SEATTLE — Politicians who allocate funds for U.S. foreign aid and other programs, must consider a cost-benefit analysis regarding the effectiveness of the program at hand. The country spends billions on maintaining foreign bases, while U.S. foreign aid receives a fraction of that amount. Is it time to reconsider this approach to spending?
Generally, American foreign bases are regarded as a means for national security and peace worldwide. These bases were mostly established in the post-World War II and Cold War era.
As discussed by American University professor David Vine in his new book, “Garrisoning the Globe,” many bases were implemented as a result of a 1940 “destroyers-for-bases” deal between President Franklin Roosevelt and Great Britain. The result of this deal included 99-year leases to construct U.S. foreign bases on British colonies. By the end of World War II, the U.S. had built over 2,000 foreign bases.
After the collapse of the U.S.S.R., many bases were vacated. However, the United States still maintains 800 foreign military bases, including 174 in Germany, 83 in South Korea and 113 in Japan.
The United States is not the only country to own foreign bases; the United Kingdom, Japan, Chile, South Korea and India, among other countries, have foreign military bases as well.
However, the striking difference is the number of bases the United States has, particularly with countries with whom the U.S. is not at war nor has been at war. Overall, the U.S. foreign military bases account for 95 percent of foreign bases around the world. As reported by news media outlet Mother Jones, “Los Angeles could fit into the land managed by the Pentagon 93 times.”
These bases require significant investment of funds, specifically taxpayer dollars. The Defense budget is almost $700 billion annually, which is more than the rest of the top-ten countries’ defense spending.
Billions of dollars have been invested towards building foreign bases in every country within the Persian Gulf, with the exception of Iran. Recently, President Obama’s “Pacific Pivot” strategy invests $23.9 billion towards building up the military bases in Guam.
Vine conservatively estimates that the budget for foreign bases is more than $85 billion per year. Including the countries with whom the U.S. is at war, Iraq and Afghanistan, that number surpasses $156 billion.
With $85 billion dollars and half a million troops going overseas, there could be many benefits towards reducing the number of foreign bases. By carefully evaluating which bases are truly necessary, more troops could come home and more taxpayer dollars could be set aside for other usages, such as improving domestic infrastructure and/or allocating this foreign defense spending towards U.S. foreign aid.
One year’s budget for foreign bases not in Iraq or Afghanistan, $85 billion dollars, could cure world hunger for almost three years. That is almost double the 2015 budget for USAID. The budget for the United Nations, in contrast, was $5.4 billion for 2014-2015.
Sources: Department of Defense, Mother Jones, Stars and Stripes, State Department, Tom Dispatch, U.N.