Can U.S. Still Afford 1,000 Overseas Military Bases?

Monday, March 02, 2009
Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders Entertain Troops in Djibouti( photo: Joe Zuccaro, U.S. Air Force)

As Americans face an economic crisis that is worsening by the day, it is time to ask whether U.S. taxpayers can afford to maintain the estimated 1,000 overseas military bases that the nation continues to operate.

The Pentagon officially reports 865 base sites, but this unreliable number does not include our bases in Iraq (more than 100) or Afghanistan (80 and counting), not to mention other secret bases. The vast military presence of the United States extends around the entire globe, with military facilities on every continent, in places like Bulgaria, Djibouti, Bahrain, and Qatar, as well as Australia, Colombia and Greece, to name just a few. Even more than 60 years after the end of World War II and 55 years after the end of the Korean War, the U.S. still has 268 bases in Germany, 124 in Japan, and 87 in South Korea. The Pentagon also funds and supports a ski center in the Bavarian Alps, resorts in Seoul and Tokyo, and 234 golf courses worldwide—facilities apparently considered vital to our national security.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “The USA’s military spending accounted for 45 per cent of the world total in 2007.”
Using data from 2005, the Pentagon estimated that its overseas bases were worth at least $127 billion. Although this figure is likely an underestimation, it is still larger than the gross domestic products of most countries.
Some within the Bush administration saw the wastefulness of our over-extended overseas military network. In 2004, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld estimated that Americans could save at least $12 billion by closing 200 to 300 bases alone.
The National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan research group, created an online calculator that allows you to see how much money is being sent to the war in Iraq from taxes from your locality (city, county, state, nation), as well as what could have been provided for the same amount of money. According to the calculator, U.S. taxpayers have paid or will pay “$656.1 billion for total Iraq war spending approved to date.” For the same amount of money, we could have provided health care for all the children in the U.S. for four years; or renewable electricity for all homes in the U.S. for six years; or four years’ salary for every elementary school teacher in the country.
Although the maintenance of some bases is necessary, considering these staggering numbers, it seems essential that the Obama administration reassess the necessity of keeping all 1,000 overseas bases.
Where the Money Goes (by Norman Solomon, San Francisco Chronicle)
Too Many Overseas Bases (by David Vine, Foreign Policy in Focus)
737 U.S. Military Bases = Global Empire (by Chalmers Johnson, Metropolitan Books)


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