May 25, 2013
Picking Up a $170 Billion Tab
Posted on Dec 12, 2012
By David Vine, TomDispatch
Wanting to err on the conservative side, I decided to follow the methodology Congress mandated for the OCS, while also looking for overseas costs the Pentagon or Congress might have ignored. It hardly made sense to exclude, for example, the health-care costs the Department of Defense pays for troops on overseas bases, spending for personnel in Kosovo, or the price tag for supporting the 550 bases we have in Afghanistan.
In the spirit of “monitoring the construction,” let me lead you on an abbreviated account of my quest to come up with the real costs of occupying planet Earth.
Although the Overseas Cost Summary initially might seem quite thorough, you’ll soon notice that countries well known to host U.S. bases have gone missing-in-action. In fact, at least 18 countries and foreign territories on the Pentagon’s own list of overseas bases go unnamed.
And then other oddities appear: in places like Australia and Qatar, the Pentagon says it has funds to pay troops but no money for “operations and maintenance” to turn the lights on, feed people, or do regular repairs. Adjusting for these costs adds an estimated $36 million. As a start, I found:
$436 million for missing countries and costs.
That’s not much compared to $22 billion and chump change in the context of the whole Pentagon budget, but it’s just a beginning.
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.
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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