US military bases in Europe to close

Image: Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright

Image: Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright

It has recently been announced that the US government will close 15 military bases across Europe whilst maintaining their current bases in Asia. A spokesperson from the Department of Defence (DOD) indicated that this would not affect deployment of troops in Europe, however it demonstrates Obama’s new Asian military pivot in action.
However, US air force bases in the UK are being bolstered. Despite these cutbacks across Europe, the US has placed two squadrons of F -35 combat aircraft in RAF Lakenheath which are capable of ground attacks, reconnaissance and air defence.

The closures of these military bases in Europe are mainly those which were constructed during the Cold War; in a period when nuclear war was a distinct possibility. However, the bases have now been deemed ineffective and their maintenance is costing the USA over $500 million per year. Obama had recently tasked the Pentagon with reducing the defence expenditure which currently exceeds $600 billion. It is suggested that there was a reluctance to reduce expenditure by closing domestic bases and so this may explain the reason to close down a significant number of foreign based military camps.

It is undeniable that cutbacks in expenditure were needed considering that America’s debt exceeds $18 trillion and grows at a rate of about $2 billion per day. However, saving $500 million per year seems like it will do little to counteract this so, unless this is the beginning of more military cuts to come, the move appears somewhat worthless. However the defence budget does take up a hefty 20% of the current expenditure, so any cuts, however small, will go some way to decreasing this.

The move to close the 15 bases has been heavily criticised from both domestic political opponents and by much of the European media. This is understandable considering the risky nature of it; with Russia’s recent controversial actions against the Ukraine it seems peculiar of the USA to release their presence in Europe. Especially considering that tensions surrounding Russia are at a height not seen since the 20th century.

This may come as part of a move to switch the military focus towards Asia and perhaps the USA views the threats from North Korea and a rising China, in particular, as more pressing than those that are being perpetuated by Russia. Regardless, the USA will have to wait and see how Russia reacts to this. Whether the US government admits it or not, Russia does have some newfound freedom to exercise military and political power and less pressure to adhere to European regulations.

One immediate consequence, is that 2000 jobs will be lost because of this and the effect on the small businesses operating in around the bases will be detrimental. It remains to be seen what the long term effects of these 15 closures means for the future security of Europe and whether the US now turns focus to the increasing threats that are coming out of Asia.