Foundation of U.S. Military Should be Built on American Soil
For the future security posture of U.S. military forces and for the fiscal health of our nation, our military construction agenda should be guided by these words: Build in America. At the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military determined that our armed forces would be best trained and equipped for service when stationed at installations on U.S. soil. Thus, our military adopted a “force projection” strategy that allows our troops to deploy from home, rather than being based primarily overseas.
In 2005, the Overseas Basing Commission reaffirmed this strategy and lauded the Department of Defense’s (DOD) efforts to transform the military and re-station tens of thousands of military personnel in the United States. Congress has invested more than $14 billion to build housing, stationing, training, and deployment capacities at major military installations, such as Fort Bliss and Fort Hood. We have proven we can best deploy from the United States - and we can do it more cost-effectively.
However, the DOD’s current military construction proposal would begin a worldwide transformation of U.S. basing that would expand our overseas presence. DOD is pursuing expensive, and in some cases duplicative, construction projects in Europe, South Korea, and Guam without demonstrating adequate cost efficiencies or projected future costs. Plans include building facilities costing $3.5 billion in Germany over the next five years. This shift in global posture disconnects with stateside basing capabilities and reverses the Overseas Basing Commission’s recommendations.
In Germany, massive plans are underway to move U.S. Army Headquarters from Heidelberg to Wiesbaden even though European and African Commands already have substantial infrastructure in Stuttgart, where efficiencies would be available. These projects would create thousands of foreign jobs and require continuous taxpayer funding. This is a poor investment considering the serious limitations to U.S. military training and deployment capabilities overseas, and it would create duplicative headquarters. Furthermore, it costs 15 percent less to build in the United States than in Germany, and the work would be done by American workers.
Our troops must have access to training areas where they can maneuver freely, conduct live-fire exercises, and work with night-vision devices. Many overseas locations limit or prohibit such intensive training. These constraints hinder the readiness of our troops.
Deployment impediments also exist in Europe. During times of peace and war, our troops face restrictions traveling through many countries. In 2003, our NATO ally Turkey refused to let U.S. troops travel through their country during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Merely having our troops forwarddeployed is no guarantee they will be available when and where we need them.
DOD is also planning to spend millions to build deployment facilities in South Korea. The Pentagon proposes expanding U.S. presence from 30,000 service personnel to approximately 84,000 including families. This will require substantial taxpayer funding to build adequate housing, schools, hospitals, childcare facilities, and commissaries. Investing these resources overseas makes no sense when we are already building up infrastructure and deployment capabilities at U.S. bases, where amenities to support military families are well-established.
Similarly, plans to shift Marines currently stationed in Japan to the tiny island of Guam are problematic. This proposal is fraught with environmental concerns, insufficient existing infrastructure, an implausible timeline - and staggering costs (now estimated at $16 billion). With these considerable barriers, better basing alternatives should be explored.
Some argue that U.S. presence overseas provides assurance to our allies and deterrence to our adversaries. History has shown otherwise. Russia did not hesitate to conduct military operations against Georgia in 2008. Having troops in South Korea did not deter North Korean aggression against a South Korean naval vessel last May. We should assure our allies and deter our enemies with strong military capabilities and sound policy, not merely by keeping our troops stationed overseas.
Instead of breaking ground on military projects abroad and advancing DOD’s new goal of building “partnership capacity,” we should be building American infrastructure. Following World War II, the U.S. constructed bases in Europe to establish a strong presence as nations rebuilt. We stayed in Europe and placed bases in South Korea to protect the interests of America and its allies during the Cold War. The world has changed, and with it, our nation’s military priorities. Military construction investment should reflect strategic principles, meet the needs of families, maximize the force flexibility of our modern military, and protect taxpayers. I hope the Department of Defense will continue to build the foundation of our military right here on American soil.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas and is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.