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Trimming the Overseas Military Budget

It’s hard to watch or read the news and not be reminded of the struggling economy. Mentioned almost as often as the troubled economy is the massive and rising deficit. Next year, America’s debt will continue its meteoric rise and top billions. I do not know economics, so I don’t claim to be able to cure all our budget ills. Instead, I humbly submit one solution to simply lower our tremendous deficit: eliminate overseas military bases in Europe and Japan. These holdovers from a previous military era do not keep us safe or help our economy.
The military could trim their budget in many ways, but none as easy as bringing our troops home from European bases. Sure the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are exorbitantly expensive, but it will take years to extricate from those countries. Sure we waste millions on defense procurement, but, as the battle for the F-22 shows, the spending culture of the Pentagon will not be fixed over night.

Meanwhile, millions of dollars support our troops to live overseas. Stationing thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen overseas is expensive. The Army has three brigades forward deployed to Europe, each manned with several thousand soldiers with thousands more in support. The government pays to shipping American food to Europe, pays to subsidize gas to American prices, pays to ship Soldier’s cars and furniture, and pays thousands of landlords rent every month. Instead of giving welfare to Italy, England and Germany, we should invest this money in America.
National security aficionados need not worry about US security either. Thousands of forward deployed troops did not prevent 9/11 nor did they stop the attacks in Madrid or London. They did not even contribute significantly to the invasions of Afghanistan or Iraq. True, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team jumped into Iraq, but airborne operations can originate from across the planet, say a base in North Carolina instead. (C-130 combat aircraft can fly non-stop around the world with mid-air refueling) Further, if we are willing to deploy our soldiers from Germany and Italy to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, then clearly the security situation does not require their presence.

Forward deployed troops do not make America safer nor significantly advance our national security agenda; we should save the money and bring them home.

six comments

Would you include Korea in this? I would not but I would agree with closing the big bases in Europe and Japan. I had not thought about this from an economic point of view but now that you raised the issue I’d say you guys are 100% correct. They are unnecessary and wasteful (but then again so is so much of the federal government.)

There’s a line in Batman Begins (yes I’m using a movie quote to make a point) where Morgan Freeman’s character is showing Christian Bale prototype lightweight body armor. Christian Bale asks if the armor was to be produced for the military. Morgan Freeman responds by saying something like, “It seems the Pentagon doesn’t consider a soldier’s life to be worth three hundred thousand dollars.” If that technology were real would the cost be worth the benefit to the soldiers? What if it were more expensive? How does one determine the cost/benefit cutoff with regards to a human life? I of course agree that there are ways to cut spending without inhibiting operations or safety, but innovations are costly and the people making these cuts need to be well informed.

I think you may be underestimating the importance of forward deployed locations. It’s almost like you’re disregarding the huge global reach that these bases provide for us. It’s true that we can make it anywhere in the world with air to air refueling, but the cost of that is time. From North Carolina to the middle east costs half a day (that’s in just flying time); whereas from Europe it’s more like 4-8 hours (almost half to 3 quarters less time). That’s one flight. Now think about multiple trips? To get the same amount of troops and neccessary supplies in country from the states would require a larger fleet of aircraft (a c-5 costs approximately $150-$200 million, C-17s approx $175, KC-135s approx $150), it would take more time to get the troops there). Plus, think about the toll of the 15 hour flight on the troops and pilots, you’d need extra time once the troops are in country to get them acclimated; whereas a trip from say italy to iraq requires less time to adjust. I think getting rid of overseas locations would not only hurt our war fighting capability, it would actually increase military spending. As far as the F22s, it’s a technology race. We’ve been ahead since we put a man on the moon and it’s help us become the greatest nation on earth. The real question is, do we want to fall behind in the technology race. It costs A Lot to be one step ahead of the rest of the world. The benefits are global reach (the ability to be where we want when we want, 24/7), and ultimately victory. That sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s usually the team with the best equipment and training that wins. And that stuff costs money.


Will- I haven’t studied the Korean issue enough to know whether or not we should continue investing troops over there. I would tend to say we probably shouldn’t be there, but there is at least a legitimate security issue there.

Matt- The problem with current military spending is that it is extremely expensive but not necessarily effective. We spend literally billions on planes, but our fleet is on average 20 years old. Our defense contracting system is not just expensive, it is wasteful.

Yates- In this article I did mention soldiers, sailors and airmen stationed overseas. And, while I do believe we could bring most of the home, I could see why we would leave forward stationed airbases for the reasons you described. My primary point is that soldiers do not need to be stationed at overseas locations. True, it could save maybe fifteen hours of flight time. But we have been in Iraq and Afghanistan for around thirteen combined years now, the 15 hours at the beginning is not worth the thousands we have spent on overseas deployed soldiers.

Hey Jake,

I was thinking about what you wrote in the shower (this is what I think about in the shower) and I think your comment portends another problem, lack of international support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If for some reason England went to war against say, Jamaica, we would let them have operate staging areas in the south. But we wouldn’t let them keep their troops here forever, and it wouldn’t make sense to. And NATO would probably declare war as well. I think this says more about our alliances, and distrust in them, more than anything else.

(Also, having just lived in Italy, all this begs the question about political will in Italy and Germany, which i don’t think will last forever.)

I wholeheartedly agree with this article, though I can say I enjoyed being stationed in Germany. As was mentioned earlier in comments it does have a lot to do with the political will of the nations in which you are stationed. Being in Vicenza I´m sure you´ve noticed that the building of the new base in Vicenza wasn´t to popular with local people, and actually helped contribute to the fall of the Prodi government and the 2007 crisis of his government:


Having bases overseas ties their operations to the goodwill of the host countries, and sometimes the host country understandably wants nothing to do with what the US is doing. Its also very expensive, and while it does help the US military´s reach and it makes it easier to engage in conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, I ask myself if that is necessarily a good thing. Undoubtedly having forward deployed Armoerd and Mechanized units makes it much easier to get these logisitically difficult heavy units to get to the front (you can´t simply load all of these onto a lot of planes and go, although that was the goal the Stryker was designed for) but with the dollar weakening against the Euro dramatically they are getting more and more expensive to maintain. Its also hard to argue you have bases on the other side of the world for self defense, despite how globalized and interconnected the world has become. A place like Landstuhl is vital and necessary, and with how vital it is currently I wouldn´t want to see it closed right now, but I don´t know why it would be impossible to work out a medevac route to a hospital even closer to theater with an allied government? I would actually even make an argument for keeping bases in Korea for containment, but thats a seperate issue with an actual tangible threat.