A Base Decision
Few would dispute that we have the world's best military. But even
our impressive resources can stretch only so far. And it clearly
makes sense, as we try to win the war in Iraq, for us to make the
best possible use of our limited military resources.
Which makes it all the more curious that the House of
Representatives recently voted to delay the next round of military
base closings by at least two years - from 2005 to 2007. Members
say they want to conduct a series of studies before the next round
of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).
But no further study will change the fact that the Pentagon
maintains about 25 percent more bases than it needs. Keeping our
fighting forces as efficient as possible is going to require
military transformation - and that means closing some bases.
Today's infrastructure was designed to fight the Cold War. We must
change the military basing system to reflect the strategic and
technological realities we face today.
Perhaps the most critical element of defense transformation is the
continued effort to achieve greater cooperation among the services.
We should reorganize the Defense Department's support
infrastructure - sharing housing, roads, training facilities, etc.
Doing so would compel the services to work together more
One of the ways to advance this cause is to create a basing
infrastructure that puts a premium on cooperation. BRAC will
Whether we act next year or in 2007, some bases will have to
close. Residential areas are expanding and now encroach on many of
America's bases. That's already resulted in fewer training
opportunities for our forces - and reduced readiness.
Throughout the country, the armed forces face lawsuits claiming
that noise and other nuisances associated with military activity
have a detrimental effect on surrounding residential areas.
Environmental regulations have begun to interfere with the
military's day-to-day operations. Installations nationwide,
including California's Camp Pendleton and Fort Irwin, have been
forced to curtail vital training activities to stay within these
regulations. As the BRAC process moves forward, it should put a
high priority on bases that are only minimally affected by nearby
growth and unlikely to be adversely affected in the future.
A successful BRAC shouldn't be limited to U.S. territory.
America's overseas future footprint should look far different from
today. We maintain an extensive basing system in Western Europe
that reflects the static security environment of the Cold War
rather than the unpredictable world of the 21st century.
American facilities abroad must be useful for expeditionary
warfare, enabling our troops to get into the fight quickly and
Because the United States depends so heavily on its bases abroad,
we also should evaluate which bases are most likely to be closed
for us - by their host nations. After all, the Pentagon will have
to maintain adequate domestic infrastructure to support those
troops if they are compelled to leave. Likewise, where such closure
is unlikely, there is little need to maintain "back-up"
infrastructure at home to support those elements.
Excess base infrastructure is draining much-needed resources.
Although saving money and improving efficiency shouldn't drive the
BRAC process, they should play a major role.
To maximize that efficiency on the battlefield, the Pentagon must
begin by streamlining its support structures. This will help the
Pentagon achieve the rapid deployment capabilities it seeks and
build in the flexibility needed to respond to threats as they
However, efficiency can't supersede military value. One reason
bases are important is they give the military surge capacity if the
nation ever requires a large increase in military capabilities due
to a rapid change in the security environment. Nevertheless, the
requirement for surge capacity shouldn't be used as an
indiscriminate excuse to leave a particular base open. It is simply
a factor that should be considered in the BRAC process.
An important step toward building the force of the future is to
create an environment that invites change. The focus should be on
creating a system, support structure and bureaucracy that
facilitates transformation. An intelligently executed BRAC in 2005
will help create a solid foundation on which to build the future
force, and it will free scarce resources necessary to reinvest in
the force of tomorrow.
Delaying the BRAC process is a bad decision, and requiring more
studies to be completed before the process can commence is a waste.
BRAC is a difficult process - but for the sake of security, it's a
Jack Spencer is a senior policy analyst for defense and
national security at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared on FOXNews.com