David Vine, an associate professor of anthropology at American University, argues that we've become too dependent on such overseas bases — and that many of them cause serious opposition abroad. He lays out his thinking in his new book, Base Nation: How the U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World.
In the book he notes : "Most of the bases were established during or shortly after World War II. And ever since, Vine says, there have been pockets of local opposition.
"I think there were tensions almost immediately in Germany and Japan, in particular, where these bases were helping U.S. troops and allied troops to occupy the enemy territory," Vine tells Weekend All Things Considered guest host Tess Vigeland.
"Pretty quickly, as the Cold War developed, we see France evict the United States in the mid-1960s. We see countries like Trinidad and Tobago evict the United States, also in the 1960s, and we see growing protest movements in places like Okinawa that continue to the present."
He argues that the U.S. ought to take those protests serious.
Largely people, of course, don't like their land occupied by foreign troops. And I think it's worth thinking - for American audiences to think about how it would feel to have foreign troops living next-door, occupying your land with tanks. But there have also been a number of harms that these bases have inflicted on local communities. There have been accidents, crimes committed by U.S. personnel, environmental damage - a whole range of damage that people are quite upset about.
The book is not initially calling for the closure of every U.S. base overseas. It's calling for, first of all, a conversation about this massive network of bases and whether they're increasing national security or the security of the world. It's important also to point out that a major way in which the United States engages with the rest of the world is through these military bases that are occupying other people's lands. David Vine suggests that a fundamental transition needs to take place now to emphasize increasingly diplomatic engagement rather than military engagement.
Note EU-Digest: a recent report from the BBC notes that the US currently has more than 60,000 troops stationed in Europe, mostly in Germany, Italy and the UK. The US earlier in the year has also announced it will close 15 obsolete military bases across Europe which date back to the cold was era at a savings of about $500m a year. The number of total US servicemen will remain the same, however, according to the US Pentagon, as the US ramps up rotations within Europe for military training programs.
Read more: Do America's Military Bases Abroad Help Or Hinder Global Security? | WGBH News