Abolishing the bases of war: AFSC works to eliminate foreign U.S. military bases

The following article was published in the AFSC newsletter in 2007 following the inaugural conference of the International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases in Quito, Ecuador.


Abolishing the bases of war

AFSC works to eliminate foreign U.S. military bases


Little known to most Americans is the vast scope of the United States’ network of military bases world wide — more than 2,600 bases in the United States and its territories, some 730 foreign bases, and nearly 100 temporary bases.

These bases not only make it possible for the United States to wage wars, but also increase the likelihood that the country will go to war rather than pursue nonviolent strategies to resolve conflicts. Because of their impact on local communities, military bases have sparked widespread protest.

International Women’s Day rally during the military bases conference in Ecuador.

Hawai’i is a case in point. The U.S. military in Hawai’i has displaced entire communities and generations of families from their ancestral lands and accelerated the influx of foreign settlers, impeding Hawaiians’ efforts at self-determination. It has destroyed ecosystems and sacred places, and endangered community health with widespread military contamination. It also has exacerbated violence, crime, accidents, and had a negative impact on other aspects of Hawaiian society, economics, and culture. In response, the AFSC Hawai’i Area Program has made demilitarization a priority of our peace building work for more than thirty years. In 1976, AFSC staff participated in the first boatload of protestors to land on the Hawaiian sacred island of Kaho‘olawe in the successful campaign to stop the Navy bombing.

AFSC-Hawai’i continues to work with communities struggling to stop military expansion and promote the clean up and return of lands in Makua, Pohakuloa, Wahiawa, Nohili, and other sites.

Elsewhere, AFSC programs have had a similarly positive impact on demilitarization efforts.

In the Philippines, the AFSC supported the “People Power” movement that ended the violent Marcos dictatorship and ousted U.S. bases from their country. In Puerto Rico, the AFSC supported the successful campaigns to end the military bombing of Culebra in 1975, and Vieques in 2003. AFSC programs also stood in solidarity with anti-bases movements in Okinawa, Guam, Korea, the Marshall Islands, and Japan.

AFSC’s efforts to eliminate foreign U.S. military bases reached a new apex this past March when an AFSC delegation participated in the International Conference for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases in Quito, Ecuador. There, AFSC staff joined more than four hundred grassroots peace and justice activists from forty countries. It was the largest meeting ever of grassroots leaders of the anti-military bases movement.

Participants shared stories about their struggles, forged relationships of mutual solidarity, took to the streets to protest the U.S. base in Manta, Ecuador, and, most importantly, launched a global network for the abolition of foreign military bases.

Demonstration against U.S. military
expansion in Hawai’i.

The conference proclaimed a powerful, shared vision of a world free from what renowned scholar and author Chalmers Johnson has dubbed “The Empire of Bases.” It also helped create strategic alliances among movements.

AFSC’s leadership and support contributed to the success of this historic gathering.

Through its Ecuador office, AFSC supported and contributed to the efforts of the conference’s organizing committee to hold the gathering in Ecuador. AFSC’s experience in the region has taught us the connections between human rights conditions of communities subjected to toxic fumigation, chronic violence along the border between Colombia and Ecuador, and the U.S. base in Manta.

A delegation from the conference met with Ecuador’s newly elected president, Rafael Correa, who expressed his thanks and reiterated his commitment to end the agreement allowing U.S. military use of the Manta base. Unfortunately, this would not prevent the U.S. from establishing a base elsewhere in the region.

While the conference marked an important milestone in the global anti-bases movement, it is just part of a continuing process of awakening, convergence, and movement building that will be an enduring gift from Ecuador, the “Middle of the World.”

Kyle Kajihiro is the director of AFSC’s Hawai’i Area Program.

For more information on AFSC’s work on military bases log onto www.afsc.org/no-bases. Also go to www.abolishbases.org for information about the International Conference for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases.

By the numbers

Number of foreign military bases: 1,000+
(from the U.S., Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and Italy)
Note: These do not include secret military bases, like the four operated by the U.S. in Iraq.

Number of U.S. foreign military bases: 737 (officially)
Many estimate the true number to be more than 1,000

Number of U.S. soldiers deployed overseas: 2.5 million+

Number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq: 133,000 (as of March 2006)

For more information, see AFSC’s “10 Reasons Why U.S. Military Bases Must Go” at www.afsc.org/no-bases/

A history of aggression

In January 1893, U.S. troops invaded and overthrew the government of the sovereign Kingdom of Hawai’i to secure access to a military port at Keawalau o Pu‘uloa—the original name for Pearl Harbor. This illegal act of war, for which the U.S. formally apologized in 1993, violated numerous treaties and international laws and is the fundamental source of conflict between the Hawaiian pro-independence and human rights movement and the U.S. government.

With the outbreak of war with Spain in 1898, the United States occupied Hawai’i and expanded its military bases there—bases that have been subsequently used in every major U.S. war.

Today, the Gatling guns that once were aimed at the ‘Iolani Palace have evolved into the complex of bases, troops, weapons systems, and infrastructure that comprise the Pacific Command, the oldest and largest of the unified military commands.

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