Congress ignores Pentagon’s drawdown abroad to stall domestic military base closures

US Air Force/Ken Bergmann

U. S. Air Force C-141 Starlifters, C-5 Galaxy's, and C-17 Globemaster III's, are staged on the ramp of Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany, on December 12, 1995.

Article Highlights

  • Since 1990, the Air Force has reduced aircraft and forces stationed in Europe by 75%

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  • DoD is planning to continue reducing its presence in Europe by approximately 15% over the coming decade

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  • Pretending that Congress should avoid a domestic base closure round because we need to target overseas bases first simply ignores reality

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This weekend, the last of America’s A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft stationed in Europe flew out of Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany for the final time. The US Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron is being deactivated after 30-plus years in service, and the aircraft are relocating stateside. This will be the second fighter squadron deactivation at the same base due to ongoing defense budget reductions and strategy shifts.

While Spangdahlem is still open, many US bases in Europe have not been so lucky. There has been a spate of closures and consolidation in recent years, the result of a proactive US military base closure process that has been well underway throughout the past decade overseas.

Below is a list of some of the major base closing in Europe since 2003, by military service:

  • Army: Giesssen (Germany), Hanau (Germany), Darmstad (Germany), Wuerzburg (Germany).
  • Navy: Naval Air Station Keflavik (Iceland), Naval Support Activities Gaeta and La Maddalena (Italy).
  • Air Force: Rhein-Main Air Base (Germany).


Nearly every member of Congress is opposed to closing bases in the United States, but most have no problem supporting a closure overseas. Indeed, claiming that overseas bases should be closed before US bases is a favorite rationale for postponing necessary closures here at home.

But this rationale is starting to run into the reality that our overseas bases have already seen significant cuts. As a recent AEI report summarized, the US Army alone has closed 100 installations in Europe since 2003 and plans on returning an additional 47 installations to host nations by 2015. The Navy has also been consolidating and shedding European bases over the last eight years. The Navy closed an air station in Iceland and Naval Support Activities Gaeta and La Maddalena in Italy. Currently, the Navy is assessing capacity of remaining bases in Spain, Italy, and Greece. Its leaders also plan to review the US Marine Corps installation in Norway. Finally, since 1990, the Air Force has reduced aircraft and forces stationed in Europe by 75%.

Still more cuts are coming to America’s overseas posture. Before he left office, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta directed the Pentagon to explore additional opportunities for consolidation in Europe. Already, DoD is planning to continue reducing the US presence in Europe by approximately 15% over the coming decade.

As the US military shrinks in size, capacity, and capability, it must also reduce its inventory of physical assets. Congress can only postpone what is an overdue domestic base closure process for so long. Budgets are simply falling too fast for the services to pay for the unnecessary operation of excess capacity, particularly as the number of active duty forces falls rapidly.

But pretending that Congress should avoid a domestic base closure round because we need to target overseas bases first simply ignores reality and the real money it is generating as a result of these savings.


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About the Author


  • Mackenzie Eaglen has worked on defense issues in the U.S. Congress, both House and Senate, and at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Joint Staff. She specializes in defense strategy, budget, military readiness and the defense industrial base. In 2010, Ms. Eaglen served as a staff member of the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission established to assess the Pentagon's major defense strategy. A prolific writer on defense related issues, she has also testified before Congress.


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