC who make campaign contributions to keep "their" American bases open. These bases provide billions of dollars in annual economic aid to wealthy nations and employ tens of thousand of foreign citizens. Most of these nations claim to contribute to operating these bases, but the US military still pays most the bill. Japan contributes the most in the form of utilities and new construction. However, they inflate contributions by counting "rent" for base property and waived import duties for consumer goods sold at American bases. No nation makes direct monetary payments to the US military as part of "host nation support." The wealthy nation of Kuwait contributes nothing, not even fuel.
Senior American military officers hate the idea of closing overseas bases because they provide interesting duty stations and an imperial feeling. They served at these bases as young officers and become nostalgic, and do not want to abandon "their" facilities. However, about half of overseas bases serve no real purpose. As American communities politic to save their local bases from the 2005 base closing round, they should join together and demand the immediate formation of an Overseas Base Closure and Realignment Commission (OBRAC). Closing overseas bases can preserve thousands of base jobs in the USA. It is also much cheaper since the US military does not have to pay for base cleanup or worry about economic impact.
Deciding which bases to close is not difficult. The US Air Force should pull its fighter squadrons out of Misawa, Japan; Lakenheath, England; Keflavik, Iceland; and Spangdahlem, Germany, for the reasons stated in G2mil's October 2002 editorial. These bases will be retained by their host nation's armed forces. If American forces are ever truly needed, they can deploy there within days. The US Navy should close its luxury headquarters in London, where 1000 sailors do nothing. They pretend to command US Naval Forces in Europe, but that can be done from the joint European headquarters in Germany. The Navy also has 2000 sailors with the 6th Fleet Headquarters in Italy to command naval forces in Europe, whose value is also dubious.
The US Marine Corps should reduce its presence on the small Japanese island of Okinawa, something local residents have demanded for years. The US military operates from much of the best land on the island which locals want for tourism. The Marines promised to close its air station at Futenma within seven years in 1996, but that will be delayed since the Marines demand that Japan build a $5 billion offshore airbase. While Kadena Air Force base and storage facilities on Okinawa are valuable, there is no need to keep 20,000 Marines marooned there, especially since off-base incidents frequently strain relations with the Japanese. Restrictions on that small island make training almost pointless, and a few thousand Marines will make little difference if one million North Koreans insanely attack the five million man South Korean army.
Marine Generals must abandon the unrealistic idea of an offshore airbase and close Futenma within two years. The Marines can move a few aircraft over to Kadena, while the 2000-man 31st MEU on Okinawa and its amphibious ships in Sasebo, Japan move to Hawaii and utilize the excellent Pohakulao Training Area. The 3rd Marine Regiment in Hawaii can rotate its three battalions to keep one truly ready for instant deployment, rather than the awkward method of assigning a battalion as it arrives on Okinawa for a six-month rotation. Moreover, Marines in Hawaii can embark amphibs quicker at Pearl Harbor than waiting for amphibs from Sasebo to sail down to Okinawa, and Hawaii is closer to unstable nations in the South Pacific where a 2000-man MEU can rapidly deploy to protect Americans. This is why the 31st MEU (then the 35th MAU) deployments originated from Hawaii until twenty years ago.
In addition, the amphibs now at Sasebo will be safer from attack if based far from the Asian mainland. Keeping American aircraft and ships in the Philippines didn't deter the Japanese from attacking in 1941, they just provided easy targets for a surprise attack. Therefore, the Navy should close its expensive Sasebo base and save money too, or maybe just downsize it to a logistical hub like Singapore. It should also transfer its small base at White Beach on Okinawa to the Japanese Navy to maintain, and eliminate the headquarters there known as "Amphibious Group 1" which does absolutely nothing. III MEF headquarters on Okinawa with its 500 Marines would be more effective in Hawaii, while another infantry battalion now deployed to Okinawa should deploy worldwide to combat terrorism. Finally, shifting millions of military dollars from Japan to economically depressed Hawaii is best for America while cutting the number of US Marines on Okinawa will boost morale and retention. Many Marines retire early rather than going on their fourth or fifth senseless 6-12 month unaccompanied tour to "the rock".
Guarding the American empire has become stressful for servicemen. Overseas bases are easier terrorist targets, so security is strict and curfews common. America's aggressive foreign policy has made off-base travel dangerous and harassment by locals has become a problem in much of the world. The value of the US dollar has fallen 20% this past year, which has increased the cost of off-base goods and entertainment for all Americans, and made base operations costs soar. In addition, security costs have doubled and the use of foreign security personnel is worrisome since some may collaborate with terrorists, as the recent attack in Saudi Arabia demonstrated. As a result, the US military should rapidly close most of its overseas bases this year. Delaying closures only costs money, puts lives at risks, and allows lobbyists time to "influence" political leaders with "contributions".
When the US was forced out of its two big bases in the Philippines in 1992, fearmongers warned of instability in the Western Pacific. Nothing has occurred, except the USA saves a billion dollars a year in base operating costs and another billion a year in rent. The US military was also forced out of Panama in 1999, and now saves a billion dollars a year in operating costs while the Panama Canal still operates. For unknown reasons, large contracts have been awarded to build new American military facilities in Romania and Bulgaria. Fortunately, civilian leaders have realized there is no need to "station" troops and haul household goods and families to new overseas bases. All that is needed are storage and training facilities, and port and airfield access. Large transport aircraft and ships can move men and equipment from the USA to where the are needed when they are needed within days. Americans must demand action and insist that an OBRAC close half of overseas bases before the 2005 domestic base closure commission convenes to save the US military billions of dollars each year, preserve thousands of American jobs, and boost the morale of overworked servicemen.
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com
G2mil editorials may be freely distributed without permission
June 2003 Articles
Letters - comments from G2mil readers
have been returned to the Members Library
Tank Escorts - tanks need jammer protection
Protect Aircraft with Hangers - don't leave them outside
Mountaintop Launches - advantageous for spacecraft
Bring the Troops Home- ending the obsolete Korean commitment
GAO May 2003 Report; Defense Acquisitions - assessments of major weapons programs
War and Intelligence - Seymour Hersh on Iraq
US army chief says Iraqi troops took bribes to surrender - fighting smart
Saving Private Lynch Story Flawed - rescue story was false
Secrets Galore From Iraq - 15 Abrams tanks were lost in Iraq
Casualties of War - American victims of the Iraq war; the 31 killed in May are not included
Fewer Contractors, Bigger Pie - weapon's maker monopolies
Previous G2mil - May 2003 issue
Past Editorials - by Carlton Meyer
Library Tour - visit G2mil's library
Library Entrance - members only
All material in G2mil Copyright 2003 G2mil, patents pending on some items. Links to www.G2mil.com are encouraged.