From Italy to the Indian Ocean, from Japan to Honduras, a far-reaching examination of the perils of American military bases overseas
American military bases encircle the globe. More than two decades after the end of the Cold War, the U.S. still stations its troops at nearly a thousand locations in foreign lands. These bases are usually taken for granted or overlooked entirely, a little-noticed part of the Pentagon's vast operations. But in an eye-opening account, Base Nation shows that the worldwide network of bases brings with it a panoply of ills—and actually makes the nation less safe in the long run.
As David Vine demonstrates, the overseas bases raise geopolitical tensions and provoke widespread antipathy towards the United States. They also undermine American democratic ideals, pushing the U.S. into partnerships with dictators and perpetuating a system of second-class citizenship in territories like Guam. They breed sexual violence, destroy the environment, and damage local economies. And their financial cost is staggering: though the Pentagon underplays the numbers, Vine's accounting proves that the bill approaches $100 billion per year.
For many decades, the need for overseas bases has been a quasi-religious dictum of U.S. foreign policy. But in recent years, a bipartisan coalition has finally started to question this conventional wisdom. With the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan and ending thirteen years of war, there is no better time to re-examine the tenets of our military strategy. Base Nation is an essential contribution to that debate.
Vine (Island of Shame), an anthropologist and scholar of American military policy, focuses on the cultural and political role of the global U.S. base structure. The U.S. military maintains, by Vine's count, approximately 800 bases "in more than 70 countries," discussion of which is generally confined to the contexts of foreign policy and national security. Vine takes an alternate tack, investigating the bases' financial and human costs to the U.S. and host countries. Military bases, he argues, "perpetuate a 21st-century form of colonialism, tarnishing our country's ability to be a model for democracy." Too often they are vestigial, mostly relics of the Cold War created from a "newly expansive concept of national security' " and surviving more from inertia than intention. Their deterrent value is often marginal, and their impact often catastrophic. For security reasons, foreign bases are self-contained, culturally isolated "Little Americas." They displace local populations, enable "massive human rights abuses" by "murderous antidemocratic regimes," inflict "profound environmental damage," and nurture an "exploitative sex industry" that reinforces a culture of "militarized masculinity." Moreover, what has proved to be a huge cost to taxpayers has enriched a small community of war profiteers. Vine recommends comprehensive shutdowns, and his presentation is eloquent and persuasive. Maps & illus.