Deficit Reduction by Closing Overseas Bases

During the last year closing overseas bases has become a focus of several efforts to find ways to reduce the federal deficit.  This includes the reports from the Center for American Progress, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).  The National Commission drew upon previous proposals by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield and former National Security Advisor Jim Jones.

 I. A report from the Center for American Progress by Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden entitled A Thousand Cuts (September 2010) including the following recommendation.

 Military personnel stationed in Europe and Asia

 The United States permanently stations about 150,000 military personnel at U.S.bases in Europe and Asia. Reducing this presence by one-third would save around 12 billion in 2015, while still maintaining a substantial military force on both continents.

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 II. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in its report, The Moment of Truth, (December 2010) stated that gaining control of the federal deficit requires cuts by an equal percentage of security and non-security spending.  Among $200 Billion in Illustrative Savings was the following:

 Option 51. Reduce military personnel stationed at overseas bases in Europe and Asia by one-third.99

 The United States permanently stations about 150,000 military personnel in the hundreds of U.S. bases in Europe and Asia. Reducing this presence by one-third would save around $8.5 billion in 2015,100 while still maintaining a substantial military force on both continents.101 The Army has considered reducing its four combat brigades in Europe to two, but presently the budget includes funds for current force levels, likely to result in a reduction of about 33,000 in Europe and another 17,000 in Korea.

 Since only a minority of the forces in Europe deploy for the Afghan and Iraq wars, the additional forces required to support overseas stationing does not seem cost-effective, and the services have sufficient air and sea assets to deploy forces from the United States. This option would also reduce force levels in Korea as well as reverse the Defense Department’s current plans to build up the infrastructure in Korea to support dependents in support of a new policy to convert the longstanding policy of one year unaccompanied tours to a three-year tour with dependents.

 Variants of this option were supported in 2009 by both former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Jim Jones.

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  99 Staff estimate. In 2009, Jones suggested closing 20% of bases, and Rumsfeld suggested that we could save up to $12 billion by closing 200 to 300 bases alone.

100 Staff estimate.  

101Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden. “A Thousand Cuts.” Center for American Progress, September 2010.  

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 III.  Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) in Back in Black:  A Deficit Reduction Plan (July 2011) included an option for budget savings by reducing military personnel overseas.  He commented that “the strategic rationale for maintaining conventional ground troops in the middle of Western Europe and on islands in Asia has passed given the end of the Cold War.”

 This is what the report says (pp. 127-128):

 Reduce Military Personnel Overseas in Europe and Asia ($69.5 billion)

 This option adopts the recommendation by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to reduce the military personnel stationed at overseas bases in Europe and Asia by one-third.592  This would be combined with a Congressional Budget Office proposal to reduce military personnel stationed in headquarters overseas, and decrease the overall permanent authorization of troops by the same amount.593  The combination of these options would save nearly $70 billion over ten years.

 One of the military deployments to cancel that makes the most strategic sense is the military deployment to Guam. The original plan for Guam was a result of a bilateral agreement with the

Japanese government to transfer 8,600 Marines and 9,000 dependents from Japan to Guam. Japan agreed to pay for approximately $6 billion of the total costs, which are now expected to run to as high as $23.9 billion.594  These conventional troops could be maintained in the continental United States at a far lower cost.

 This option would leave plenty of military capability by maintaining strategic air bases and naval ports to provide logistics links to the current operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. However, the strategic rationale for maintaining conventional ground troops in the middle of Western Europe and on islands in Asia has passed given the end of the Cold War.

 Under this option, the current fleet of over 300 cargo planes, the civil reserve air fleet, and the upcoming Joint High Speed Vessel transport ship will ensure that if ground forces are needed quickly they will be available for the Commander-in-Chief.

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592 “$200 Billion in Illustrative Savings: Option 51”, National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

593 Congressional Budget Office, “Budget Options Volume 2”, page 26, August 2009.

594 GAO D11-459R, “Military Buildup on Guam: Costs and Challenges in Meeting Construction Timelines,” June 27, 2011.

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