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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

Athens Banner-Herald May 23, 2005

Bases combat an evolving mission

BRAC fallout

By Todd DeFeo

With the end of the Cold War in 1991, the United States military's mission changed, and this year's round of Base Realignment and Closure is geared to reflect the "change and adjustment" needed to better fight new wars, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld contends.

In the 2005 round of BRAC, the Defense Department recommended closing more than 180 installations nationwide, including the Navy Supply Corps School on Prince Avenue in Athens.

"Since the fall of the Iron Curtain (in 1991), we have been in a process of transition," said Lt. Col. John Miller, head of the ROTC program at the University of Georgia.

For years, the military was built up for a possible showdown with the Soviet Union. But with that country's collapse and the dismantling of the once-solid Soviet bloc of countries in eastern Europe, the United States no longer has an archenemy with a similar military infrastructure like the former communist nation.

"Our current arrangements, designed for the Cold War, must give way to the new demands of the war against extremism and other evolving challenges," Rumsfeld said in prepared remarks delivered to the BRAC Commission, a nine-member group that will review Rumsfeld's base-closure recommendations. "We face an enemy that is dispersed throughout the world. It does not operate the same way as a traditional enemy - it has no territory to defend and no permanent bases to safeguard. Our enemy is constantly adapting and so must we."

During the potential Cold War showdown, the military built bases throughout the country, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a military analysis Web site. But, without a Soviet threat, there is no longer the need for bases to be strategically located throughout the country.

Although there is some concern that China or North Korea might launch a nuclear-tipped missile at the United States, that threat is different from the Soviet one of the Cold War.

"I think that the theory is that those countries would be aiming at our larger cities rather than our military bases," Pike said.

In the previous four BRAC rounds - in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 - the Defense Department closed about 21 percent of its non-essential installations, Rumsfeld has said.

The closures recommended in this year's BRAC could save roughly $49 billion over 20 years.

Much of this year's BRAC is geared toward the Army and an influx of troops returning to the states from Europe and South Korea. However, like the Army, the Navy is adjusting, and the number of ships today is about half of the 600 ships sought in the 1980s by then-President Ronald Reagan. "That's a huge change," said retired Navy Capt. George Huban, former commander of the Navy school.

But Huban pointed out that the threats the country faces help drive the Navy's budget.

"As threats change, we change," he said.

Yet, despite the shrinking fleet, the Navy isn't any weaker.

"The Navy - manpower-wise and ship-wise - is getting smaller; leaner and meaner, I think you could call it," retired Navy Capt. Len Sapera said previously.

"We, the Navy, are still looked at as the ultimate sea power, and our forces are still spread in every ocean in the world," added Sapera, also a former Navy school commander. "The number of ships has gone down, but the commitments to be out there - (with) submarines, aircraft carriers, surface ships - is still there. Those commitments are still there and they're all over."

If the BRAC recommendations are implemented, the Navy alone could save $1.5 billion annually. And this year's recommendations follow a trend - over the past 50 years, the military has evolved with the changing face of warfare.

When President John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, the military was geared to fight World War II, which ended 16 years earlier. As a result, Kennedy consolidated bases to help the military fight its new battles of the Cold War. "Obviously, once you change how you envision having to fight, you're going to change your technology and the tools you need to fight," UGA's Miller said.


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