Gates dismisses widespread overseas base closings
Published: June 16, 2011
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ testimony yesterday before the Senate Appropriations Committee focused largely on securing the department’s financial future, but he did turn away at least one idea to save more money: closing more overseas military bases.
Both Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said they oppose further overseas base closings, both from a financial and a strategic standpoint. The comments came after several senators pointed to the military’s foreign footprint as a possible area of savings, especially as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.
President’s Commission on Debt Reduction stated earlier this year that overseas base closings could save about $9 billion, but Gates dismissed that figure. “Overseas base reductions would require [military construction] here in the United States, so at least in the beginning it would be more expensive to bring them home than to leave them where they are,” he said.
But Gates said that perhaps more important than the financial considerations are the strategic ramifications of any closings. Overseas assignments not only strengthen ties with foreign allies but also improve the department’s quick-response capabilities.
“The biggest policy question that has to be asked is what kind of signal do you want to send the rest of the world,” Gates said. “Are we basically sending the message to the rest of the world, to China, to Iran, to North Korea … that the U.S. is closing up and heading home? What kind of a role do you want for the United States in the world?”
Gates said he also thinks that the bases are invaluable to foreign armies as well, helping them train and prepare side-by-side with American forces. Mullen added the cultural exchange and personal relationships also help build America’s reputation abroad, which in the long term could help prevent conflicts.
“There’s just nothing like being there,” he said.