The US military announced Friday it was closing down 21 military facilities in half a dozen countries across Europe, a move the Pentagon said would trim $60 million in fat annually.
The closures, however, will not affect US troop strength on the continent because they are comprised mostly of recreational and housing facilities at American and NATO military bases across Europe.
According to the Defense Department, the facilities heading for closure include “a skeet shooting range, a hotel and a golf course,” as well as “some munitions storage facilities.”
“This is about making sure we have the right footprint, the right posture, and frankly that we’re spending taxpayer dollars the right way in Europe,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said at a press briefing Friday.
The shutdowns are scheduled to occur in Germany, Italy, Denmark, Greece, the United Kingdom, and Belgium, Kirby said, adding that “more would follow.”
“It’s all part of a larger process of consolidating our posture there in Europe, and putting our people and our facilities in the most efficient places in the most efficient manner,” he said.
The announcement comes at a particularly difficult time for Pentagon planners, who are pulled on the one hand by the need to trim fat from their bloated budgets, while, on the other hand, responding to the heated rhetoric of some politicians who view US power in Europe – and even more so now with tensions in Ukraine flaring – as the Holy Grail of American foreign policy.
An example of the handwringing over US military power in Europe was reflected in recent comments by Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte who criticized the Pentagon’s wave of closures, even pointing to the situation around Crimea.
“We need to look at our posture in Europe and take that into consideration in terms of the threats we face… with regard to the foreign base posture, not just in Europe, but I think throughout the world,” Ayotte told reporters in March. “Certainly that is something we need to hear from DoD, but obviously we need to take into account the threats that we’re facing, whether it’s the Russian invasion of Crimea or other threats that we could face.”
The Pentagon is attempting to this type of political hysteria, which forever pits Democrat against Republican, not to mention the powerful defense lobbyists, who are always vying for lucrative government contracts.
“US dedication to our NATO security responsibilities is beyond doubt; ongoing infrastructure adjustments simply ensure that we are best-positioned to fulfill those responsibilities given changing circumstances,” the DoD said in its statement.
“None of these adjustments affects existing force structure or military capabilities, and the efficiencies will further enable US European Command to resource high priority missions,” Kirby said in an earlier statement.
In 2013, the United States spent on its global military machine $640 billion, which surpasses that of the next eight military powers (China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, India).
Defense spending accounts for about 20 percent of all federal spending, which is about as much as Social Security, or the combined spending for Medicare and Medicaid.
“The sheer size of the defense budget suggests that it should be part of any serious effort to address America’s long-term fiscal challenges,” advises the Peter G. Petersen Foundation, which whose mission is to “increase public awareness of the nature and urgency of key fiscal challenges threatening America’s future.”
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