Before the Overseas Basing Commission
Policy Analyst for Defense and National
Before the Overseas
President George W.
Bush announced on August 16, 2004, that the United States will
alter its overseas basing infrastructure in the coming years. This
realignment of forces could affect up to 70,000 servicemen
currently stationed abroad and nearly as many dependants. The
President should be applauded for this decision, which will advance
America's national security.
America's global basing infrastructure must be transformed for
1. The current base structure was
developed to defend against a largely static and predictable
enemy-the Soviet Union-which no longer exists;
WHY GLOBAL BASE REALIGNEMENT AND CLOSURE IS NECESSARY
2. Today's threats-in stark contrast to those during the Cold
War-are dynamic and unpredictable, and demand flexibility that is
3. A flexible basing structure will promote adaptability in a world
of diverse political, strategic, and diplomatic interests;
4. America's commitment to regional stability can no longer be
measured by manpower alone;
5. A more efficient global basing infrastructure will free manpower
resources and help to alleviate personnel strains;
6. Evolving military technology allows the United States to apply
greater amounts of military force over greater distances in shorter
periods of time; and
7. Diversifying basing infrastructure throughout vital regions will
allow the United States to surge capability to crisis areas.
Defense Transformation Needs Global BRAC
The transformation debate often focuses on military platforms,
investments, and operational concepts. All of these are important;
wrong decisions on any of these fronts would lead to major
setbacks. However, before transformation can fully succeed, the
Pentagon must make the best use of its scarce resources and create
an environment that invites and supports change. Global BRAC sets a
good example in this regard and increases overall
Relying on an infrastructure meant to support a Cold War force
perpetuates the status quo. In other words, the current basing
systems was developed to support a force geared toward a large,
predictable, static enemy. Continuing to rely on this
infrastructure will likely result in greater investments in
capabilities that work best with that infrastructure. We see this
now with huge investments in tactical aircraft and very little
funding for long-range bomber investment.
Alternatively, changing the military overseas basing system to
reflect the strategic and technological realities of the current
century will help the rest of the Department of Defense to make
similar changes. For example, current basing assumes that America's
tactical/short-range-centric platforms and capabilities will be
adequate to respond to future threats. In reality, the United
States must be prepared to move capability over long distances. A
basing infrastructure that reflects this future will more easily
facilitate the programmatic changes necessary to make that
long-range force possible.
Global Base Realignment and Closure Facilitates Joint
Operations and Interoperability with Friends and
Perhaps the most critical element of defense transformation is the
continued effort to achieve greater cooperation, or jointness,
among the services. Restructuring the Department of Defense's
support infrastructure-much as the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986
restructured the Pentagon bureaucracy-will compel the services to
work together more closely.
One of the ways to advance this cause is to create an overseas
basing infrastructure that puts a premium multi-mission training
and on joint operations among the services as well as with friends
Global BRAC is a necessary step to further this cooperation among
Encroachment and Over Regulation Is a Growing Problem at
Home and Abroad
Expanding suburbs and exurbs and restrictive regulations are
encroaching on many of America's bases at home and abroad, and the
result has been and will be reduced training opportunities for the
armed forces and reduced readiness. This is inconsistent with
future military requirements, which demand more opportunities to
train, not fewer.
At home, environmental regulation and lawsuits claiming that noise
and other nuisances associated with military activity are having a
detrimental effect on surrounding residential areas have already
begun to interfere with the armed forces' day-to-day operations.
Installations, such as California's Camp Pendleton and Fort Irwin,
have already been forced to curtail their activities significantly
in deference to environmental regulations.
A similar dynamic has emerged abroad where training has become more
difficult in many host nations. Germany, for example, has severely
limited America's ability to fly helicopters at night, conduct
live-fire exercises, and conduct training maneuvers in heavy,
tracked vehicles. Bases in new host nations with fewer
environmental regulations could provide new training
Countries in Eastern Europe, for example, have attractive basing
opportunities. The Taszar air base in Hungary, which was used by
U.S. forces to conduct operation into the Balkans, could be
upgraded and expanded. Bulgaria offers Black Sea access with its
ports of Varna and Burgas and air bases such as Dobritch in the
Northeast and Kroumovo in the South. The Czech Republic, as well as
other nations, offers a variety of basing options.
As the Global BRAC process moves forward, the United States should
put a high priority on bases that are only minimally affected by
nearby growth and environmental regulations and that are unlikely
to be adversely affected in the future.
Global BRAC Can Increase Efficiency and Save
Today, maintaining excess base infrastructure at home and abroad is
draining much-needed resources. Although saving money and improving
efficiency should not drive the Global BRAC process, they should
play a major role. Indeed, a characteristic of a transformed force
is that it also is much more efficient.
To maximize efficiency on the battlefield, the Pentagon must begin
by improving efficiency in its support structures. This efficiency
will free up dollars that can be reinvested to help the Department
of Defense achieve the rapid deployment capabilities that it seeks
and build in the flexibility needed to respond to threats as they
emerge in the future.
However, efficiency must not supercede military value. Part of the
value that bases add to the force is providing 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 should not be used as an
indiscriminate excuse not to close a particular base. It is simply
a factor that should be considered in the Global BRAC
MODELS FOR THE FUTURE
If implemented properly, defense transformation, should decrease
America's reliance on overseas basing in the long-term. A
transformed military should be able to fight from long distances,
surge manpower and capabilities within short time frames, and apply
large quantities of military force globally with little warning.
These attributes would allow the United States to keep a much
larger percentage of its force at home without decreasing its
commitment to the security of regions of vital national
This does not, however, eliminate the need to maintain overseas
bases in the short-term. Because transformation has only begun and
the vast percentage of U.S. platforms and programs arguably do not
reflect a transformational agenda, the United States will still
depend on an overseas presence in the foreseeable future. Even in
the longer-term, so long as the U.S. maintains global interests, it
will likely have significant requirements for overseas bases.
So while it is unclear what America's basing requirements will be
decades from now, it is clear that the current basing
infrastructure reflects a by-gone era. It requires updating both in
terms of the location and the type of bases.
America's European bases are home to over 116,000 troops, their
125,000 dependents, and 45,000 support personnel, plus their
dependents. Because troops are stationed at these bases for years
rather then on a rotational basis, this large civilian complement
is necessary. But it means that the U.S. government must also
provide support services for thousands of non-military
New bases will likely be smaller and maintain rotational forces. As
the Army continues its efforts to develop self-deployable and
modular brigades and lessens its reliance on much larger divisions,
these bases will likely be geared more toward brigade-size forces.
Deployments may resemble the old Reforger exercises (1969-1988),
which demonstrated America's ability to move at least three
brigades from the United States to Europe in short order. Smaller
bases will also foster the mobility and strategic agility of
America's forces. Small bases and rotational forces will, by their
very natures, facilitate the lighter and more mobile force that is
the Pentagon's aim.
South Korea could be a model for this future force. Equipment and
infrastructure there remain on base, while troops rotate in and out
on yearlong assignments. Families can stay at home because the
troops are there for only short durations. While over 37,000 troops
are stationed in South Korea, just over 4,000 dependents and 25,000
civilian support personnel join them. New bases could also be based
on the deployment in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the United States
maintains over 3,000 troops on six-month rotations with virtually
no dependents. In either case, the United States would have the
flexibility to ramp up capabilities as needed.
Principles for Future Restructuring
The United States should adhere to four principles to ensure that
force-restructuring decisions advance the national interests of
both the United States and its allies:
1. Strategically, a base must advance
America's overall objectives. The highest priority for any
restructuring of America's bases must be to advance America's
strategic objectives. These objectives include nurturing existing
alliances and friendships; preventing a hostile power from
dominating the Pacific, Europe, or the Middle East; and ensuring
access to regional natural resources. Committing to regional
stability and increasing geostrategic flexibility will facilitate
these objectives. Moreover, bases situated to advance U.S.
strategic objectives will be better prepared to take on emerging
missions-such as anti-terrorism, infrastructure protection, and
contraband interdiction-when appropriate.
With the increasing need for global operability, bases in the
heart of Germany, for example, alone no longer serve the strategic
purpose they did during the Cold War. Central Europe is no longer
the fault line for future military conflict, and America's European
basing structure should reflect that reality. Given that
flashpoints for future conflict are likely to revolve around the
Pacific, the Caucasus, the Middle East, and North Africa,
establishing forward positions in closer geographical proximity to
those regions would demonstrate America's commitment to the
long-term security of the region. It would also allow the U.S. to
respond rapidly to crises in those regions.
Furthermore, restructuring America's military bases overseas would
increase its geostrategic flexibility. Currently, the United States
is too dependent on a few countries. Developing a presence in other
nations in vital regions would decrease America's dependence on
Turkey, for example, and therefore ease pressure on that vital
American ally. It is important that Ankara, situated in a very
tough neighborhood, not be the sole pressure point when the U.S.
projects forces eastward and southward from Europe. The political
situation inside Turkey might force even a generally sympathetic
regime in Ankara to resist America using Turkey as a jumping-off
point, as has happened over Iraq. Basing in Bulgaria and Romania
would shift some of the burden away from a hard-pressed American
Taking that example further, basing in Bulgaria and Romania would
provide Turkey, which will remain a key ally, the diplomatic cover
it may need to help the United States by emphasizing such actions
are regional in nature and not solely a case of the U.S.'s
advancing its parochial interests through military means.
2. Operationally, a base must improve America's ability to respond
to current threats as well as facilitate and enhance America's
ongoing military transformation. Although global base restructuring
may be costly, there are opportunities to take advantage of
existing infrastructure in new host nations. For example,
Soviet-era bases are available throughout Eastern Europe. While
most would require significant improvements, some nations have
already begun to upgrade them. Other nations in vital regions of
the world will offer similar options. Furthermore, due to less
stringent environmental regulations than those found in nations
such as Germany, these bases would allow fuller training regimens,
improving military readiness. And proximity to potential hot spots
will make it easier for the United States to respond to crises and
facilitate interoperability among America's likely allies.
Most importantly, operational restructuring should help alleviate
some of the manpower issues that currently hinder the force.
Decreased support requirements will free more troops for combat
missions. And creating a base infrastructure abroad that reflects
current national security requirements will facilitate efficient
use of available resources.
3. Politically, the decision to maintain an existing base or open a
new one must not be driven by political differences; yet, it must
take into consideration the evolving political realities of the
21st century. Restructuring should not be seen as a response to
countries that opposed the war with Iraq. While fissures have
emerged over the war, the United States must reaffirm that it
values its traditional alliances, especially those with its
European and Asian friends, and ensure that its restructuring
efforts will benefit all. The United States must also stress that
its commitment to a region's or nation's security cannot be judged
my manpower alone. Technology allows the United States to project
greater force with fewer soldiers than in the past.
That said, political realities must be acknowledged. For example,
certain members of the German parliament attempted to limit
American use of German airspace during the liberation of Iraq.
Luckily, their efforts failed. If it had succeeded, it would have
severely impeded U.S. operations. While the effort amounted to
little, its very existence should demonstrate the problems with a
heavy reliance on too few basing areas. In a world of rogue states,
weapons of mass destruction, and global terrorist networks,
America's ability to act decisively and quickly with coalitions of
the willing depends on the critical word "willing."
On the other hand, Bulgaria and Romania opened their airspace
unconditionally and offered use of their land and sea ports to U.S.
forces during the Afghanistan conflict. Similar cooperation among
Eastern European friends is ongoing in the war in Iraq.
Establishing a presence in new countries would also create a solid
foundation for new relationships. Many potential host countries
still have vivid memories of oppression by vicious dictators. A
credible American presence in those countries would help to put the
past behind them and to move on with new relationships. The
security provided by this close military relationship would also
allow these nations to fulfill their economic potential in the 21st
century, similar to how America's security umbrella eased economic
development in much of the world in the 20th century.
An American presence would also be hugely positive for the United
States. The relationship would solidify a long-term friendship with
many past adversaries and have a positive economic impact on the
U.S. economy. Most important, however, is that it would advance
America's national security.
4. Economically, base structure decisions must not be driven by
cost concerns but should embrace economic prudence. Some argue that
moving bases would be prohibitively expensive. While there are
costs involved, cost concerns should not prohibit realignment if it
enhances overall national security. Furthermore, by establishing
smaller bases manned by rotational forces, the United States would
not continue to incur the costs of maintaining the large, sprawling
bases and family support infrastructure that were appropriate
during the Cold War.
Critics of realignment argue that former host nations will lose out
economically, but this is the same tired argument so often made
against domestic base closings. While the U.S. presence in some
countries may decrease, those nations will gain access to large
swaths of usable and valuable terrain. As communities in the United
States have found, land formerly occupied by bases can be put to
economically productive use, especially where growth is already
encroaching on existing bases. Besides that, the fact is that the
U.S. Department of Defense is not a jobs program.
There would be no compelling reason to redeploy global forces if it
were not beneficial to all parties involved. Most importantly,
however, force realignment will advance America's national
security. For a variety of political, military, and strategic
reasons, base restructuring is in America's interests. The world
has entered a new era, and it is well past time for U.S. global
force structure to reflect this reality.