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     Jun 1, 2005
Tangle over US bases
By David Isenberg

Earlier this month, the Commission on Review of Overseas Military Facility Structure of the United States, more commonly known as the Overseas Basing Commission (OBC), released a report to President George W Bush and the US Congress.

Although this is not the final report - that is due no later than August 15 - the contents revealed too much for the likings of the Pentagon, which claimed the report contained classified information and forced the commission to pull it off its website.

"I'll be quite honest. I think the Overseas Basing Commission was unhelpful in many respects," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in testimony before a separate base-closing commission that is reviewing his recommendations on closing, consolidating and reorganizing domestic military bases.

The forced removal of the report, however, did not accomplish much as the full report was subsequently posted online by the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy.

The OBC report is the latest in a series of reports over the past four years looking at the ongoing reconfiguration of the American military overseas basing structure in the post-Cold War and post-September 11 era. Previous reviews included the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the 2004 Global Posture Review, the Integrated Global Presence and Basing Strategy, as well as the ongoing QDR.

The commission's task is to independently assess whether the current overseas basing structure is adequate to execute current missions and to assess the feasibility of closures, realignments or the establishment of new installations overseas to meet emerging defense requirements.

While the OBC endorses much of what the Pentagon is already doing, such as the movement of a heavy brigade out of South Korea and the shifting of forces remaining there south of the Han River, it had reservations on a number of other issues.

For example, it believes that a brigade of army heavy forces should be kept in Central Europe. And it wrote, "Nor are we sure that current discussions on relocating US forces on Okinawa [Japan] adequately address strategic concerns for US security interests in East Asia."

The report also found that much of what the Pentagon plans to do in the way of redeployment in the future is overly ambitious. It found:
Service budgets are not robust enough to execute the repositioning of forces, build the facilities necessary to accommodate the forces, build the expanding facilities at new locations (FOS [Forward Operating Site] and CSL [Cooperative Security Location]) overseas, not even considering the budget demands for the other simultaneous actions being undertaken by the services. Although the estimates for rebasing are lacking in specificity, this commission estimate of between $9 billion to $20 billion, when all is said and done, may not be executable without an increase in the DOD [Department of Defense] top line well beyond what is currently anticipated in the out-year budgets.
According to Larry Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Ronald Reagan administration and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank in Washington, DC, the real reason the Pentagon was upset is that the commission's report undermined the rationale for removing troops from Europe, as recommended in last year's Global Posture Review. Reached by phone by Asia Times Online, Korb noted that two of the units recommended for redeployment from Europe back to the US, the 1st Armored and the 1st Infantry, had already been to Iraq twice.

Undoubtedly, one of the commission's points that irks the Pentagon is its criticism that it is redeploying forces without considering all the relevant factors. In a May 9 press conference, Al Cornella, OBC chairman, said:
On geopolitical consideration, the commission has determined that the DOD's IGPBS [integrated global presence and basing strategy] does not adequately address current and future political, geopolitical and strategic needs, for two reasons. First, it is the view of the commission that IGPBS is too narrowly based on military concerns. While the commission wishes to commend the Department of Defense on the design of IGPBS, which is a strategy directly aimed at addressing the matrix of existing and emerging threats, it is clear that IGPBS has been almost exclusively designed by and for the military. In this present era of a global war on terror, the indisputable global competition in defense, intelligence, diplomacy, commerce and energy matters, the commission feels that it would be wise to broaden the underlying assumptions, scope and participation in the IGPBS process to include vital players involved in other areas of our national security.

In regard to timing and synchronization, the commission feels that the IGPBS should be modified as it relates to more particular matters of the proposed timing and synchronization. The commission has concluded that while IGPBS is an ambitious plan to restructure our global presence and posture, it does so without fully taking into account other dynamic, ongoing and in some cases unpredictable changes. If the IGPBS is based on the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, or the QDR, why would you not wait for the results of the 2005 QDR, scheduled to be completed this fall, or the 2005 Mobility Capabilities Study, which is to be completed in June, before announcing the movement of forces.
According to Chuck Pena, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, "The QDR should have been the first step. There is some validity to the viewpoint that these are taking place in the wrong order."

John Pike, director of globalsecurity.org, a research group on military affairs in Alexandria, Virginia, said, "It's about as explicit a rebuke of the DOD as you can get and still be printed. It had a level of candor that you seldom find coming out of the Government Printing Office."

He noted that the commission report "is basically beating nothing with something", meaning that its detailed report exposes many vague, uncorroborated assertions that were in the Global Posture Review report issued last year by the Pentagon.

Indeed, much of the planning for redeployments is taking place in a vacuum. For example, the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission process will help realign the domestic US infrastructure for forces that are returning to or departing from US territory. But the initial recommendations were not released until May 16, and the commission's recommendations to the president will not be prepared until September 8. Depending on whether the president approves or disapproves and subsequently, when Congress approves, the process could extend until December this year.

David Isenberg, a senior analyst with the Washington-based British American Security Information Council (BASIC), has a wide background in arms control and national security issues. The views expressed are his own.

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