As of 2013, per a Department of Defense Base Structure Report, the US had 598 overseas bases in 40 foreign countries. Almost 200,000 military personnel were deployed at those bases, and the cost of maintaining all this military readiness reached well into the billions – perhaps as high as $100 billion.
Some of these bases are necessary, like the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of them seem bizarrely frivolous, like the more than 150 base sites in Germany, more than 100 in Japan and more than 80 in South Korea, according to the Pentagon.
Why do we need so great a military presence in a country like Germany? Why do we need military bases in Honduras, Guam, Djibouti and The Netherlands? And why do we tolerate no military bases of foreign powers on our soil? If we’re helping Italy and Australia by placing bases in their territory, why do we not accept the assistance of allies in our lands?
Because it’s not really about protection. It’s about imperialism. We spend tens of thousands of dollars more each year to keep each soldier or sailor at a foreign base. Our water supply infrastructure degenerates, our roads deteriorate, our power grid decays into obsolescence and we pay military personnel to safeguard our nation in Greece and Greenland.
Military contractors, mostly. The Halliburtons and DynCorp Internationals. They build the bases and supply them at a massive profit. They resist the idea of closing them as dangerous to national security so we continue funding them while letting our investments in education, healthcare, transportation and housing suffer.
But maybe we’re helping these other countries by being there. Maybe we’re boosting their economies. Unfortunately, there’s very little evidence of that. Mostly when we close a base, and it doesn’t happen very often, there’s almost no adverse economic impact. Sometimes there’s even a positive one.
What about the plans of terrorists to attack us? Don’t these foreign bases help with rooting out evildoers? Again, we have no real evidence of that. Most of what we find we can discover whether or not we have a physical presence in another country. With recent advances in information technology we could likely obtain intelligence from Topeka, Kansas, as easily as we can from inside any other nation.
And maintaining bases in countries that are marginally unfriendly – countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and Qatar – often leads to greater radicalization of the local populace.
More importantly, the increased presence of bases abroad makes military intervention a more attractive option for our politicians. It’s easier to order a preemptive strike when you’ve got facilities only a few hours away. And with military bases around the world, we always have facilities no more than a few hours away.
We essentially live now in a permanently militarized society. We almost never close military bases. We need to maintain them, their apologists say, to keep our nation safe. These are usually the same people who say we need to cut fraud and waste in government so we have to cut programs that help the poor.
If we just rid ourselves of some of these obscene imperialist outcrops, we might be able to help the 1 in 5 American children living in poverty. But they don’t contribute to the coffers of the politicians who make the laws, so they don’t really count.
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