Where Have All Our Overseas Military Bases Gone?

“Where have all our overseas military bases gone? Gone to the land of fantasy.”

The number of U.S. overseas military bases and the cost of maintaining them has always been an inexact science. Estimates of the number of countries in which the U.S. has military bases have ranged from about 800 to over 1,000. In an article in Foreign Affairs, David Vine recounts his incredibly diligent effort to determine the number of overseas bases and the cost of maintaining them. Vine concludes that the United States has more than 1,000 bases and the cost of garrisoning them since 9/11 has probably reached $1.8 to $2.1 trillion; however, the most troubling part of Vine’s report is how the Pentagon has lowballed the reach and cost of the bases.

The Pentagon’s Overseas Cost Summary (OCS) puts the FY 2012 cost of maintaining one million U.S. military and DoD personnel, and their families abroad at $22.1 billion, not including the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Vine’s careful accounting puts the annual cost at $200 billion.

As badly as the Pentagon has calculated overseas base costs in the OCS report, overseas bases in at least 118 nations and territories go unmentioned — bases in Kosovo and Bosnia, for example, are not mentioned. Also going unmentioned in the OCS report are bases in U.S. territories: Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Ocean island nations in “compacts of free association” are also omitted.

Also omitted in the OCS report are the costs of maintaining naval vessels overseas, overseas health care costs and the cost of what military personnel spend overseas that could be spent in the United States. Even the money spent by the U.S. to compensate countries for the costs of crimes committed by U.S. military  personnel do not make the OCS report.

Most frightening of all is that the Overseas Cost Summary goes to Congress with the ring of authority.

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