April 8, 2003 | Lecture on Europe
Thank you very much for the nice introduction, but mostly for having this kind of a conference. This is a subject that people are not focusing on right now, but I believe that in the coming months and the coming year they will, because I think we are in a time where we may be making different strategic decisions and that will affect where we need our bases for the threats that we face in the future.
Our troops on the front line in Iraq and Afghanistan have one important thing in common: They trained on U.S. soil and deployed overseas to defend our nation. The Cold War concept of training overseas is obsolete, yet our foreign basing structure to support that activity remains intact.
During the Cold War, our mission was to defend our allies from aggression. Boots on the ground in Europe allowed a significant forward presence to deter potential attacks. Currently, our nation has 119,000 troops in Europe, 37,000 in Korea, and 45,000 in Japan. Although these levels have decreased since the fall of the Berlin Wall, they are out of proportion to the threats facing our nation and our allies today.
Our mission today is not only to maintain a military presence, but also to support contingencies where we have no permanent bases--contingencies such as we have in Kosovo and Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East. Operation Iraqi Freedom has demonstrated the importance of strategically basing our forces. We were forced to create alternative means to transit troops for deployment when they were denied passage via rail through Austria, and war plans were significantly altered when Turkey would not allow ground troops to be based there.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has
called our overseas basing a Cold War relic. He has asked our
military leaders to review basing requirements overseas and prepare
10-year basing strategy. And he has asked them to reexamine their military construction programs for 2003 and 2004. That means the appropriations bills that we just passed and the ones that we are working on today.
For instance, for 2004, the Defense Department has requested $174 million for Korea and $284 million for Germany for new military construction. That is a large bill for taxpayers to foot when key strategic decisions are in flux. There are more than 80,000 American troops currently stationed in Germany alone. The cost of maintaining these bases is in the billions of dollars. General Jim Jones, the newly appointed Supreme Allied Commander Europe, has already warned that today's threats do not justify these costs.
Many of our installations in Germany and South Korea are remnants from a bygone era. For example, Yongsan Army Garrison in downtown Seoul was built by the colonial Japanese army long before World War II. Tank and artillery ranges where our forces train in Germany were first used by the Bavarian army more than 100 years ago. Today, these training areas are wholly inadequate to accommodate the extended reach of our current generation of weapons and the rapid pace of modern maneuver warfare.
Not only do some bases fail to meet our national security needs; in some cases, the host countries are openly antagonistic toward our troops. And yet we continue to pump millions of dollars into these bases, which are no longer capable of supporting our mission.
Unfortunately, antiquated bases are not the only roadblocks impeding our troops. A barrage of restrictions has made it difficult for U.S. troops to train under realistic conditions. For example, Germany has severely curtailed our ability to fly helicopters at night, conduct live-fire exercises, or move vehicles over the countryside during war games. These challenges have forced us to look elsewhere, such as NATO's newest members--the countries of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic--to meet our training needs.
Despite its limitations, Grafenwoehr is still considered by some to be one of the better sites to train in Europe. To make the most of it, the Army has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the complex in the past decade. Still, the best training area Germany has to offer consists of only 18,000 acres, a postage stamp compared to the 400,000 acres of maneuver area and ranges our troops have available at the National Training Center in California or the more than 1 million acres at Fort Bliss in Texas with New Mexico's McGregor range.
All of this raises serious questions. Is it more efficient to train our soldiers in the United States and deploy them abroad as needed? And if we are looking for new bases overseas because of the new security threats, do we fund them by closing stateside bases or perhaps obsolete overseas bases?
Regardless of which alternative is pursued, the responsibility and cost of meeting the challenges of the 21st century threats around the world cannot be met by one nation alone. Bilateral cost sharing is the direct payment of certain United States stationing costs by the host nation, a cornerstone of our allied partnerships.
Today, Germany contributes 21 percent to our basing. Japan and Saudi Arabia cover approximately 80 percent. Italy contributes 37 percent. In a relatively new agreement, the Korean government has pledged to increase its contributions from approximately 41 percent to 50 percent of stationing costs by 2004.
To make sure we get it right, with a worldwide view, I am introducing bipartisan legislation with the ranking member of the Military Construction Subcommittee, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), to create a congressional commission charged with taking an objective and thorough look at our overseas basing structure. It will be called the Overseas Basing Commission. The commission, comprised of national security and foreign affairs experts, will consider force needs and basing structures, ensure our overseas bases are prepared to meet our needs in the 21st century, and present their findings to the 2005 Domestic Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission.
Such a review is timely. The 2005 BRAC is just around the corner, and some in the Pentagon have suggested that it could result in the closure of almost one in four of our domestic bases. But if we reduce our troops overseas we will need to have stateside bases for them.
We need to know what training might be transferred to determine which bases will be critical for future use. It is senseless to close bases on U.S. soil in 2005 only to determine a few years later that we made a costly irrevocable mistake. That is a painful lesson that we have learned before.
Although our military force structure has decreased since the Cold War, the responsibilities placed upon our service members have significantly increased. We must make it easier for our men and women in uniform to protect our nation's security interests from their stations around the globe.
Operational effectiveness is paramount. It would be irresponsible to build on an inefficient, obsolete overseas base structure as we face new strategic threats in the 21st century, taking valuable dollars needed elsewhere.
Let me say that I have discussed this for quite a long time and in depth with members of the Department of Defense, and I think there is a general agreement that something must be done about our overseas basing structure. I am trying to slow down the process for this 2004 military construction appropriations bill to give the Department of Defense time to give us a better idea of the basing structure they think they are going to need. I don't want to spend one U.S. dollar that we think we might need somewhere else building something that could be permanent on a base that we may not, in the end, use.
So that is my view from the Military Construction Subcommittee, and one that I hope will make an impact on the thinking in the 2005 BRAC round and also have an impact on the efficient use of our taxpayer dollars for our defense needs.
The Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison represents the state of Texas in the Senate of the United States, where she serves as a member of the Committees on Appropriations; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Rules and Administration; and Veterans' Affairs.