Three reasons we need our bases
May 28th, 2013
10:46 AM ET

Three reasons we need our bases

By Adam Lowther, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Adam Lowther is a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, DC and author of Deterrence. The views expressed are his own.

Congress, at least in the eyes of its critics, may not seem able to get very much done these days. But a House of Representatives subcommittee got at least one thing right last week when it voted to block the Defense Department from closing domestic U.S. military bases and installations.

The vote comes against the backdrop of sequestration – the forced budget cuts in Washington – and suggestions from Department of Defense officials that a new round of base closures is necessary. But Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel should not yield to the growing chorus calling for another round of realignment to follow the five previous rounds that took place between 1988 and 2005 and that saw the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps absorb 97 major base closures as part of the post-Cold War military drawdown. Yes, we should take a hard look at the budget numbers. But those pushing for closures are missing the true value of these bases.

Advocates of further consolidation argue that there is perhaps 24 percent in excess capacity in infrastructure and a projected $35 billion in potential savings over the long-term if additional bases are closed. Yet those looking for change seem to forget that military bases are far more than places where soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines live and work.

Indeed, there are three key reasons why further base closures are not a solution for this country’s current fiscal challenges.

First, these bases are a critical link between the military and the American people. In an address to the National Defense University in 2011, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen lamented the fact that all too many Americans know “precious little” about their military, largely because they have neither served nor have family or friends who have.

More from CNN: Budget highlights consolidation

According to Mullen, “America doesn't know its military and the United States military doesn't know America."

“We will find out that, yes we are less than 1 percent and we are living in fewer and fewer places and we don’t know the American people and the American people don't know us,” he added.

This last point is critical and is one that should give advocates of a new round of realignment some pause, for where military bases once dotted the American landscape and were dispersed across every region of the country, they are now heavily concentrated in the South and Midwest.

This geographic concentration corresponds with military recruiting and support for the nation’s conflicts. Simply stated, where there are bases, there are recruits and support for wars. Cutting infrastructure further will only serve to worsen this growing divide.

Second, additional base closures will only further shrink congressional support for a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – the defense budget – that meets the military’s requirements for winning any conflict and defending the nation. What too few uniformed military leaders understand is that the defense budget is as much about local politics and political constituencies as it is about national security. When an individual member of Congress and a state congressional delegation consider their support for defense matters and whether they will actively lobby their colleagues on behalf of defense programs, they are looking back to their congressional districts and home state to determine if support for defense or support for a competing constituency is the best use of their vote.

Understanding these political dynamics, and effectively competing for scarce federal dollars, is a skill too few senior service leaders possess. If, as Karl von Clausewitz wrote, “War is the continuation of politics by other means,” military officers would do well to understand politics.

Third, with many of the 97 bases shuttered under previous Base Realignment and Closure Commissions (BRACs) closed for more than a decade, the $17 billion the Defense Department has saved – less than 0.1 percent of defense spending over that time – hardly seems worth the larger costs. Experience therefore suggests that closing additional bases will not, in fact, serve as an effective cost cutting measure, and the concentrated economic impact on local communities make base closures an inefficient cost saving measure.

So what should be done instead? Secretary Hagel should begin by shelving any effort to reconstitute the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Further alienating the military from society by creating fewer mega “joint-bases” is not worth the limited cost savings.

With previous BRAC rounds already leaving many states and entire regions of the country without a military presence, the military requires a far more politically savvy cadre of senior officers who can effectively advocate for defense initiatives within our democratic system.

This is not a recommendation to politicize the military. Non-partisan uniformed servicemen and women are still desirable, but politics permeate every aspect of American life making political effectiveness a necessary evil in a democracy.

A more effective way of cutting basing costs while preserving civil-military ties and maintaining congressional support could start by partnering with federal, state, and local agencies to utilize excess facilities, thus reducing the cost of bases for the Defense Department. If excess capacity still remains, private companies could also make good partners, for example, renting empty facilities.

In the end, the Pentagon and the federal government at-large will find far greater efficiencies and cost savings in reforming the acquisition and personnel systems than through cutting important ties to American society and its elected representatives.

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Topics: Conflict • Military • United States

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soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. matslats

    We also need our bases to spend our newly issued dollars while hiding the inflationary effects from American consumers!

    May 28, 2013 at 11:37 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      You're right, by doing so, the sequestration would hurt much less. The GOP would could then fight their war on budget cuts in another battlefield!

      May 29, 2013 at 7:54 am | Reply
    • Lucke

      Also because we "In guns we trust".

      June 2, 2013 at 11:26 am | Reply
  2. wjmccartan

    Will someone here kindly explain to me just what good is it to have "allies" if we have to man our own bases overseas like in Germany and J apan? Why can't the Czechs, Poles and Hungarians take over our bases in Germany while the Philippinos and Vietnamese take over those in J apan? Moreover, if the J apanese are adamant on having white troops on their soil, then why not the Russians, Australians or even the New Zealanders? They're all much closer to J apan than we are! Turning these bases over should have been started long ago!

    May 28, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      I will, wjmccartan. Those so-called "allies" that you're talking about are no more than gutless wonders sitting around waiting to take orders from the right-wing thugs in Washington and "follow" us into our useless wars. When was the last time that any of these goons did anything on their own initiative? Is Great Britain or France trying to settle the civil war in Syria on their own? Of course not!

      May 28, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Reply
    • Peshwar

      We have far too many military bases overseas and in the U.S. Many in the U.S. are just pork barrel bases with no strategic purpose. We do not want to police the world, and in fact, the world can generally figure out its own problems without us. Keep our military strong, just close many of our bases.

      May 31, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Reply
    • JP

      im a Filipino and im thankful to the USA that we have been chosen as an ally that when conflict arises we know or we hope USA will fight alongside with us. but you know it is also our hope that we no longer need someone to fight for our cause and that we can protect ourselves from the might of other bullying countries like for ex CHina. it is also our dillema if in reality the USA will aid us. we do not have the capacity to build war machines, last time we bought a 60 yr old ship from USA they removed all the equipments for it to be called a war ship. they removed communications equipment, guns etc.we asked the USA to help us build a radar system to protect our waters, i dont know if the request was denied but nothing happened. now we are looking for other countries to help us build these radar systems. we bought planes from italy and from france, ask me why? maybe because the USA does not want us to have these equipments.

      June 2, 2013 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  3. Sean B.

    1- We don't need to know about our military, we're civilians. I don't see why the prospect of base closures distancing military life from civilian life is a bad thing.

    2- The writer's second point seems to roughly translate to- If we close bases, then we will have a smaller military. Yep, that's the point.

    3- $17 billion is a lot of cash. It is not insignificant, and I'm very glad we saved it. The larger costs the author implies are only "costs" because they hurt the military- while the rest of our nation profited.

    The running theme in this article, that the military will be "alienated" from civilians if we close bases, is ridiculous. We Americans support our military reflexively, proudly, and amply. There is no danger of mass alienation, and there never has been. Furthermore cutting out military is smart and necessary. We no longer can afford to subsidize other nation's defense with our overseas bases, and that's a good thing- we no longer have to shoulder the burden of the world's superpower because the rest of the world is beginning to catch up. Also, a large conventional military is obsolete in the age of drones, special ops, and cyber-warfare. I sincerely struggle to think of a quicker way to waste billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars other than pretending to be ready for a conventional enemy that doesn't exist. Better to put some of this cash into enhancing our cyber defense capabilities to deal with China- or to buy them out of the 10% of our national debt.

    May 28, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Reply
    • Debbie

      Actually, here in SE VA, there are many people who call us military folks names until bases start closing. We are distanced from civilians by bias. They say we're "troublemakers" and "riff raff". Of course, without our money this place will turn back into the backwater it was before the bases came here. . They try to say they can survive on tourism but check out what happened on the Virginia Beach Oceanfront a couple of weeks ago, check to see how many people will venture out after dark and check why. Go ahead, alienate us–I hate it here anyway and will jump at a chance to go–but be prepared to say good by to your cash cow

      May 28, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Reply
      • Sean B.

        Correction- your cash cow, and the cities where bases are. There is no justification for the Department of Defense being our nation's largest employer. The rest of the U.S. will benefit economically from a balanced budget and the ability to spend money on other things such as infrastructure improvement, adequately funding social security, etc.

        May 28, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
      • Sean B.

        The irony of the situation is that most military members are political conservatives and complain about government being too large. They do this while receiving full health benefits, a generous salary, officers get a living stipend to go buy a house off base with, educational grants, and the list goes on and on. I am not a veteran and I am extremely thankful to those that have served our nation's interest, but it's time to get real about what that interest is and cut the pork.

        May 28, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
      • diana horton

        I lived in ocean view va. my father was military. we lived close to DNS piers. going to school there. we navy brats stayed to our own group. they looked down on us. our parents did not have a lot of money. so we were not able to get the kind of nice clothes as they. they always teased us for one thing or another. I think we moved like every two years. but no matter what. I had something they didn't. I had a father that fought in WW11 the KOREAN war and also VIETNAM war. he was proud in what he did. and we were proud of him. those bases over seas are where they would dock. they either loaded or unloaded things that they needed. having those bases also helped in war time. one way it helped is your planes that were on a carrier did not have that far to fly. but, anyway. my father loved his county and he fought for it. and I would not change one day of being a navy brat-peace

        May 28, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • Steve Rhodes

      This fantasy that US military bases overseas exist to ' protect allies ' , is absurd . Those bases exist to ensure that US interests are put above everybody else's interests , even the inhabitants of those countries . It is not some vast noble exercise , it is the projection of selfish power . Nothing more.

      May 28, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Reply
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Very well said, Steve. You nailed it!

        May 28, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
      • Sean B.

        They may have had some noble purpose once in the beginning of the "cold war," but certainly not anymore.

        May 28, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
      • Richard Mason, Topeka, KS

        Selfish power? Yes and No.
        Of course our foreign policy, including the military, is driven, I hope, to advance U.S. interests. Just as other countries are driven to advance theirs.
        But are U.S. interests well served by perpetuating programs (Truman Doctrine) whose missions were accomplished a quarter century ago-containing Communist aggression and helping countries recover from WWII devastation?

        May 30, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  4. 100 % ETHIO

    "Three reasons we need our bases".
    "First,.....",
    "Second,...." and
    "Third,.....".

    All of the above, indicates that war is the main thing to give a power for any Country who would like to control the World or/and People.

    So, these are in the mainstream media, to notify anyone.

    Cautiously, those Countries who opposed U.S foreign policy and its agendas against them, may predicted, there are many warmongers are going on behind the scenes in U.S.A.

    Therefore, 1st, what are in the minds of Iran, NK, Russia, China,...about their Nuclear issues?

    2nd, since weapon is the best option to show power against others, is Planet Earth on the evil path of destruction, forever?

    3rd, currently, how many Countries have access to have Nuclear Bomb, if no one cares who is doing what?

    May 28, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Reply
  5. thelastindependent

    I believe Mullen was hitting on a key problem when he said “America doesn't know its military and the United States military doesn't know America." A military is a reflection and a part of the society and culture it came from, for better or worse. Simply put, the military can not survive being separate and distant from the people and country they serve, and visa verse. This could be the root cause of military suicides as soldiers, returning from combat overseas, can't relate to the country they fought for. This administration, the country, and the military as a whole has been seriously neglecting this issue, which is not only a threat to citizen and soldier alike, but has serious national security concerns.

    May 28, 2013 at 6:42 pm | Reply
  6. rightospeak

    Center Of National Interest are like other "foundations" that are owned by the oligarchs that got us into the endless wars to make money and brainwash people. My favored is Endowment For Perpetual Peace which is actually a foundation to promote war. It is like 1894, really – doublespeak. The author of this article is promoting the idea of spending more money while we are borrowing money from Communist China to keep our government functioning- from being shut down. As one squirrel said to another : NUTS. This article makes as much sense as offshoring of jobs and Capital to Communist China-only fruitcakes are capable of doing it : deliberately destroy the people that pay them to run things right.

    May 28, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Well said, rightospeak. Thank you.

      May 28, 2013 at 11:57 pm | Reply
  7. David

    we should keep our bases open no matter where we have to improvised in every events keep everything updated at low costs

    May 29, 2013 at 8:41 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      We don't need bases in Europe and Asia when these bases can be just as easily manned by our so-called allies over there, David. That money would be far better spent on our roads and bridges, schools and libraries, not to mention public safety meaning the police and fire departments.

      May 29, 2013 at 11:20 am | Reply
  8. Really?

    LOL Americans and their military fetishes.... Oversea bases are way overdue for closing!

    May 29, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Reply
    • Sean B.

      Crazy isn't it? I know a lot of folks on the right wing here, and even they don't agree with overseas bases. It is strictly the military industrial complex which has been over-bloated since WWII successfully lobbying in the Capitol for the continuation of those obsolete bases.

      May 29, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  9. Alexander Argentina

    Terrorists Killed in Hama

    Preliminary reports indicate that special forces units of the Syrian armed forces have decimated a terrorist gathering in Tal Hawwash in Hama countryside, with resultant death and injury brought upon all the terrorists who were targeted inside them.

    May 29, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  10. Alexander Argentina

    Syrian Arab Army Units Target Terrorist Groups in Daraa

    Units of the armed forces targeted the terrorist groups in the areas of Jamleh, al-Shabraq, and Naf'eh in the countryside of Daraa, inflicting heavy losses upon the terrorists and leaving large numbers of them dead or injured.

    In the town of Tseel, a Syrian Arab Army unit destroyed a workshop for manufacturing explosives and a missile launcher, leaving all the terrorists inside the workshop dead or injured.

    Another unit destroyed a terrorist hideout in Tal al-Jumou area, while an entire terrorist group which was committing acts of robberies and theft in the town of al-Hirak was eliminated.

    May 29, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  11. Shelly

    We absolutely need our military bases and a large active military influence in this country!!!! To be stupid and cut back here would be an abomination and a HUGE mistake. This country is threatened DAILY by war mongering countries who want to destroy what we have built. And for any one political leader to think that spending cuts should pertain to our military, should be called treasonous. We can never let our guard down. And again I say if they want to cut spending, shut down the GOD DAMNED welfare system! Who would protect this country if it was attacked? the fuking illegals???? LMAO

    May 31, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Reply
    • fiscaltiger

      the military budget went from 320 billion in the clinton era to 660 billion in the bush era. 340 billion dollars per year to fight two nothing countries. the military industrial complex has a propogandist in the authors of this story

      it would seem you have no clue

      June 2, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  12. Ord_Miller

    Government money for "bases" props up southern and midwest economies. Its a socialist pig troth that con-servatives love to feed at.

    June 2, 2013 at 6:59 am | Reply
  13. fiscaltiger

    the military budget went from 320 billion in the clinton era to 660 billion in the bush era. 340 billion dollars per year to fight two nothing countries. the military industrial complex has a propogandist in the authors of this story

    June 2, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  14. TERRY

    To have local protective and international bases ,among the answers must be cost and effectiveness of location.In Asia bases in Vietnam are beyond discussion.In Korea the base is so small as to cause concern in terms of rescue.In Alaska,the question will remain,how large and how many to protect and prevent rapid overland massive military opposing advance,everything changes.

    June 2, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Reply
  15. TERRY

    A point on the question of bases ,protection.In nazi germany little could be done to protect the millions of local germans of different religion sent one way to internment.In modern war the population undefended could share the same fate.

    June 2, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  16. DC

    The real reason Congress does not want to close more bases, is because they want the " Government Pork" to stay in their congressional districts. Many bases in the US and ovrerseas are underused or obolete, yet members of Congress will not let the Defense Department close them, even though it has tried for years to do so. Once again we see the hypocritical side of Congress. Membersw of Congress talk about cutting spending and reducing the deficit, as long as it does not upset their "Pork".

    June 2, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  17. jgreen52013

    President Obama/Council of Economic Advisers:

    WE DEMOCRATS BLEW IT…..[so far]

    The great mystery of the 2008 election is that the Democrats were handed a great gift—and they blew it…..it was a blunder with almost unspeakable adverse consequences…..

    The great gift was both the opportunity, as well as the “legal authority”, to end unemployment in America—[and as well offer a template for ending unemployment to the rest of the OECD countries, or wherever the scourge of unemployment disrupts the social order—the unemployment rate was 13.2% in Cairo on 7/2/13….].

    First, the “unspeakable adverse consequences”: When the Democrats failed to fix unemployment—particularly since this was a campaign promise in the 2008 election—the American people responded with a vengeance in the 2010 election—ushering in radical right wing extremists in statehouses, all across America, and including a glut of radical extremists in the House….

    And given that 2010 was a Census year—it gave the new radical majorities the ability to gerrymander districts and thus assure a plethora of radical nut cases for years to come—it even raises the question:

    Can America survive this Democrat blunder?

    The fact is, we currently have on the books—and also true in 2009–the legal “authorization” to limit our unemployment to “3%”—[15 USC § 3101]– i.e., at no time should our unemployment rate in America exceed 3%!

    And yet, we had only a lone Democrat–Representative Conyers from Michigan, who provided legislation to act on the above “authorization”– i.e., deficit-neutral, Pro-Market HR 870—and consistent with “anybody willing to work should be able to find a job” in ending our unemployment crisis.

    It raises the question: Why didn’t the Council of Economic Advisers pull together every resource to explore implementation of this “authorization”—[and why don’t they do it to this day]–rather than doing a “me too” to the failed Republican blather about job creation: HR 2847?

    The lesson from HR 2847 [and The Jobs Act] is that: IT DOESN’T WORK!

    According to the CBO—given our current path and trajectory—it will be 2017 before we get back to even an anemic 5.5% unemployment rate—with unemployment benefits long since expired—and if the Market fails, the unemployed are out of luck!

    In short, the path we should be on is: FIX UNEMPLOYMENT–AND THIS WILL FIX THE MARKET, RATHER THAN THE OTHER WAY AROUND…..

    See: FULL EMPLOYMENT IS A PRO-MARKET CONCEPT, on Amazon/Kindle

    Jim Green, Democrat opponent to Lamar Smith, Congress, 2000

    July 14, 2013 at 11:41 am | Reply
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