Above photo: From Coalition Against US Foreign Military Bases.
Soon after the Second World War ended, the British government with its vast colonial empire made significant territorial concessions to the USA which could facilitate the rapid spread of USA military bases in many parts of the world. In addition of course the defeated Axis countries and their territories could provide another suitable place for the rapid proliferation of the US military bases that was to follow.
In recent decades there have been several closures of these bases but there have been several new ones coming up as well. This together with definitional issues makes it difficult to give precise numbers, and it has been stated that even the Pentagon may struggle to give a precise number and list. However a frequently given estimate is that of about 750 USA bases in as many as around 80 countries. No previous empire in world history had so many spread over so vast an area. Pentagon has provided a smaller estimate—about 650 or so military bases—but several significant omissions in this have been pointed out. At the same time even higher estimates have been presented by some independent sources. In addition the military objectives of the USA are advanced further by the nearly 145 bases of its closest ally, the UK, as well.
Japan has about 120 US military bases, Germany has 119, Italy has 44 and South Korea has 73. Japan has about 54,000 US military personnel, Germany has around 34,000 while S.Korea has about 26,000.
These military bases have seen much democratic opposition by local people. A recent survey in Germany revealed that 47% of respondents want the number of US military personnel to reduce while only 4% want their number to increase. 28% want roughly the same numbers to continue while 21% gave no clear answer. In S. Korea despite reported overall support for the USA there have been several mobilizations of people against US military bases (particularly the biggest one Camp Humphreys) including the huge protest rally in Seoul as recently as August 14. Okinawa region of Japan, with highest concentration of US military bases, has a history of protests going back all the way to 75 years, still continuing. Several protests, such as those in the Philippines succeeded in removing those particular bases that were targeted, while others succeeded by bringing some improvements the local people wanted.
There has been frequent discontent over the displacement of local people, including indigenous people, caused by military bases. In the case of the military base set up at Diego Garcia, all the native people were removed by the British authorities to facilitate the setting up of the US military base.
Scuffles and traffic accidents involving US military personnel sometimes lead to sporadic protests, but the anger over sexual exploitation and violence has been more persistent, as it touches sensitive issues relating to safety of women. This emerged as a serious problem in Japan around 1945 as several cases of rapes by US military personnel were reported. However the solution found by the Japanese authorities, in consultation with US military authorities, turned out to be no less objectionable. As many as about 55,000 Japanese girls and women were recruited to provide sexual services or to serve as ‘comfort women’ for those US soldiers who had been described till recently as the worst enemies of the country. This was happening while allegations of horrible sexual violence by Japanese soldiers earlier in the war were pouring in from China and elsewhere. To organize this network of over 50,000 women a Recreation and Amusement Association (RAA) was set up, also called the Special Comfort Facilities Association. The subsequent STD explosion, more than the moral outrage, which followed forced the US and Japanese authorities to soon shut this formal structure, while informal services continued longer.
In S. Korea when there were increasing reports of anger over the proliferation of prostitution around military bases, the authorities thought of reducing local resentments by facilitating the entry of more foreign sex-workers in these places, but this in this turn led to overall increase in trafficking with its other adverse impacts.
There have been frequent complaints of environmental degradation caused by the military bases. The military bases ask sometimes not to be covered by local environmental laws, while US laws also do not apply to them. These problems can be more serious in places in Okinawa where there is a concentration of many bases.
The existence of these military bases is sometimes used or publicized as a protection for themselves by authoritarian rulers who are close allies of the USA. Hence these become a hostile force for democracy movements and aspirations.
An important function of these military bases is to function as a launching pad for wars and military interventions of the USA and to facilitate these. People of several countries may have sympathized a lot with Vietnamese resistance, but they could not prevent the US military bases located in their countries from being used by the US forces against the people of Vietnam. Similarly in the case of highly unjust invasions of Iraq, such military bases were used.
The fact that highly destructive weapons are likely to be stored in these bases is another serious risk. The USA has about 150 of its nuclear weapons deployed in five European countries. It is widely believed that many US nuclear weapons were earlier kept elsewhere too outside the USA.
At a wider level also, to avert the military dominance of the entire world by a single country, and to prevent the misuse of this dominance to inflict several injustices, this proliferation of military bases all over the world must be opposed.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, A Day in 2071 and Protecting Earth for Children.