Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Little, Colonial, Different

I thought for sure that when I saw this article in my inbox this morning, that Guam would be on the list.

In 2006 Foreign Policy magazine listed Guam as one of the six most important "foreign" bases of the more than 800 that it has around the world. Others included on that list were Camp Anaconda in Iraq, Bezmer Air base in Bulgaria, Manas Air Base in Kyrgistan, Guantanamo Bay, Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean,

When I saw this article about the "Cost of Empire: Five expensive, controversial U.S. Military bases" I was sure that Guam, especially after all the extra attention it has gotten this year (Obama almost visiting, Guam almost getting capsized) would get a place on this list. But when I read through it and saw Guam missing, I wasn't quite sure why.

Was this another case where Guam was now considered to be domestic and not foreign? Were these sites decided by region and so Kadena took the Asia-Pacific slot which Guam might have had? The author does mention Guam briefly as the site which will be receiving US forces from Japan, and so was this footnote status a way of mentioning Guam and including it without really including what makes it controversial? Or was this another case where the controversial nature of Guam being a US possession or a contemporary colony owned by the country which above all shouldn't have colonies, ultimately helps deflect the criticism of that very existence? Or to put it another way, in many cases, the "secret" of Guam's controversial status isn't enough or much of a secret, and so sometimes when lists like this are put together, that lack ends up editing Guam out. I won't speak for the author as to what his motivation was, but I found it curious to imagine why Guam wasn't included and what was the rationale for choosing the other sites.

One thing that I did appreciate about this article though was how he excluded Afghanistan and Iraq from the options, in hopes, I assume of getting people to think outside of that particular box, that militarism and war are sustained by explicit violence and not more banal, embedded forms.

When we view colonialism, not through the ancient faded lens of being something that existed long in the past and doesn't exist or doesn't really exist today, it doesn't do us any good. When we define things in that way, we define Guam out of existence. We deprive it of its own existence. We start to see Guam from the way the Federal Government sees Guam and other territories. They are not colonies, they are not states, they are not independent countries, they are just different. Don't think about it too hard or dwell on it too long, because it won't be good for anyone, not them, not us. Just include them sometimes, exclude them other times, and everything should be fine.

I guess the moral of this particular story for the US and the DOD, is that if they want to preserve their control over more lurid properties such as GTMO or Diego Garcia, they should allow them to elect a non-voting delegate to Congress and become part of the State Quarters program. Such a move would place their secret and their nasty qualities out in the open, in the way that Guam is already out for all to see. Well, realisitically though it would take a little bit more, since one thing the US has to its advantange in holding Guam is the plenty of shiny happy natives here.


Cost of an Empire: Five expensive, controversial U.S. military bases By Patrick Winn

(not in Iraq or Afghanistan)

BANGKOK, Thailand—If you spin a globe and randomly point to a country, there’s a one-in-five chance the U.S. military runs a piece of the nation underneath your finger.

The U.S. Defense Department has real estate in 46 countries and American territories, adding up to a whopping 837 overseas locations. It manages roughly 1,300 square miles, a combined area considerably larger than Rhode Island. Throw in bases within the territories and 50 states and you’ve got Ohio.

Beyond massive complexes in Germany, Japan, and South Korea, there are little-known holdings scattered around the planet: an old Dutch mine, a communications tower on Australia’s west coast, and an army sniper range in Djibouti.

How much does overseeing this sprawling foreign footprint really cost? The exact cost of managing troops, bases, fleets, and materiel overseas is difficult to determine. The think tank Foreign Policy in Focus estimates at least $250 billion.

But that doesn’t factor in the political price. Though protected by American might, even Japan and the Philippines have questioned U.S. troops’ presence there as a slight to their sovereignty. Lesser allies like Ecuador and Uzbekistan have even evicted U.S. bases in recent years.

Here’s a look at five U.S. military bases that have proven costly and controversial.

Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia

Location: Extremely remote island in the Indian Ocean

Real Estate: 595 buildings on 7,000 acres.

Value: $2.6 billion (Represents U.S. military’s estimated cost of replacing facilities in today’s economy. Does not include deployed aircraft, vehicles or ships.)

How is it useful?

Diego Garcia is an American military strategist’s dream. Located in an abyss of ocean 1,200 miles south of India, it’s close enough to the Middle East to launch B-2 bombing runs into Afghanistan. It’s also within flying distance to Africa and near enough to Asia to intimidate China. But its distant location ensures against the threat of counter-attack and offers a safe haven for refueling aircraft carriers and bombers. There’s little threat of being kicked out, as the barely inhabited island is owned by the United Kingdom.

Why is it criticized?

The U.S. and U.K. governments have used almost all of the tiny island for military facilities. This involved clearing out the 1,000-plus native inhabitants, who claim they were rounded up, shipped to British island territories and dumped possessionless into slums. Their appeals are tangled up in Britain’s legal system. Diego Garcia is also alleged to house secret CIA prisons for American enemies, though the island’s remoteness makes that claim extremely difficult to investigate.

Incirlik Air Base

Location: Southern Turkey

Real Estate: 675 buildings on 3,300 acres

Value: $1.7 billion
How is it useful?
More than any base outside Afghanistan and Iraq, this Mediterranean air field has proven indispensable in fighting America’s 21st century wars. First established in the aftermath of World War II, Incirlik saw little action before the September 11 attacks. It has since become a core launching pad for U.S. refueling missions and troop movements into neighboring Iraq. The base also hosts dozens of nuclear bombs, potentially deterring Iran from any future nuclear strike.

Why is it criticized?

The base’s nukes are a sore point not just for Iran but for Russia, which also lies within striking range. The Cold War-era gravity bombs, more primitive than modern cruise missile warheads, are not believed to be immediately deployable. But they continue to rankle Russia and impede negotiations to nuclear proliferation. The base has occasionally soured U.S.-Turkish relations as well. In 2003, Turkey’s leaders resisted U.S. pressure to launch direct strikes into Iraq from Incirlik. Some Middle Eastern nations also resent a majority Muslim nation’s pivotal role in the American-led war.
Naval Station Guantanamo Bay

Location: Cuba

Real Estate: 1,400 buildings on 28,800 acres

Value: $2.6 billion
Why is it useful?
Acquired through the Spanish-American War, this base is a refueling stop, a logistics hub for Caribbean anti-narco missions, and a launchpad for “migrant ops,” which involves picking up islanders on creaky U.S.-bound vessels. However, the outpost is most valuable as a maximum security prison for “war criminals” and other detainees. Its various detention areas—some open-air, some air-conditioned—can hold more than 1,200 prisoners, notably major Al Qaeda figureheads.

How is it criticized?
Guantanamo’s critics have turned its name into a byword for American human rights abuse, an image the base has confronted with its latest slogan: “Safe, Humane, Legal, Transparent.” The Red Cross claims that U.S. personnel’s treatment of inmates there—allegedly including beatings and loud music exposure—is “tantamount to torture.” President Barack Obama has suggested moving prisoners to a high-security facility in Illinois and a former adviser to Sen. Ted Kennedy proposes transforming the camp into a relief center for Haitians affected by the recent earthquake.

Transit Center at Manas

Location: Near Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek

Real Estate: An estimated 37 acres of land and 200-plus facilities, all leased

Value: $63 million annual rent

Why is it useful?

U.S. troops pouring in or out of Afghanistan are likely to pass through this busy hub, which is a quick flight away from the war zone. Built amidst the run-up to the Afghanistan conflict, the base is an expansion of the Kyrgyzstan capital’s once-sleepy international airport. Unlike in other nations, the Kyrgyz government permits the U.S. to launch bombers, fighter jets and gunships from its soil.
How is it criticized?
The Transit Center’s clunky name—re-branded last year from the more militant-sounding Manas Air Base—is a reflection of its political sensitivity. A former soviet state, Kyrgyzstan has faced extreme pressure from Russia to rid itself of an American base. This imposition was sweetened by a recent $2 billion Russian loan. Kyrgyz leaders parlayed this bickering between foreign powers into cash when the U.S. agreed last year to quadruple the base’s rent to $63 million. Still, a violent April coup in the nearby capital may have realigned the country’s leadership in favor of Russia. Aggravating anti-U.S. sentiment is a U.S. airman’s 2006 fatal shooting of a Kyrgyz civilian and a female officer’s bizarre and poorly substantiated account of being kidnapping by locals.

Kadena Air Base

Location: Okinawa, a southern Japanese island

Real Estate: 1,850 buildings on nearly 11,000 acres

Value: $6.4 billion
Why is it useful?
Occupied after brutal fighting in World War II, Okinawa is the heart of the U.S. military’s power in Asia. The island hosts most of the 47,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan. Kadena, the Pacific’s largest American military complex, is home to an aerial attack, special forces, and intelligence gathering squadrons. If conflict erupted in Taiwan or the Koreas, and the U.S. decided to strike, the base would play a crucial role in carrying out those missions.

How is it criticized?
Under a long-standing, post-war agreement, Japan actually pays the U.S. about $2 billion each year to host American forces. Many Japanese are weary of paying this bill and crowds flock to rallies in favor of the military’s ouster. The U.S. has agreed to relocate 8,000 troops to Guam, a Pacific island and U.S. territory. But even that reduction will be paid for by $6 billion in Japanese funds. Their anger is compounded by several high-profile rape charges, including a marine’s 2008 conviction for “abusive sexual conduct” perpetrated against a 14-year-old girl.

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