The foreign policy of Ghana should be independent, and conducted in the interest of the Ghanaian people and the people of countries with which we engage.
Our defence policy should be geared towards defensive rather than offensive operations. When facing genuine 21st century security threats including climate change and conflict over food and water resources, the military capability alone cannot guarantee human security.
The decision to base US troops in Ghana was announced as a cabinet decision after many months of secret negotiations. The decision will have far-reaching local impacts and foreign policy consequences, and yet the decision was made by cabinet without any consultation with Ghanaians.
We have a right to know what Ghanaian facilities will be used for, the purpose of the base, its eventual scale and its legal status. Before signing on to an open ended commitment, the scope of agreement between our Government and the United States must be disclosed.
The Ghanaian Government is proceeding as though these benefits will occur without any costs – social, economic and environmental – that have followed military bases elsewhere.
In order to progress public debate and in the absence of any attempt by the Government to evaluate or consult on the costs and benefits of the decision, this piece briefly examines the experience of other communities hosting military bases worldwide.
Throughout, the plain English term ‘base’ is used intentionally, without regard to the strange reluctance the Ghanaian Government seems to have for the use of the word.
There are more than 1000 foreign military bases and installations around the world; approximately 902 are run by the US military in 130 countries; Germany, Italy, Japan and Korea are the four biggest ‘hosts’. France and the UK mainly have bases in the remains of their colonial empires – the UK in the South Atlantic and around the Mediterranean, the French in the South Pacific and Africa. Russia currently has six military facilities in former Soviet Republics and India has one in Tajikistan.3 India and Pakistan both have bases in Kashmir. NATO and EUFOR also have bases to support their joint operations.
Locating military forces in bases outside one’s territory is an old concept – as old as the idea of an organised army. The current global network of bases has its roots in the colonial period where the UK, France, Spain and other European powers set up military infrastructures to compete with each other in occupying territory, supporting commercial operations, and repressing local dissent.
The first external US base was established in 1898 at Guantánamo Bay. In 1989, the post- Cold War restructuring of US forces included a ‘base restructuring’ programme intended to reduce the number of troops in Europe and East Asia while dispersing them to an expanded overseas military base network. Ironically, the US Declaration of Independence includes text objecting to British rule, “For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us” and “for protecting them by a mock trial from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states.”
Communities living around the bases have different experiences depending on the size and nature of the base. Some bases are vast installations; others are unobtrusive spy bases or intelligence facilities, joint training camps, equipment stores, radar sites, rest and recuperation facilities, and refuelling stations. The military presence can also come in the form of port-of-call rights, landing rights for military and intelligence aircraft, refuelling and flyover rights.
The Costs of military bases
Threat of attack As they are launching platforms for military activities, base installations that provide troops, weapons and intelligence are also, by definition, military targets. Loss of sovereignty
By allowing foreign military bases to be established, the host country yields sovereignty over activities involving that facility.
Germany opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, yet the country was used as a base to transfer troops and equipment. The rules establishing bases – often called Status of Forces Agreements – can include terms that keep activities at the base secret.
For example, the US base at Menwith Hill in the UK monitors telephone and internet communications from across Europe. The UK government is informed at US discretion about intelligence gathered there on a ‘need to know’ basis. A similar situation is seen at Pine Gap, where the US monitors communications in the Southern Hemisphere. It is called a Joint Facility, but the Australian government is not necessarily privy to what is collected there.
The Turkish parliament voted against the executive allowing the US to use the Incirlic base for attacking Iraq, a decision that was overturned in 2005 when a secret Cabinet Decree allowed the base to be used by ‘friendly and allied nations’ for ‘logistical purposes’ including the ‘transport of military materials and personnel’.
While US Presidential candidate Ron Paul has provoked controversy by stating that ‘Al Qaeda attacked because of US military bases in Saudi Arabia’, Al Qaeda has objected to the growing US military presence in the Middle East and has perhaps found resentment of US bases a tool for mobilising and recruitment.
Foreign military bases are also used for the extra-judicial transport, imprisonment and torture of people. Guantanamo Bay is the best known example, but many other facilities in Diego Garcia, the Middle East and Europe are implicated in the practice known as ‘extraordinary rendition’.
Distortion of local economies Bases can destroy jobs and livelihood by changing access to land for farming, fishing and hunting.
In Okinawa the expansion of the base removed whole farming villages, two thirds of Vieques became a military base and therefore unavailable to locals, the people of Diego Garcia (the Chagossian people) were displaced entirely, while in Greenland, traditional hunting and fishing grounds have been denied to local communities once bases were established.
The influx of people on higher wages can drive up property and commodity prices beyond the reach of the locals, as has occurred in Guam. Bases are promoted as bringing economic prosperity to local communities, however it is very common for large quantities of goods to be shipped in ‘from back home’ by the military that are sold in stores within the base.
Strain on local infrastructure, services, resources and housing A population of military personnel – with or without their families – can be a drain on water, infrastructure, land and lead to road congestion, the crowding of schools, etc. Pressure on local housing markets is caused by military families driving up prices for residents.
Environmental contamination Some communities have sustained environmental contamination through live fire exercises and residues from weapons.
Dangerous pollutants such as nerve gasses, depleted uranium, unexploded mines and shells are stored at military bases. If not properly stored, such dangerous chemicals can leak onto land and into ground water, causing sickness in local communities.
Tests at the former base at Clarke and Subic Bay revealed poisonous chemicals, lead and fuel in the ground water, poisoning ecosystems, damaged biodiversity and fish stocks. In 2000, US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright conceded the legacy of “serious public and environmental problems” caused by US military bases in the Philippines but she reiterated that the US had no legal obligation to clean up the deadly residue.
Mustard gas containers are still found in the jungles on Guam and heavy chemical pollution has occurred Guam and Okinawa.
The radioactive contamination arising from nuclear testing by the French at military facilities in the Pacific continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of the people of Tahiti. Contamination from US nuclear testing continues in the Marshall Islands and Bikini Atoll, Eniwetok Atoll and Johnston Island.
Greenpeace exposed the dumping of hundreds of barrels of waste at the base at Thule in Greenland, measuring high PCB readings and radioactivity.
Disputes about who is responsible for contamination at the Harold Holt Naval Base in Western Australia is ongoing between the US and Australian authorities.
Public health Communities near bases are often used for “Rest and Relaxation”. Angeles City became a centre of prostitution surrounding the former Clark U.S. Air Force base in the Philippines. The presence of US forces in the past has led to thousands of neglected children of American military fathers – 50,000 in the Philippines alone.
Military prostitution is an institution found wherever US forces have been stationed since the mid-20thcentury-including, in Okinawa, South Korea and the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan and the Pacific Islands.
Violence Communities around US bases have recorded high levels of rapes committed by foreign soldiers, and other violent crimes. In Japan, the highly publicized gang rape of a twelve-year-old Okinawan girl in 1995 by three U.S. Marines galvanized political activism and brought wider attention to military-related violence against women. Then commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral Richard Macke, incensed many Japanese citizens even further when he suggested that the servicemen were “stupid” because they could have bought a prostitute for less money than they spent on renting the car used in the abduction. President Clinton and then U.S. ambassador Walter Mondale issued formal apologies to the Japanese government. Okinawan police reports from 1945 to 1950 reveal 278 reported rapes by U.S. servicemen.
A local human rights group, Okinawan Women Act Against Military Violence, cite Okinawan police records that report U.S. military personnel raped 200 Okinawan women between 1972 and 1997. This number, however, is likely to be artificially low not only because of the difficulty and uncertainty of criminal justice processes, but also because of the historical under-reporting of sex crimes.
A study done by Medecins Sans Frontieres in mid 2005 reveals that Kashmiri women are among the worst sufferers of sexual violence in the world, in part due to the Indian military bases in the region. In Kunan Poshpora, a small village in Kashmir, the soldiers of fourth Rajputana Rifles allegedly raped about 30 women on the night of February 23, 1991, during a search operation while men were taken away from their homes and interrogated. The ages of women raped ranged from 13 to 80 years. According to newspaper reports, on June 17,1994, troops of Rashtriya Rifles accompanied by two officers Major Ramesh and Major Rajkumar entered into village Hyhama and allegedly raped and molested seven women. In another incident, troops raped a mentally ill old woman in her house in Barbarshah in Srinagar on January 5, 1991.
Legal immunity In many cases, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) or the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) includes clauses that exempt troops from local laws.
In 2011 in Moldova there were protests against Russian military presence in Transnistria. Demonstrations are connected with a Moldovan citizen shot by a soldier from Russian troops stationed in the republic. People were angry due to the immunity of troops from prosecution and their own court martial proceedings, which are seen to be far from being unbiased.
The Status of Forces agreement the US has with Korea (over 100 bases and facilities) states that US servicemen cannot be held accountable for their crimes under Korean law. In 2002 two teenage girls on their way to a birthday party were run over by a US tank. The US refused for the driver to be tried in Korea, but rather in the US where they were found not guilty. In 2006 alone, 2600 car accidents were reported involving US servicemen and there is no avenue for redress as Korean insurance companies refuse to cover damages.
The 1963 agreement between Australia and the US 4 holds that in circumstances where an alleged offence is committed by an officer in the course of his or her official duties, Australia has an international obligation to give the US primary jurisdiction to deal with the officer. This led to Attorney General Robert McClelland issuing a certificate that allowed the killing of a cyclist in Queensland by a US naval officer to be handled by US authorities.
Military bases destabilise regions and provoke military responses
While often established for national security reasons, bases provoke conflict and create the very insecurity they were intended to prevent.
Iran is surrounded by 44 US bases. As Robert Johnson observed in Business Insider, ‘This Could Be Part Of The Reason Iran Is So Darn Defensive’. Iran is acutely aware that two of its neighbours (Iraq and Afghanistan) are now occupied and that eight more neighbouring countries host US or NATO military bases. The bases in the region provide Iran with the pretext to counter the real and imagined threat to its national integrity and sovereignty by creating a credible deterrent, nuclear or otherwise.
China’s People’s Liberation Army troops are based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. That will cause new tensions in an already volatile area.
What happens next?
The announcement of the establishment of a US base in Ghana has left many questions unanswered. Will the base host intelligence services, or is it strictly a training facility?
Will military deployments be launched from there?
What agreements have been made about its potential expansion? Will weapons and munitions be stored there, and will these include depleted uranium munitions and cluster weapons?
Why should the US military forces enter, exit, and move freely within the territory and territorial waters of Ghana and for what benefit?
There is also great uncertainty about the scope of other basing and shared-use arrangements at other defence sites in Ghana.
Demanding accountability over military activities is an essential part of a functioning democracy, but the process of establishment of this base, its purpose and exent, shows just how much this accountability is under threat in Ghana.
Source: Volta NDC communication