We have somewhere around 800 U.S. military bases outside the 50 states and Washington, D.C. and there are hundreds of thousands of troops and hundreds of thousands of family members living on and around these bases. The vast majority of U.S. bases overseas were built during or after World War II; many of them, of course, were in Germany and Japan. So they were bases of occupation initially and over time, transitioned to bases that some locals felt were a continuation of occupation and others embraced in a variety of ways. But this network – really unprecedented network of bases grew up in World War II, shrunk a bit after the end of the war and then basically has stayed in place ever since. There was a shrinkage of the base network at the end of the Cold War. But a massive network of still remained in place.
Many argue that there have been a number of harms that these bases have inflicted on local communities there have been accidents, crimes committed by U.S. personnel, environmental damage whole range of damage that people were quite upset about. As the Cold War developed, we see France evict the United States in the mid-1960s. We see countries like Trinidad and Tobago evict the United States, also in the 1960s, and we see growing protest movements in places like Okinawa that continue to the present.
But we think that the US bases are increasing national security or the security of the world. It’s important also to point out that a major way in which the United States engages with the rest of the world is through these military bases. Most of our foreign hosts want us there. When the US Army recently began planning on moving out of Heidelberg Germany, that city hired a lobbyist to lobby the US Congress to change that decision. Let me restate that–they fought to have the US Army stay. Eastern European countries are also clamouring for our troops to be stationed there. Overseas base are NOT “extraordinarily costly compared to keeping U.S. troops in the United States. They are more expensive, but not greatly so. And the benefits are enormous. Daily interactions with our allies are what builds trust and interoperbility. Virtual presence is no presence. Moreover most of the nations in which we maintain permanent bases are important allies and appreciate our presence as that presence has contributed to a lasting peace on their soil since the end of World War II. It is truly a win win for them, and not having to deploy to defuse a crisis in motion makes a good deal for us too.
Overall we think any analysis to shut or remove the bases has to be done not in sweeping terms, but on a case by case, nation by nation basis. There may be a few of our installations that are a net negative, but the real money and most of our effort is well spent in securing peace in important regions of the world.
This Opinion piece is contributed by Celso Pacheco & Naved Jafry