August 28, 2019 2:16PM

Requiring the Pentagon to be Transparent about US Overseas Bases

The Overseas Base Realignment and Closure Coalition, "a group of military base experts from across the political spectrum," is calling on Congress to mandate a reporting requirement on overseas bases. In a letter to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, the group of experts says the information that the Department of Defense currently provides on the cost and location of overseas bases is very "limited" and the "data is frequently incomplete." This lack of transparency, they write, has allowed the Pentagon to erroneously claim America's empire of overseas military bases - some 800 installations in 70 or 80 countries around the world - only costs taxpayers $20 billion per year, even while more inclusive independent estimates go as high as $150 billion per year. Below is an excerpt of the letter:

Research has long shown that overseas bases are particularly difficult to close once established. Often, bases abroad remain open due to bureaucratic inertia alone. Military officials and others frequently assume that if an overseas base exists, it must be beneficial; Congress rarely forces the military to analyze or demonstrate the national security benefits of bases abroad.

The Navy’s “Fat Leonard” corruption scandal, which resulted in tens of millions of dollars in overcharges and widespread corruption among high-ranking naval officers, is one of many examples of the lack of proper civilian oversight overseas. The military’s growing presence in Africa is another: When four soldiers died in combat in Niger in 2017, most members of Congress were shocked to learn that there were approximately 1,000 military personnel in that country. Although the Pentagon has long claimed it has only one base in Africa—in Djibouti— research shows that there are now around 40 installations of varying sizes (one military official acknowledged 46 installations in 2017). You are likely among a relatively small group in Congress who know that U.S. troops have been involved in combat in at least 22 countries since 2001, with frequently disastrous results.

Current oversight mechanisms are inadequate for the Congress and the public to exercise proper civilian control over the military’s installations and activities overseas. The Pentagon’s annual “Base Structure Report” provides some information about the number and size of base sites overseas, however, it fails to report on dozens of well-known installations in countries worldwide and frequently provides incomplete or inaccurate data. Many suspect the Pentagon does not know the true number of installations abroad.

A proposed provision in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) called “Report on Financial Costs of Overseas United States Military Posture and Operations,” could, "if implemented rigorously," the letter writers say, "increase transparency and enable better oversight over Pentagon spending, contribute to critical efforts to eliminate wasteful military expenditures, and enhance military readiness and national security."

For background on this issue, see my Cato Policy Analysis from 2017 entitled, "Withdrawing from Overseas Bases: Why a Forward-Deployed Military Posture Is Unnecessary, Outdated, and Dangerous."

Here are the signatories of this letter:

Christine Ahn, Women Cross DMZ

Andrew J. Bacevich, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Medea Benjamin, Codirector, Codepink        

Phyllis Bennis, Director, New Internationalism Project, Institute for Policy Studies

Leah Bolger, CDR, US Navy (ret), President World BEYOND War           

Noam Chomsky, Laureate Professor of Linguistics, Agnese Nelms Haury Chair, University of Arizona/Professor Emeritus Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cynthia Enloe, Research Professor, Clark University

Foreign Policy Alliance, Inc.

Joseph Gerson, President, Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security        

David C. Hendrickson, Colorado College

Matthew Hoh, Senior Fellow, Center for International Policy         

Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice

Kyle Kajihiro, Hawaiʻi Peace and Justice

Gwyn Kirk, Women for Genuine Security

MG Dennis Laich, US Army, Retired

John Lindsay-Poland, Stop US Arms to Mexico Project Coordinator, Global Exchange; author, Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama

Catherine Lutz, Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Family Professor of Anthropology and International Studies, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and Department of Anthropology, Brown University

Khury Petersen-Smith, Institute for Policy Studies

Del Spurlock, Former General Counsel and Assistant Secretary of the US Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs

David Swanson, Executive Director, World BEYOND War

David Vine, Professor, Department of Anthropology, American University

Stephen Wertheim, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University

Colonel Ann Wright, US Army retired and former US diplomat