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David Vine: The True Costs of Empire

By       Message Tom Engelhardt     Permalink
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At Congress's direction, the Pentagon also omits the costs of bases in the oft-forgotten U.S. territories -- Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This is strange because the Pentagon considers them "overseas." More important, as economist Dancs says, "The United States retains territories... primarily for the purposes of the military and projecting military power." Plus, they are, well, literally overseas.

Conservatively, this adds $3 billion in total military spending to the OCS.

However, there are more quasi-U.S. territories in the form of truly forgotten Pacific Ocean island nations in "compacts of free association" with the United States -- the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau. Ever since it controlled these islands as "strategic trust territories" after World War II, the U.S. has enjoyed the right to establish military facilities on them, including the nuclear test site on the Bikini Atoll and the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site elsewhere in the Marshalls.

This comes in exchange for yearly aid payments from the Office of Insular Affairs, adding another $571 million and yielding total costs of:

$3.6 billion for territories and Pacific island nations.

Speaking of the oceans, at Congress's instruction, the Pentagon excludes the cost of maintaining naval vessels overseas. But Navy and Marine Corps vessels are essentially floating (and submersible) bases used to maintain a powerful military presence on (and under) the seas.  A very conservative estimate for these costs adds another $3.8 billion.

Then there are the costs of Navy prepositioned ships at anchor around the world.  Think of them as warehouse-bases at sea, stocked with weaponry, war materiel, and other supplies. And don't forget Army prepositioned stocks. Together, they come to an estimated $604 million a year. In addition, the Pentagon appears to omit some $861 million for overseas "sealift" and "airlift" and "other mobilization" expenses. All told, the bill grows by:

$5.3 billion for Navy vessels and personnel plus seaborne and airborne assets.

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Also strangely missing from the Cost Summary is that little matter of health-care costs. Overseas costs for the Defense Health Program and other benefits for personnel abroad add an estimated $11.7 billion yearly. And then there's $538 million in military and family housing construction that the Pentagon also appears to overlook in its tally.

So too, we can't forget about shopping on base, because we the taxpayers are subsidizing those iconic Walmart-like PX (Post Exchange) shopping malls on bases worldwide. Although the military is fond of saying that the PX system pays for itself because it helps fund on-base recreation programs, Pentagon leaders neglect to mention that the PXs get free buildings and land, free utilities, and free transportation of goods to overseas locations. They also operate tax-free.

While there's no estimate for the value of the buildings, land, and utilities that taxpayers provide, the exchanges reported $267 million in various subsidies for 2011. (Foregone federal taxes might add $30 million or more to that figure.) Add in as well postal subsidies of at least $71 million and you have:

$12.6 billion for health care, military and family housing, shopping and postal subsidies.

Another Pentagon exclusion is rent paid to other countries for the land we garrison. Although a few countries like Japan, Kuwait, and South Korea actually pay the United States to subsidize our garrisons -- to the tune of $1.1 billion in 2012 -- far more common, according to base expert Kent Calder, "are the cases where the United States pays nations to host bases."

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Given the secretive nature of basing agreements and the complex economic and political trade-offs involved in base negotiations, precise figures are impossible to find. However, Pentagon-funded research indicates that 18% of total foreign military and economic aid goes toward buying base access. That swells our invoice by around $6.3 billion. Payments to NATO of $1.7 billion "for the acquisition and construction of military facilities and installations" and other purposes, brings us to:

$6.9 billion in net "rent" payments and NATO contributions.

Although the OCS must report the costs of all military operations abroad, the Pentagon omits $550 million for counternarcotics operations and $108 million for humanitarian and civic aid. Both have, as a budget document explains about humanitarian aid, helped "maintain a robust overseas presence," while the military "obtains access to regions important to U.S. interests ." The Pentagon also spent $24 million on environmental projects abroad to monitor and reduce on-base pollution, dispose of hazardous and other waste, and for "initiatives"in support of global basing/operations." So the bill now grows by:

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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