[nousbases] Initial Report - Security Without Empire: U.S. National Organizing Confernece on Military Bases
The US Peace Council brought 4 delegates
Security Without Empire: U.S. National Organizing Conference on Military Bases
Initial Report (Prepared by John Lindsay-Poland, Gwyn Kirk, David Vine and Joseph Gerson)
Project on Military Bases Builds Movement to Close Overseas Bases
Opposed to the destructive impacts of U.S. military bases on people in the U.S. and so-called “host nations,” the Project on Military Bases, uniting 17 U.S. organizations, gathered in a national organizing conference at American University February 27 – March 2, entitled “Security without Empire.” The conference was co-sponsored and hosted by American University’s Anthropology Department and brought together more than 200 activists, scholars, and students from the United States and 11 other nations.
Unknown to most people, the Pentagon maintains a global network of some 1,000 military bases outside the 50 states and Washington, DC. An astonishing 268 remain in Germany; 124 in Japan; 87 in South Korea; 89 in Italy; and 57 in the Britain. The precise number of these bases is unknown; even the number of U.S. bases in Britain remains a state secret. The estimated annual net cost of foreign military bases, according to a conference presentation by the Institute for Policy Studies’ Miriam Pemberton, totals around $110 billion a year. The size and impacts of this vast network of U.S. military fortresses are unprecedented in human history and ultimately undermine U.S. security.
Beginning with a ceremony at the Pentagon, the visible locus of U.S. military power, participants brought water from places near their homes, spoke of the sacred places and violent events in their rural and urban communities, and poured this water into one bowl, a symbol of our shared opposition to militarism and visions of a sustainable future based on everyday security. Eastern Shawnee Nation representative Sheila Hansen and other elders graciously accepted participants’ requests to hold the conference on native people’s land.
Conference organizers had four goals: to further integrate networks and organizations from across the United States that are working for the closure and withdrawal of military bases, to develop common strategies, to widen the U.S. movement critical of foreign bases, and to increase the movement’s visibility, including on Capitol Hill.
The conference was organized at a propitious time. On the conference’s opening day, President Obama said he “intends” to withdraw all U.S. troops and contractors from Iraq by December 31, 2011. Though “intent” offers some wiggle room, this is an important promise that people in the United States demanding an end to the war should hold their president to. Also important, as Raed Jarrar, Iraqi representative of the American Friends Service Committee, explained, this 2011 withdrawal date is required by the 2008 agreement signed by Iraq and the United States and ratified by the Iraqi parliament. If Washington is to honor democracy and law in Iraq, all U.S. troops and bases must leave.
Many in the U.S. are ready for a change. As Zia Mian of Princeton University reported, polls indicate that more than half of the U.S. people are opposed to the war in Afghanistan.
The conference heard from an array of opponents to military bases in the countries that “host” them. Jana Glivicka is a remarkable 21-year-old student and an activist in the movement to prevent the new U.S. military base for missile defense from being installed in the Czech Republic. She summed it up this way: “It’s a weapons system that doesn’t work, aimed at a threat that doesn’t exist, in a country that doesn’t want it.” No wonder the Obama administration is studying whether to proceed with the system. Seventy percent of the Czech population is opposed to it, and the Czech chamber of deputies is expected to vote on it in March.1
Gualdemar Jiménez of Service for Peace and Justice in Ecuador told the crowd about the base in the Pacific port of Manta, set up in 1999 with no public consultation, purportedly to fight the drug trade. This base has been used to sink boats with undocumented immigrants and to support warfare in Colombia. Human rights and peace groups held conferences critical of the base, met with officials and citizens until 2006 when Rafael Correa made non-renewal of the base agreement part of his presidential campaign. When he was elected, these groups held him to his promise, and a constituent assembly inserted a ban on all foreign military presence in the new constitution of Ecuador.
Numerous speakers and participants described how the intrusions and abuses of U.S. military bases have generated a wide variety of campaigns for their closure. The U.S. military plans to expand its operations in Guam, while protesters forced the Navy to stop bombing practice in Vieques, Puerto Rico, in 2003. On both islands the military has produced massive environmental contamination, with serious health consequences, that community advocates seek to clean up safely. In Okinawa and Korea, campaigns have focused on holding the military accountable for violence against women as well as environmental clean-up, while resisting the construction of new bases. Military presence close to home is often experienced as a foreign force as well. Along the U.S.-Mexican border, militarization has led to violent arrests and breakup of families.; activists document these actions and inform targeted people of their rights. The militarization of space is both colossally expensive and an ineffective defense, and a global network of groups holds witness at sites where space weapons are developed. Other activists exposed the impacts of military bases and identify potential allies through research – talking with people in and around bases (from U.S. service members to local workers), requesting documents via the Freedom of Information Act, and using public sources.
As well as plenaries and workshop discussions, an “anti-military fashion show” -- a creative popular education strategy -- demonstrated with great panache how militarism has entered our everyday culture, our social lives and dress, and also how some resist it. (See www.commondreams.org/view/2009/03/10-5 for an illustrated account.)
Most conference participants were under no illusions that the new administration in Washington is ready to re-define security in terms of meeting social, economic and environmental needs. But more than 20 meetings with Congressional staff on Capitol Hill on Monday, March 2, still provided some jarring moments: Although Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) as chair of the House Financial Services Committee, has proposed a dramatic 25% cut in the military budget, he also supports the war and U.S. escalation in Afghanistan, for which U.S. bases in Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan are considered critical assets. Moreover, senior staff for the House Armed Services Committee told a delegation that committee members hope to expand the U.S. military presence in Europe.
Enzo Cascati and Annetta Reams from Vicenza, Italy are having none of it. Although the Berlusconi government has embraced construction of a new base in this beautiful old city (a UNESCO heritage site) that will facilitate the war in Iraq, more than 95% of local people recently voted against it in a non-binding referendum. Many will take more dramatic nonviolent action if construction goes forward, which could occur in the coming months.
Phyllis Bennis, the final keynote speaker, balanced her assessment of the new administration’s commitment to war in Afghanistan and plans for a slow withdrawal in Iraq with a hopeful call for activists to seize this historical moment to put the United States on a path toward peace and genuine security. She stressed how bases are connected to so many other major issues—from the environment and energy policy to torture, violence against women, war profiteering, and affordable housing—that anti-base activists must reach out to activists in these movements to make militarism a part of their platforms. In the midst of a financial crisis, she said, the more than $100 billion we spend each year on foreign bases provides the money we need to begin to meet our pressing domestic and international needs.
Throughout the conference was an understanding of the importance of working for more than closing specific bases, or even all foreign military installations, as these bases are the manifestation of a militarized society, economy and culture and of imperial missions, that must themselves be reconsidered. Without such a transformation, U.S. foreign bases that are closed will move elsewhere, or wars will be launched with advanced technology from bases within the United States, or the U.S. will seek to impose its will through legal and economic means, or we will find that wars are waged domestically on women’s bodies, on immigrants of color, on the earth.
Where to from here?
For many people in the United States, overseas bases are invisible, and few know of the pernicious consequences of maintaining 1,000 foreign military bases. The coalition formed around this conference is calling on members of Congress to hold hearings to examine the U.S. overseas basing structure and begin to plan a significant reduction.
There are also efforts to support campaigns specific to the communities and countries impacted by US bases. For information on these campaigns, see the Project on Military Bases web site (www.projectonmilitarybases.org)
The International Network of Women Against Militarism will hold its 7th international meeting in Guam in September 2009 to support resistance against the military buildup planned for the island as well as sharing information and strategies from other nations, especially in the Asia-Pacific. For information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
For material from the conference, go to www.projectonmilitarybases.org.
Individuals may also be informed by an international list-serve, email@example.com, of news on foreign military bases and movements that resist them. Go to www.riseup.net to subscribe.
Contact the Project on Military Bases, Joseph Gerson, JGerson@afsc.org, 617-661-6130, 617-216-0576.
Organizations participating in the Project on Military Bases include: After Downing Street, American Friends Service Committee, American University Department of Anthropology, Campaign for Peace and Democracy, Code Pink, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, Granny Peace Brigade/No Bases, Institute for Policy Studies, Peace Action, International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases, International Women’s Network Against Militarism, PANA Institute for Leadership Development and Study of Pacific, Asian and North American Religion at Pacific Institute of Religion, Southwest Workers’ Union, United for Peace and Justice, U.S. Peace Council , Veterans for Peace, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.