U.S. Foreign Military Bases & Military Colonialism
U.S. Foreign Military Bases & Military Colonialism
Several of us spend a lot of our time doing political and geo-strategic analysis, what people sometimes call "big picture" analysis.. We don't do it because we particularly like to think in abstract or strategic terms, or out of any fascination with military hardware and technology. Most of us do what we do because of militarisms impacts on people: the shattering of human lives, its repression and terrorism, and the ways in which it truncates - cuts off and severely limits - our lives and ambitions. Systems of physical coercion and dominance wound diminish, demean, and too often destroy, people like ourselves.
Before reporting on the Bush Administration's initial steps and massive plans for re-configuration of the global infrastructure of U.S. military bases and installations I want to begin by speaking personally. I have a sharp memory of a few moments from a lecture by one of my professors in the early spring of 1968. It was a course on U.S. political and diplomatic history taught by Professor Jules Davids, a fine historian and wonderful teacher who we did not then know had been the primary ghost writer of President John Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage. , Bill Clinton might have been in class that. Gloria Macapagal, whose father was then client president of the Philippines and who is now president herself, was almost certainly there*, and in recent years I have found myself wondering how she experienced what Professor Davids shared with us.
As he prepared the way to teach about the Spanish American War of 1898 and the U.S. conquests of the Philippines, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico, Professor Davids was careful to stress that the China Market was then seen as the holy grail of capitalism, the near-infinite market that could absorb the surplus production of U.S. factories and farms. By quite literally conquering Chinese markets, not only would U.S. industries reap enormous profits, but it could bring an end to a great economic depression that had left millions of workers unemployed, and which was the cause of politically destabilizing turmoil. Professor Davids was also careful to explain to us that in the 1890s the warships needed to conquer markets and the merchant ships which would follow in their wake, were steam ships, powered by coal. They could not traverse the Pacific Ocean without stopping from time to time at what were called "coaling stations" to take on more fuel. Colonial powers liked to have exclusive control over their coaling stations. That way they could deny access and essential fuel to the ships of rival colonial powers. The U.S. as a still rising power. It did not have such bases of its own.
Professor Davids then described Subic Bay in the Philippines as one of the world's most perfect ports. It was strategically located just to the east of the Chinese coast, a fine jumping off point for U.S. warships. Its harbor was (and is) deep, round, and wonderfully blue. When I first saw it years later, I struck by how perfect Professor David's description had been. And it was to conquer this geostratigically important port, that the U.S. ousted Spain from the Philippines and then went on to kill hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in order to have exclusive control over Subic Bay, the Philippines as a whole, and the ability to take and sell from China on unequal and demeaning terms. . Of course, the U.S. won other geostrategically important military bases when it ousted Spain as the colonial ruler of Cuba (where the U.S. still has the notorious base at Guantanamo,) Puerto Rico, and Guam. As they years went by, I found myself wondering what Gloria Macapagal must have thought when she was first exposed Professor Davids' unerring description of why her nation had been colonized, and why the U.S. supported her father. Gloria's recent embrace of George Bush has a long history.
Later, as a young peace activist, I could not but feel horror and shame as the U.S. backed the Marcos dictatorship, using his reign of terror and torture to reinforce the U.S. hold on Subic Naval Base ,Clark Air Base and the region as a whole I came to know Filipinos who were forced into exile by Marcos. I traveled to Manila shortly after the EDSA People's Power revolution and was privileged to be present in searing press conferences in which Marcos' torture victims told their excruciating stories in that inebriating air of that "democratic moment" which might not last. And in Olongopo, the city next to Subic, I was sickened by the corruption that attends foreign military bases: prostitution, sexual violence, and the drug trade. They were everywhere.
My awakening to the meanings and impacts of bases, their missions and roles in maintaining dominance, now Full Spectrum Dominance, had earlier when I first went to Japan for an anti-nuclear conference. Although I knew far more than most U.S. Americans and U.S. peace activists, I was nonetheless amazed to learn that the U.S. still had (has) more than 100 military bases and installations across Japan, but concentrated in Okinawa. I was shocked as I listened to Okinawans and other Japanese describe what it meant to live in communities routinely terrorized by the shattering sounds of low altitude & night landing exercises, by crimes committed by GIs that regularly went unpunished just as happened here with the killings of Shin Hyo-soon and Shim Mi-sun and many other times before that. I learned about how people's land had been seized to make way for bases and how these bases blocked economic and social development I was upset by descriptions of the pervasiveness of prostitution near U.S. bases and by the seemingly endless sexual harassment and violence. People shared their painful memories of deadly military accidents: planes and helicopters falling into people's homes and schools, drunken military drivers who caused sometimes deadly accidents, and the destruction of people's homes and property during military exercises. People spoke of their shame of being complicit in wars and aggressions, like the savaging of Vietnam, because their communities hosted bases deeply involved in killing people and destroying communities and nations. And they taught us about the political context: the unequal U.S.-Japan Military Alliance that was forced on the Japanese people as the price for ending the U.S. military occupation in 1952, and the resulting loss of national sovereignty.
Their words and pain brought back a memories from elementary school: my fourth grade teacher who had teaching us that the U.S. Declaration of Independence had a section which informed the world that it was necessary to fight the war of Independence against Britain because King George III had "kept among us in times of peace" "Standing Armies" which committed intolerable "abuses and usurpations." They also remnded me of television images from 1960 when Japanese militants - including Muto Ichiyo - snake danced through Tokyo in militant demonstrations to express their rage against the United States and the unequal treaty that forced their communities to host U.S. military bases.
At that meeting in Tokyo and Hiroshima, there were also representatives of the Guam Landowners Association. They had two maps with them. One showed the locations of the island's best fishing grounds, its best agricultural land, and its best drinking water. The other map showed the locations of the U.S. military bases, installations, and military exercises. The two maps were identical. And there were Filipinos who urged us to do all that we could to help them free themselves from U.S. military colonialism and the deadly Marcos dictatorship.
In subsequent years, it has been my painful, humbling, and sometimes inspiring privilege to meet and to learn from people who have been victimized by U.S. military bases in Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines, in Britain, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Iceland, Spain, Turkey, Puerto Rico, Honduras and other countries. Each case is different, and in may ways, each base brings: calamitous "abuses and usurpations."
I will never forget the face of an Okinawan woman who shared the memory of how, when she was a child, her entire generation of girls - now middle aged women - were terrorized by the brutal G.I. rape and killing of a young girl. Or the sight of older Okinawan farmers - each wearing a headband declaring that "Life is Sacred" - conducting a sit-in outside the courthouse in Naha, demanding the return of their land. Or the agonized testimony of a young Korean about the Maehangri practice range, and how people living there have suffered U.S. bombings for the past fifty years. There was the passion with which a young Korean anti-bases activist insisted that I look at a C.D. that his organization had made about the killings of two girls, Shin Hyo-soon and Shim Mi-sun, by a tank within weeks of that atrocity and his insistence that I do something about it. And a good friend in Iceland once told how demonstrators there had once placed horse's head on a pole as a way of invoking the old Norse Gods to rid their island of the abominable airbase at Keflavik. They were joking, but they were also a serious and committed as people can be.
Bases bring insecurity; the loss of self-determination, human rights, and sovereignty. They degrade the culture, values, health and environment of host nations - and of the United States.. And, if you allow yourself to be touched by another's pain, it becomes yours. The imperative becomes to end the other's suffering
That is why we are here.
Let me add one last note to these extended introductory comments : With the exception of those who have served in the U.S. military, U.S. Americans are almost entirely ignorant of the existence of this infrastructure of coercion and death. If they are dimly aware that the U.S. has some foreign military bases, they have little idea that they exist for purposes other than to defend the people of the "host" nations. With the rare exception of the temporary illumination and horror that came with the kidnapping and rape of the Okinawan school girl in 1995, there is no intimation of the suffering, of the "abuses and usurpations," that come with U.S. bases and "forward deployed" troops. And few were paying attention when, upon President Bush's return from Asia last month, Condoleeza Rice said "The centerpiece of the President's strategy is our strong forward presenceâ€¦"
Missions of Bases:
For those of you who are new to the issue of military bases, I want to briefly explain some of the strategic rationales and missions, of the estimated 702 U.S. foreign military bases and installations that are currently located in at least 40 nations **. At root, the entire system serves as an integrated global infrastructure for imperial domination. Not even Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar or Benjamin Disraeli had such a host of mighty fortresses. These bases exist to:
· To reinforce the status quo: for example the deterrent role of U.S. bases in South Korea, and the intimidating role of many of the U.S. bases in Middle East which are designed to ensure continued U.S. privileged access to, and control of, the region's oil
· To encircle enemies: as was the case with the Soviet Union and China during Cold War and China to this day. This is a role played by U.S. bases in Korea, Japan, Philippines, Australia, Pakistan, Diego Garcia, and in many of the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia
· To serve & reinforce the aircraft carriers, destroyers, nuclear armed submarines and other warships of the U.S. Navy. This includes bases in Okinawa, Yokuska outside Tokyo, and "visiting forces" and "access" agreements in the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and many other countries.
· To train U.S. forces, as was long the case for bombardiers in Vieques and as jungle war fighting and other training which continues in Okinawa.
· To function as jumping off points for U.S. foreign military interventions as: the cases of Okinawa, the Philippines, now Korea with the changing missions of U.S. forces here, Spain, Italy, Honduras, Germany and the new bases in Eastern Europe, Kuwait and likely in Iraq.
· To facilitate C3I: command, control, communications and intelligence,
including essential roles in nuclear war fighting, and the use of space
for intelligence and warfare as we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S.
bases in Okinawa, Qatar, Australia and even China serve these
· To control the governments of host nations. Japan, Korea (where U.S.
military forces were deeply involved in military coups,) Germany, Saudi Arabia, and today's Iraq begin the list.
The Current Context:
Donald Rumsfeld's unprecedented campaign to restructure and revitalize U.S. forward military deployments and its global military infrastructure is best understood within the context of the Administration's megalomanical and near-totalitarian ambitions. The campaign is one of the more ambitious tactics of U.S. efforts to expand and to consolidate its global empire into and through the power vacuums left in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire.
Some of you will remember the slogans the elder President Bush used to frame the "Desert Storm" Gulf War in 1991. It was fought to create a "New World Order" in which "What we say, goes." Yes, it was a reaffirmation of what Noam Chomsky has called "Political Axiom #1" that the U.S. will never permit its enemies, nor its allies, to gain independent access to Middle East oil. --the "jugular vein" of global capitalism since World War I, when Winston Churchill called it "The Prize.".
The "Desert Storm" war was also fought to discipline and restructure the world (dis)order in those dizzying first years of the Post Cold War-era. In the months that followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall, most of the world's the military alliances military budgets, military bases, and military production facilities were bereft of their legitimizing rationale, and their futures were uncertain.. With "Desert Storm," NATO was turned toward "out of area" operations, with bases in Britain and Germany used as staging areas and jumping off points. Even placid Shannon Airport in Dublin was unnecessarily forced to accommodate U.S. warplanes to remind the Irish that they live in what Zbigniew Brzezinski calls a "vassal state.". The U.S. did its best to traumatize Japanese political culture, insisting that $13 billion and the use of U.S. bases from Okinawa to Hokkaido were certainly not sufficient. In 1991 Bush I prepared the way for Bush II to let the Koizumi Government know that it was expected to" show the flag," to join the U.S. war against the Taliban by sending warships to the Indian Ocean. Those 1991 demands were part of the longer-term U.S. campaign to completely remilitarize Japan and its political culture. We see this again today in the U.S. demands that Japan and Korea contribute to the illusion of legitimacy of the U.S. neo-colonial occupation of Iraq by sending in their troops. Your societies are to pay the price of "burden sharing" - in blood if necessary.
In 1991 The people of Vieques suffered new rounds of practice bombing runs, and the naval and air bases in Diego Garcia were shown to be fundamentally important to U.S. Middle East hegemony, as well as to U.S. ambitions in Southern and Central Asia. Across North Africa and the Middle East, the war was used to exercise formal and informal alliances, to re-legitimate the presence and use of U.S. military bases in Egypt and the Persian Gulf, and to build new military bases in strategically important Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Qatar and Kuwait. With the nuclear threats made by President Bush, Vice President Quayle, Secretary of War Cheney, and British Prime Minister Major during the "Desert Shield" phase of the war. And, with, the encirclement of Iraq with as many as 700 nuclear weapons to back up those threats, the First Bush Administration. Attempted to re-legitimate the existence of its nuclear arsenal and the practice of nuclear blackmail -- at least in elite U.S. circles --for the Post-Cold War period. You can be sure than an essential pillar of those threats were the military bases where U.S. nuclear weapons are stored, where U.S. nuclear-capable ships are based or make port calls, and where there are C3I functions.
In the early days of the Clinton Administration, when I joined protest marches in Japan and the Philippines, I was struck at the rage people expressed as they shouted condemnations of "Clin-ton." I knew that, at heart, he was actually a little man, caught up in what Hannah Arendt first called " the banality of evil" . To enjoy the privileges and power of being the U.S. president, he had to pay the price in terms of tolerating and affirming deadly policies, institutions, and actions.
With the exception of his reckless sexual behavior, Bill Clinton's political career has been marked by caution and conservatism. He is not what most of us would think of as a courageous man. . Since his student days, he has not been one to challenge illegitimate power and authority. Instead, he bent himself to its demands, integrating its power into his own and rising with it. Among his first commitments upon assuming the presidency was to promise not to cut the military's gargantuan budget, thereby squelching dreams of a post-Cold War peace dividend. I doubt that he was personally committed to the economic sanctions that took the lives of an estimated one million Iraqis - most of them children and old people - during his presidency. I think he was simply afraid to pay the political price required to end one of the worst mass murders of the last century. As his history with Saddam Hussein's Iraq reflects, Clinton was not so much a warrior as a classical politician who knew that his career depended on keeping the economy vital, people employed, and income gap widening profits flowing to his patrons.. Here in Asia, after Clinton almost stumbled into what would have been a cataclysmic second Korean war in 1994, he essentially handed the re-formulation of U.S. Asia policy to Joe Nye at the Pentagon. Thus we had the recommitment to maintain 100,000 forward deployed troops in bases across East Asia, the deepening and expansion of the U.S.-Japanese alliance through the Clinton-Hashimoto agreement, the SACO smoke and mirrors campaign to pacify the Okinawan people by ostensibly "reducing the size of the U.S. footprint" on that tortured land without making any substantial changes, and Nye led Clinton back to "engagement" with China.
In Europe, Assistant Secretary of State, Strobe Talbot and the U.S. military were busy re-dividing and containing that continent. They pressed for the inclusion of nearly all of Eastern Europe into an enlarged NATO to counter French and Germany ambitions. They renewed the 19th century game of playing Russia off against Western Europe. And, in the aftermath of the illegal "Kosovo" war against Serbia, the U.S. emerged with a massive new military base, Camp Bondsteel. Bondsteel was the first of what Washington hopes will become a new system of U.S. military bases contributing to the encirclement of Western Europe and Russia and, as we have seen this year, as jumping off points for U.S. wars in the Middle East.
Which brings us to the second catastrophic Bush presidency. As I explained at the ARENA workshop several days ago, the Bush Administration came to power with the commitment to impose what Vice President Cheney called, "the arrangement for the 21st century" to ensure that "the United States will continue to be the dominant political, economic, and military power in the world.": As they came to power, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their neo-con allies let it be known that they modeled themselves after Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge and Admiral Mahan, the men who - in the 1880s and 1890s envisioned the possibility of the U.S. replacing Britain as the world's dominant power, and then built the military needed to do it. Well before 9-11 and the publication of the unilateralist, first-strike, "National Strategy Statement" a year later, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were clear that they were committed to the so-called "Revolution in Military Affairs" - the near-complete integration of information technologies into U.S. war fighting doctrines; its air, land, sea and space based weapons systems; and the military infrastructure - including its global network of foreign military bases.
As the pre-inaugural reports prepared under the direction of (now) Assistant Secretary of State Armitage and (now) Ambassador Khalilzad recommended, in the Asia Pacific this meant reaffirming the commitment to U.S. military bases and forward deployed troops across the region. Yes, some bases will be close in Rumsfeld's re-configuration, and some will be merged, but this will be done in the context of augmenting U.S. military power through "diversification"- moving their center of gravity of U.S. forward deployed troops and bases from Northeast Asia further south. The goal is to better encircle China, to fight the so-called "War on Terrorism" across Southeast Asia, and to more completely control the sea lanes over which Persian Gulf oil - the life of East Asia's economies - must travel. Guam will again become a hub for U.S. Asia-Pacific forces. So much for its people and natural resources! U.S. bases in Australia will be augmented. The Bush agenda is to build on the "Visiting Forces" and access agreements with the Philippines, and Singapore, and to open the way for U.S. forces in Thailand. In fact, as the Philippine press reports, U.S. military officials are privately exploring the possibility of reestablishing its bases in the former colony.
The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq served to begin the long-planned campaign of "re-configuration," and "diversification" . The way was opened with the threat of Washington's intimidating new "for us or against us" doctrine. Dictatorships in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kygristan, and Tajikistan were forced to surrender sovereignty and to invite the Pentagon to establish what will likely become permanent U.S. military bases.
A year later, with Germany balking at joining in the invasion of Iraq and limiting the roles that U.S. bases there could play, Washington began "diversifying" its European military infrastructure . Threats to punish Germany by withdrawing all U.S. bases from Germany were made. More than a few Germans, I am sure, celebrated this prospect; it is something they have been working for for many years. . New bases were established in those bastions of democracy and human rights Romania and Bulgaria To the south, under cover of preparations for the war, Bush and company removed one of the precipitating causes of the 9-11 attacks: the vast majority of U.S. troops and bases in Saudi Arabia. Many Moslems experienced those bases as sullying Islam's holiest land. These troops, bases and functions were transferred to Qatar and Kuwait. Bases in Djibouti and Baharain were expanded. And now, in addition to plans for Iraq to serve the U.S. as a source of oil that can be used to leverage Saudi Arabia and OPEC, U.S. military planners look forward to Iraq serving as a bastion of U.S. military power in the Middle East for decades to come.
Africa, too, is to have an augmented role in the U.S. global military network. On the eve of President Bush's trip to the continent last Spring, the U.S. was in the process of negotiating the creation of a "family" of military bases across the continent. As General Jones of the European Command explained, this "family" is to include major installations for up to 5,000 strong brigades "that could be robustly used." There will also be "lightly equipped bases available in crises to special forces or Marines." "Hosts" for this new family are to include Algeria, Mali, and Guinea (which has also been targeted as a source of oil), with Senegal and Uganda providing refueling installations for the Air Force. And, Washington hasn't forgotten its own "backyard," Latin America. Although the Puerto Rican people's fifty year struggle to close the base at Vieques has prevailed, new military bases are now sprouting across the Andean nations and the U.S. is increasingly militarizing the Caribbean.
This "diversified" and unprecedented infrastructure of global military power is to be built on several conceptual pillars.
First is flexibility. Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their associates want total freedom of action.
On the one hand, if, Germany, or another vassal state are reluctant to permit U.S. military bases and installations to be used for a particular purpose, including war, Rumsfeld's Pentagon wants be sure that will be able to use bases in other countries as quickly as possible. Similarly, as in the case of South Korea, they want their military infrastructure to be flexible, able to serve multiple bellicose functions: to deter Pyongyang while also being available for "regime change" war, to influence Korean foreign and domestic policy, , and to assist U.S. military interventions across East Asia - perhaps, like U.S. bases in Japan - as far away as the Persian Gulf.
Second is speed. With forward deployed troops and munitions, and with new "lily pad" bases that can be used as jumping off points for military interventions and aggression, the goal is to be able to strike before the target of U.S. attack can prepare its defenses or, as in the case of Iraq, even a long term strategy of resistance.
Building on both current and new bases and military installations, U.S. forward deployed forces are to be organized along a three-tiered integrated structure: 1) major hub bases like those in Japan, Okinawa, Guam, Britain, Qatar, and Honduras; 2) smaller centers or "Forward Operating bases" like those in South Korea, Diego Garcia, Kuwait, Bulgaria, Uzbekistan, and Australia; and 3) "Lilly pads" that will serve as jumping off points in countries ranging from Lithuania to Tajikistan, and Djibouti to the Andean nations in South America.
The purpose of this "reconfiguration" of U.S. military power is, of course, not to keep the Pentagon and "national security state" occupied or preoccupied with conceptual exercises.. Like bases, weapons and troops themselves, the reorganization is being done to better terrorize, coerce, and if deemed necessary to kill other humans. And, as the people of South Korea, Japan, Okinawa, and other nations that already "host" U.S. military bases know, these bases will come with intolerable and terrorizing "abuses and usurpations" which must be resisted and overcome.
I won't pretend that there are easy solutions to liberating ourselves from the abuses, usurpations, and dangers war that attend the presence of all military bases. The inspiring struggles of the Filipino and Okinawan people, and the international solidarity campaigns that have supported them provide models from which we can all take hope and important lessons.
There are several other new dynamics and initiatives that we should bear in mind. The first is that there has been a worldwide explosion of anti-bases education and organizing over the past six months. In Europe, a new network of anti-bases activists met at the European Network for Peace and Human Rights conference in Brussels last June. They are already well along the way to editing a book, written by people from "host" nations around the world, that should be an important tool in anti-bases work. More dramatically, Europeans are again protesting at U.S. bases, including the nuclear weapons base in Belgium. Here in Asia, as many of you know, Focus on Global South has initiated a new anti-bases network. Their anti-bases list serve is providing an important forum for people across the globe to exchange information, share histories, and to explore common actions. Focus has also initiated an anti-bases conference within the World Social Forum which they hope many of you will join or find ways of supporting.
My privilege now is to listen and to learn from you. I wish that I were in a position to say that I think it possible that campaigning to repatriate U.S. troops and bases from across Asia and the world as a whole would soon become a primary focus of the U.S. peace movement. Unhappily, between the Bush wars, which have become worse than quagmires, the increasing focus on regime change at jp,e in next year's presidential election, and growing concern about the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld efforts to build new nuclear weapons and to resume nuclear weapons testing, our contributions to the liberation of Korea, Okinawa, Japan, the Philippines, and other nations will be more limited than any of us would like.
There have significant openings in the past:, speaking tours and joint-publications to help educate people and to boost movement building in the U.S., statements of remorse and solidarity signed by hundreds of U.S. people after the 1995 kidnapping and rape by three GIs in Okinawa, and the signature advertisement that we placed in the Okinawa Times on the opening day of the G-8 summit held in that still occupied military colony.
In closing, I want to thank you again for the opportunity to be here with you, and I look forward to exploring with you ways that the U.S. peace movement can make at least some contributions to your struggles for freedom, peace, and security.
* As an undergraduate, I attended Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Bill Clinton and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo were two of my 250 classmates between 1964 and 1968. What it was like to be a middle class Jew in this elite Catholic and international institution is quite another story.
** Calculating the numbers of bases, installations and the nations the are in, is an imprecise art. The figures cited here are conservative and do not take into account military warehouses, which are sometimes counted as installations. Similarly, some use the figure of 100 nations. This includes military attached to U.S. embassies. And, with President Bush having promised that the U.S. would be fighting an overt and covert war in between forty and eighty countries, at this time only senior figures in the Pentagon and CIA and White House have access to the complete list.
*Dr. Joseph Gerson is the Director of Programs of the American Friends Service Committee in New England. He is deeply involved in the U.S. peace and anti-war movement and participated in the founding conferences of United for Peace and Justice, The Asia Peace Assembly, and the European Network for Peace and Human Rights. His books include: The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of Foreign U.S. Military Bases, With Hiroshima Eyes: Atomic War, Nuclear Extortion and Moral Imagination, and The Deadly Connection: Nuclear War and U.S. Intervention.
American Friends Service Committee
2161 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02140 USA