Sound Off: Do Overseas Military Bases Damage National Security?

okinawabase copy

okinawabase copy

A sure-to-be-controversial new book from American University anthropology professor David Vine claims that the 800 bases the United States operates outside its borders hurt our national security more than they help it. In Base Nation: How the U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, Vine talks about how most of these bases were established after World War II as the Cold War escalated and suggests that we should pay more attention to the local opposition that many of these bases inspire.

In an interview with NPR this weekend, Vine laid out his ideas.

This is one of the rare bipartisan issues where there are people across the political spectrum asking whether we need 800 military bases outside the United States, in an era where technological advancements have allowed the U.S. military to deploy forces from the continental United States just as quickly as from most bases overseas, whether we really need these bases which are extraordinarily costly compared to keeping U.S. troops in the United States.

Vine claims he’s not calling for mass closings, just that we should begin to have a conversation about whether some of these expensive facilities don’t really contribute to our national security. You can hear the entire interview below.

What do you think? Is it time to do a cost/benefit analysis and discuss the extent of our military presence around the world? Do some of our bases create tensions with citizens of our host countries that hurt our reputation around the world? Take our survey below and sound off in the comments.

  • KenLand

    Has he ever contemplated prepositioned equipment, weapons, and vehicles vs shipping them? It does not even come close.

  • adrestia

    I listened to Vine’s interview on NPR and wanted to reach into the radio and grab both him and the NPR reporter. He is basing his entire assumption on “some” people and “some” instances. Just over dramatization to sell his book. There has been continual discussion about these bases year after year, which he seems to be oblivious to in his comments. The bases would not exist, despite “some” local protests, if the foreign government did not want them. We are not imposing those bases on the foreign countries. In fact, just look at the fact AFRICOM was unable to find a country willing to be home to AFRICOM HQ. David Vine obviously has zero credibility in foreign policy or national security affairs, and should remain focused on nuts and huts and grass huts and monkeys, in which he has a functional knowledge base.

  • bigfatduke

    Leave it to some college professor to come up with a asinine idea like this.

  • wtpworrier

    Do our Military Bases overseas Damage National Security?…I really don’t see how.

    • Doubtom

      Naw, they bring us lots of friends and that’s why we have bases in hundreds of foreign countries,cause we really like to make firiends. Those foreigners love to see those occupying troops on their soil. Gives them a warm and fuzzy feeling.

      • quentin

        They are no occupying forces. They are there to assist friendly nations.

      • Mike

        Occupying force. Never served a day did you? Ever heard of a SoFA? Not the kind you park your butt on while making idiotic comments on subjects you clearly do not comprehend.

  • Dave

    We have bases like Kadena on Okinawa that can be quickly destroyed by the Chinese, and Osan by the Koreans. Some bases have no purpose other than hosting an unneeded and redundant HQ. Keep in mind that if you want more ships, aircraft and combat troops, closing unneeded bases frees up funds. Here is a detailed list.

    • quentin

      It doesn’t free up much funds. Most of the funds would just be used to relocate and establish them somewhere else.

  • Leon Suchorski

    In the first place, we keep getting shoved out of our bases stateside, so some developer can build new homes. As to security, I found it just as easy to get on or off a base whether it was overseas, or stateside. As to “trouble in town”, do you ever pick up a paper or see on the news that there are no civilians causing trouble in towns? These bases allow us to have our equipment and troops closer to any possible action that might nee to be tended to. Whether is was floods in Aceh, or a reactor that went wild, we had troops there in nothing flat to help people. If those troops were based stateside, it would have taken well over a week to get them there where they were needed. And do our troops want to be there when needed? You bet they do. Every time that they are called on to help, they react so enthusiastically, which shows how glad that they are to be there. They did not sign-up to sit on their backsides like our Congressmen, they do things. And if you are going to try to say that those people were not glad that they were there, you had better go and interview them yourself.

  • mickeybravo1984

    I can’t speak for other bases, but what I can say is, for Korea, the benefits to having now rotational units and forward-stationed HQ directly in combined integration with the ROK Armed Forces far outweighs the costs to stupid actions by a few soldiers. The ROK Armed Forces, especially under the tenacious and aggressive leadership of Madame Park, are highly capable, but it is because of both them and our current presence and ability to quickly project and organize force into Korea that keeps the DPRK from doing anything more stupid than firing a couple artillery rounds at some loudspeakers. The benefit of forward stationed forces is not just the ability to save money on force projection, but to keep alive foreign engagement that would otherwise go towards nations like China and Russia through either diplomacy or force. Notice that after a combined step up of NATO military activity and economic pressure (and brave/hard fighting by Ukranian forces), Putin’s (I mean…”freedom fighters”) activity in Ukraine came to a halt. That was not an accident.

  • Juanito

    U.S. FORWARD DEFENSE is the very strategy keeping warfare out of North America for over a century. Only the naive & those unacquainted with military history think otherwise.

  • msgingram

    Those bases are a threat to our national security. All of those bases in EU need to be closed, completely. All of the money saved could enhance our military with the military being located on US shores. The US owns enough real estate to be able to maintain Pacific control from US soil, whatever else we need can be obtained from carriers, subs and long range aircraft. Having all the equipment and personnel outside of US soil is taking a chance of another Phillipine loss like WW2. The US is providing EU with free protection(that is not appreciated and expensive) and financial support. Russia is not going to invade EU and all this saber rattling that is going on now is just a waste of money that could be applied elsewhere.

    • quentin

      What planet are you living on? You state this as if the countries we’re in don’t also have military forces.
      In every country we’re in, in which we have a substantial military presence, we do yearly joint exercises with their military forces. Have you any idea how much it costs to deploy US forces from the states to other countries? Being forward deployed helps to lower the cost of sending our military out to train.

  • Navyjag907

    Newsflash to the Professor–the laws of physics haven’t been repealed and it’s still to our benefit to have forces closer to the scene of possible action rather than have to spend time and energy for their deployment.. It also reassures our friends and allies and keeps the conflict farther away from the US. I wonder if there were a shortage of dissertation topics or this guy wanted something controversial for his “publish or perish” struggle. The topic seems like something out of the ’60s when the US military could do nothing right according to academia.

    • Navyjag907

      I don’t understand why “reassures” has to be blanked.

  • Bret

    We are much safer with bases in other countries. Defending freedom is what we do as the American super power (sort-of). If we don’t step out and help others then we will end up like Israel, surrounded by hostiles who would see to our destruction. It’s also better to kill the hostiles in their neck of the woods then have to fight them in ours, such as Israel.

  • Malcolm Kantzler

    I am a strong opponent of the objectives, ambitions and practices of the military-industrial complex (MIC), as they exist today. The warning and outcome of unchecked MIC expansion, predicted by President Eisenhower in 1956, have come to pass, to the detriment of America, its social vibrancy, its global perception and image, and its capacity to apply resources and meet challenging problems.

  • Kantzler

    The activities of the MIC are primarily in three areas:

    defense industry — assuring funds for research and development of and the procurement, by government and allied nations, of weapons systems, their associated spares and technical support;

    domestic militarism — promoting of the military and internally developed threat assessments (fostering fear) justifying the use of military force, through various media, lobbying and public-relations resources, and advertising, including widespread recruitment programs, through recruitment centers, prep-school and college ROTC programs, allied think-tanks, contracted and defense-industry programs, periodicals, seminars, broadcasts and specialized, as well as the corporate, conglomerated mass media, and sponsorship of sporting events and services to such events, as football-game flyovers and military honor guards; and the maintenance of domestic bases in every state and many nations throughout the world;

    government integration — attaining legislative support of MIC objectives, including use of military force, through lobbying; legislative-staff placements; internal, officer-career development; coordination of 2nd-career industry positions for allied legislators, legislative staff, and services’ command personnel.

  • Kantzler

    Vine’s use of “occupation” is not a realistic characterization of most of America’s global, base establishment. The instances where the bases were anchors of occupation are not valid to bring into an objection to the expansive military footprint around the world today, though that footprint does have its origins in post-WWII rebuilding, which began with occupation. Even the example of “Okinawa,” where all of the services have bases, is not valid to the question because the protests there have been due to an unfortunate repeat of sexual assaults, and any nation with U.S. bases is going to experience aligned crimes, but probably no greater than those from its own bases.

    But, the answer to the question is that the extremely large number of bases the U.S. has around the world are not an additive to is security, but the reverse, if for no other reason than the cost, and the unnecessary nature, today, because of quick, mass-transit capability, of the planning which brought the global-base concept into existence. Add to that, most of the bases today have no strategic purpose with respect to America’s security, and while NATO was a necessary U.S. involvement during the Cold War, the end of the Soviet Union should have ended the active involvement by the U.S. in most of its activities and resources, and the closing of most bases. In fact, NATO has been the impetus of U.S. military involvement, as in the case of Libya, where unconstitutional, presidential initiative resulted in the U.S. air war to appease European interests there, as payback for NATO involvement in Afghanistan and other coalitions, most of which opposed threats far greater to Europe than the U.S. Aside from that, the abundance of overseas basis can only be perceived by other nations, particularly Russia and China, as an aggressive readiness for war, at best, prompting a climate of confrontation and continuing military investment, expansionism and activity—the antithesis of peaceful economic or cultural aspiration.

    None of the Founders envisioned a military state would evolve within their republic. The fact is that America did not maintain a policy of war readiness until after WWII. Even at the end of WWI the Army and to a somewhat lessor extent, the Navy, dwindled back into peacetime oblivion. But WWII left America with two residuals which did not plague the post WWI years: a new defense industry, born of the total national commitment and focus upon creating, growing and refining the means to build as many vehicles, guns, tanks, ships and planes as possible as quickly as possible, and a dangerous adversary in the Soviet Union.

    And so, in the name of the Cold War, the MIC, born and pampered in WWII, grew so quickly that Eisenhower saw the dangerous end-game. And the MIC has used fear, from the “duck and cover” of the nuclear threat, to today’s unending, nebulous, shifting “terror” threats to undefined “national security” interests to keep its service branches and defense plants busy… and ever more profitable, as single, defense-weapons programs, like the F-35 Joint Strike fighter, the costs of which have escalated to more than 15x the 1973 cost of the entire Apollo program to reach the Moon, and the F-35 is a spectacular, long-term monopoly for one company, Lockheed Martin, to provide a multi-role aircraft to replace nearly every fighter-attack aircraft (manufactured by multiple companies) in use by all services today.

    The MIC makes the problem of militarism, which is exemplified most by global bases, one with a powerful and complex front. To change the militarism, shrink the global footprint of bases, the ease of entering into conflicts, the outrageous costs of weapons and military research, the problem must be addressed at the core of military power and control, and that is congress, the body the Constitution gives ALL the powers of war, reserving for the president only the power to initiate defense against attack and maintain readiness; congress, which has become so unresponsive and grid-locked because of corrupting election finance, partisan districting and party control paving the lucrative, career-legislative paths that foster special-interest influence and buddy-system favors and concessions, of which the MIC is a big, big part. The People must regain control of congress and thereby move congress to begin exercising its constitutional responsibility to control the military and cut the MIC and its international bases down to size, as well as eliminate runaway abuses of presidential military-initiatives.