The ongoing costs of global empire
America’s longest war is over, so we are told. But America continues to maintain a global military presence that would be the envy of history’s greatest imperial powers.
As Cato’s Doug Bandow writes, there’s no need for the U.S. to have “some 750 American military facilities remain open in 80 nations and territories around the world.” He advocates ending the empire, and bringing the troops home:
Washington has nearly three times as many bases as embassies and consulates. America also has three times as many installations as all other countries combined. The United Kingdom has 145. Russia two to three dozen. China five. Although the number of US facilities has fallen in half since the end of the Cold War, the number of nations hosting American bases has doubled. Washington is as willing to station forces in undemocratic as democratic countries.
All of this is very expensive:
…the annual cost of this expansive base structure to be about $55 billion. Adding increased personnel expenses takes the total up to $80 billion. Wealthier countries, which needlessly enjoy what amounts to defense welfare, typically cover a portion of the cost through “host nation support.” Not so Washington’s newest clients. Indeed, through the Global War on Terror over the last two decades the US military spent as much as $100 billion on new construction, mostly in countries, like Iraq and Afghanistan, which were financial black holes.
The reasons for keeping the web of bases varies, but in many cases, history has made them into expensive relics of the Cold War:
The international threat environment has changed dramatically since the end of World War II, yet America’s global network persists. The impact of the Soviet collapse and Warsaw Pact dissolution was too great not to have eliminated some US facilities, but otherwise the Pentagon has been reluctant to leave existing bases.
The only sure way to close a local installation, it seems, is to lose a war, as in Vietnam and Afghanistan. That needs to change. America no longer can afford to garrison the globe.
No, we can’t. But official Washington seems intent on maintaining our imperial footing, cost and need be damned.