Ten Reasons to Withdraw all US Foreign Military Bases
Joseph Gerson is a Director of Programs at the American Friends Service Committee, and the author of The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of US Military Bases. The full-length version of the "Ten Reasons" list is available for download from www.afsc.org/pes.
Bases Increase the Likelihood of War
The US maintains an unprecedented infrastructure of more than 700 US foreign military bases. In recent years such bases have been essential to the US wars against Iraq, the 1998 war against Serbia, the US invasion of Panama, and the current wars within Colombia and the Philippines. The 200-plus US military bases and installations in Japan and South Korea increase the likelihood of future US wars against North Korea and China.
Bases Provide a Launching Point for Nuclear Attack
In many ways, the US first-strike nuclear doctrine is made possible by the forward deployment of nuclear weapons in Belgium, Britain, Greece, Germany, Holland, and Turkey. US communications bases in Britain, Japan, Australia, and other nations are essential for communicating orders to initiate nuclear war and for targeting nuclear and other high-tech weapons.
Bases Undermine the Sovereignty of Nations
Hawai'i, the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba were invaded and occupied by the US because they were ideal sites for bases needed to conquer markets in China, elsewhere in Asia, and Latin America. Colonial and client governments were imposed or created by the US to ensure continued US access to the bases. After the wars in which they were defeated, the US has insisted that Japan, Germany, Serbia and other nations "host" US military bases for the long term. Consistent with this tradition, the Bush administration is spending $1 billion a year for "enduring" military bases in Iraq.
Bases Hurt Democracy and Human Rights
The US has supported or imposed dictators and other repressive governments to gain or preserve access to military bases. For more than a decade, Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan supported the brutal Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines to preserve the US hold on strategically located air and naval bases. In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the US has defended repressive monarchies to secure its military bases as well as privileged access to oil reserves. The presence of US military bases contributes to the cultural genocide of indigenous peoples in Hawai'i and Guam.
Many Bases are Built on Seized Property
The recent bulldozing of Daechuri village in South Korea to make way for a new US military headquarters while inhabitants protested was not unique. Military bases are often built on seized private property, on land which the host nation forces its citizens to "rent" to the US, or on communal property. The most extreme case is Diego Garcia. There, to make way for two mile-long runways, a massive naval port, and pre-positioned US weapons, all of the island's people were deported.
Bases are a Source of Sexual Violence
The use of communities near bases for "Rest and Relaxation" makes local children and women, especially sex workers, vulnerable to sexual harassment, rape, beatings, and murder. Levels of sexual violence can be a function of the relative power of host nations. Last year, Marines involved in the rape of a Filipina were shielded by provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement in the Philippines. In contrast, comparable agreements between the US and oil-rich Gulf states have at least partly shielded local women from sexual aggression by US troops.
Off-Duty Troops Commit Many Crimes
Most GIs are law-abiding, but many alienated and drunken troops do commit a disproportionate number of crimes. Worse, they are often protected by the provisions of unequal treaties which give the US military "primary right to exercise jurisdiction over members of the US armed forces." In Korea, a deep wound was the killing of two schoolgirls who were run over by a US tank; no-one was held accountable. This year in the Philippines, after a US Marine was convicted of rape in a Philippines court, the US exerted diplomatic pressure at the highest level to effect his removal, during the appeal process, to the US Embassy (rather than the Philippines jail to which the judge had consigned him).
Bases Cause Environmental Damage
In 2000, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright conceded the legacy of "serious public and environmental problems" caused by US military bases in the Philippines but she reiterated that the US has no legal obligation to clean up the deadly residue. The US Defense Department has identified at least 70 military sites in Europe where its bases have caused serious environmental damage. In one egregious case, the US military was caught disposing of deadly formaldehyde directly into the Han River which runs through Seoul, South Korea.
Bases Bring the Risk of Life-threatening Accidents
Military accidents can kill and injure people. The most dangerous accidents involve nuclear weapons. An attack aircraft rolled off the US aircraft carrier Ticonderoga 80 miles off the coast of Okinawa, embedding its hydrogen bomb in the sea bed two miles below. More common are accidents like the Marine pilot whose low-flying jet severed a ski lift cable in Italy, killing 20 people; bombs that missed their practice targets, killing a civilian in Vieques, Puerto Rico and destroying homes in the Korean village of Maehyangri; and the stray bullets and shells used in live-fire exercises that strike people's homes and property in Kin Town, Okinawa.
Military Spending Jeopardizes Human Needs and Opportunities
The Pentagon squanders tens of billions of dollars on foreign military bases. In addition to war-fighting capabilities, expenses include housing for families of US warriors, commissaries where US troops and their families enjoy special discounts, and pristine golf courses. Meanwhile, human needs of both US and host nation people go unmet. In Japan and other host nations, anger is building as their tax dollars are used to help pay for the intrusive military bases and their luxury accommodations, while local people go without adequate housing and social services.