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3 January 2013

How much longer can America afford to be the world’s policeman?

Screen Shot 2013-01-03 at 11.59.28How much do you think it costs the US to maintain its military presence around the world?

According to David Vine’s report for Huffington Post, the official figure is surprisingly modest:

  • “By law, the Pentagon must produce an annual ‘Overseas Cost Summary’ (OCS) putting a price on the military’s activities abroad, from bases to embassies and beyond. This means calculating all the costs of military construction regular facility repairs, and maintenance, plus the costs of maintaining one million U.S. military and Defense Department personnel and their families abroad -- the pay checks, housing, schools, vehicles, equipment, and the transportation of personnel and materials overseas and back, and far, far more.
  • “The latest OCS, for the 2012 fiscal year ending September 30th, documented $22.1 billion in spending...”

This figure does not include the massive cost of the Afghan conflict, which is not supposed to be a permanent commitment. However, there are various other, less justifiable, exclusions:

  • “Particularly surprising is the absence of Kosovo and Bosnia. The military has had large bases and hundreds of troops there for more than a decade... 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... 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...”

And there’s more:

  • “...the Pentagon excludes the cost of maintaining naval vessels overseas... Then there are the costs of Navy prepositioned ships at anchor around the world... Also strangely missing from the Cost Summary is that little matter of health-care costs... another Pentagon exclusion is rent paid to other countries for the land we garrison... The Pentagon tally of the price of occupying the planet also ignores the costs of secret bases and classified programs overseas...” 

So, if one includes these various exclusions, what is the real 'underlying' cost of America’s overseas operations?

  • “...if you exclude war costs... the total still reaches $65.1 billion, or nearly three times the Pentagon’s calculation.”

This is, of course, just one man’s unofficial estimate. However, there can be little doubt that even without firing a single bullet at the enemy, America’s overseas military presence is staggeringly expensive. 

For many Americans, especially those sceptical of its global role, this cost is a cause of anger. But for anyone anywhere who believes that America's military reach does more good than harm, the more appropriate emotion is that of worry. Because, for a nation that is visibly struggling with its finances, one has to wonder how long such a drain on its resources can be sustained.


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