What good are foreign military bases?

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If you’re like most people in the United States, you have a vague awareness that the U.S. military keeps lots of troops permanently stationed on foreign bases around the world. But have you ever wondered and really investigated to find out how many, and where exactly, and at what cost, and to what purpose, and in terms of what relationship with the host nations?

A wonderfully researched new book, six years in the works, answers these questions in a manner you’ll find engaging whether you’ve ever asked them or not. It’s called Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Harm America and the World, by David Vine.

Some 800 bases with hundreds of thousands of troops in some 70 nations, plus all kinds of other “trainers” and “non-permanent” exercises that last indefinitely, maintain an ongoing U.S. military presence around the world for a price tag of at least $100 billion a year.

Even if you think there is some reason to be able to quickly deploy thousands of U.S. troops to any spot on earth, airplanes now make that as easily done from the United States as from Korea or Japan or Germany or Italy.

It costs dramatically more to keep troops in those other countries, and while some base defenders make a case for economic philanthropy, the evidence is that local economies actually benefit little — and suffer little when a base leaves. Neither does the U.S. economy benefit, of course. Rather, certain privileged contractors benefit, along with those politicians whose campaigns they fund. And if you think military spending is unaccountable at home, you should check out bases abroad where it’s none too rare to have security guards employed purely to guard cooks whose sole job is to feed the security guards. The military has a term for any common SNAFU, and the term for this one is “self-licking ice cream.”…

Bases around the borders of Russia and China are generating new hostility and arms races, and even proposals by Russia and China to open foreign bases of their own. Currently all non-U.S. foreign bases in the world total no more than 30, with most of those belonging to close U.S. allies, and not a single one of them being in or anywhere near the United States, which would of course be considered an outrage.

Remember – we have about 800.

Many U.S. bases are hosted by brutal dictatorships. An academic study has identified a strong U.S. tendency to defend dictatorships where the United States has bases. In fact, when brutal and undemocratic governments currently hosting U.S. bases…are protested, there is a pattern of increased U.S. support for the government…The U.S. began building new bases in Honduras shortly after the 2009 coup…

The smaller bases that don’t house tens of thousands of troops, but secretive death squads or drones, have a tendency to make wars more likely. The drone war on Yemen that was labeled a success by President Obama last year has helped fuel a larger war…

By preparing for wars in foreign locations, the U.S. is often able to evade all kinds of legal restrictions — including on labor and the environment, not to mention prostitution…The sexual disaster area surrounding U.S. bases has continued to this day, despite the decision in 1945 to start sending families to live with soldiers — a policy that now includes shipping each soldier’s entire worldly possessions including automobiles around the world with them, not to mention providing single-payer healthcare and twice the spending on schooling as the national average back home…

The most isolated and lawless base sites include locations from which the U.S. military evicted the local population. These include bases in Diego Garcia, Greenland, Alaska, Hawaii, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Marshall Islands, Guam, the Philippines, Okinawa, and South Korea — with people evicted as recently as 2006 in South Korea…

Disregard for people and the land and the sea is built into the very idea of foreign bases. The United States would never tolerate another nation’s base within its borders, yet imposes them on Okinawans, South Koreans, Italians, Filipinos, Iraqis, and others despite huge protest.

Base Nation is a book that should be read — and its maps seen — by everyone…I wish he did not only use selfish points of reference in terms of financial tradeoffs. Of course the United States could be transformed for the better with the redirection of military spending, but the United States and the world both could be. It’s that much money.

But this book will be an invaluable resource for years to come. It also includes, I should note, an excellent account of some of the resistance struggles that have in some cases shut bases down or scaled them back. It’s worth noting that just this week, in the first of two necessary rulings, an Italian court has ruled for the people, against the U.S. Navy’s construction of communications equipment in Sicily.

The reviewer makes one important point within the article. He considers David Vine parochial in his criticism of this waste of money. Vine only talks about what could be done to better life for American families instead. Cripes, we’re discussing enough money to make life better for the whole world.

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