By MARILYN LEVIN
Attended by 200 people (space limited attendance) and viewed by thousands via live streaming, the historic Conference on U.S. Foreign Military Bases, Jan. 12-14, 2018, in Baltimore, brought together broad participation from the peace/antiwar U.S. left along with leaders fighting U.S./NATO aggression from around the world.
Initiated by the U.S. Peace Council, a significant coalition representing many organizations—including UNAC, World Without War, Veterans for Peace, Black Alliance for Peace, International Action Center, Code Pink, WILPF, UFPJ and many other local and national peace and justice organizations (see list at www.NoForeignBases.org)—came together to revitalize and connect the movements against the wars at home and the wars abroad to launch significant actions in the coming year. Over 250 organizations and 2000+ individuals endorsed the Unite Statement that was the basis for the conference.
All sessions were plenary panels that presented an amazing program of in-depth education on the nature of global U.S. aggression exemplified by military bases and the growing opposition to them in all sectors. There were three keynote speakers. Ajamu Baraka, 2016 Green Party candidate for Vice-President and co-founder and president of the newly formed Black Alliance for Peace, spoke of the constant struggle needed to maintain any gains by the people against the capitalist empire’s insatiable need for a permanent war agenda to maintain dominance. He stressed that the wars were bipartisan and as Americans, our task was not to criticize other countries but to focus on all U.S. intervention.
The second keynote from Ann Wright, former U.S. Army officer and diplomat, and current leader of VFP and CODEPINK, spoke of the ongoing devastation of the land and people by massive bases in S. Korea and Okinawa and the ongoing struggles of local people to resist.
David Vine, a professor at American University in D.C. and author of “Base Nation: How US Military Bases Harm America and the World,” gave the third keynote. He described the history and extent of U.S. military involvement, with 800 bases in 80 countries. He reminded us that the first U.S. base was in North America as wars were waged on the indigenous peoples and later Mexico in the westward takeover.
The giant infrastructure of U.S. bases exploded after World War II and became entrenched during the Cold War. The largest bases are in Germany, Italy, Japan, and S. Korea, along with 11 aircraft carriers, and military personnel maintain 230 embassies and consulates abroad. This is contrasted to the 45 bases held by all the other countries in the world, at a cost of $150 billion a year; $385 billion is spent on contracts. U.S. policy is clearly not defensive but offensive.
The first plenary gave dramatic testimony to the massive environmental and health impact that military installations have both domestically and abroad. Weaponry and chemicals destroy the environment, are not cleaned up, and continue to cause unbearable and ongoing health tragedies on huge scales to soldiers, civilians, and future generations. Little is regulated, and the U.S. government fights attempts to hold it accountable.
People are still suffering from the effects of Agent Orange, depleted uranium, and leftover munitions years after the wars are over. Foreign governments are coerced to sign agreements that free the US from future responsibilities. There is also the social impact of U.S. military presence with prostitution, violence, abandoned children of U.S. soldiers.
Additional plenaries were organized around geographical areas: South America/Guantanamo; Asia Pacific/Pivot to Asia; Middle East/U.S./NATO Plan; Europe/Expansion of NATO; AFRICOM/Invasion of Africa. Greetings to the conference were read from organizations in many countries, including Cuba. There were panel speakers and conference attendees from many of the countries and bases covered on the panels—from Vieques, Puerto Rico, South America, Philippines, Korea, Ireland, Germany, and Okinawa.
Many spoke of the U.S. using humane “relief,” the war on terror and the drug wars as intervention excuses resulting in disaster for the countries. They also described the changing nature of bases, which can include movable bases on ships and drones flown and operated from many types of sites. The expansion of NATO under U.S. control was an important topic. NATO sites ring rivals like Russia, China, and Iran, and bring more nations under U.S. domination. Fascists are supported and brought to power in places like Ukraine.
On the positive side, speakers detailed how, in spite of trillions spent on war, the U.S. is losing hegemony in many areas, failing to control the oil fields in Iraq and bring about regime change in Syria. The relationship of forces outside of the U.S./NATO orbit are shifting away from their domination. Polls in the U.S. show that 86% want military intervention only as a last resort, and 76% are against sending military aid abroad.
Important local protests are ongoing against U.S. intervention in many places around the world—Ireland, Philippines, Korea, Okinawa, Japan, Germany, Italy, Cuba, Greece. The U.S. rewards its proxy allies in the Middle East—Israel and Saudi Arabia—with huge arms deals and green light to suppress their opposition in countries like Palestine, Yemen, Bahrain.
Many panelists pointed out the racist nature of U.S. wars, where the NATO allies include the colonialist nations now making war on former colonies and people of color world-wide. The millions of refugees driven from their homes by war, climate change, foreign political intervention, and economic collapse are people of color who are then scapegoated. It is inevitable that the military racism abroad intensifies the militarization and racist wars at home, particularly directed at immigrants, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, indigenous peoples, and Muslims. The doctrine of U.S. exceptionalism goes hand in hand with white supremacy and fools many working people that the U.S. has the right to determine the fate of others.
The last session focused on future plans of action. There were three resolutions that passed unanimously. The first called for a global day of action to close Guantanamo and return the territory to the Cuban people. The date, Feb. 23, is the 115th anniversary of the U.S. seizure of Guantanamo.
There was a resolution to convene a global conference against U.S. and NATO military bases within the next year. Because of the U.S. government’s denial of access to many leaders and activists from other countries, the conference will be held outside the U.S. The unity statement that convened the no bases conference here will be the basis of agreement in the call for the international conference.
The final resolution to call for a national day of action in the spring of 2018 generated the most discussion. Given the limited amount of time and the nature of the no bases conference, no specifics like date, location(s) or other logistics could be settled there. There will be a new, even broader coalition, organized to issue a call for action and carry out the planning.
The demands of the resolution brought to the no bases coalition by UNAC and adopted by the coalition to introduce at the conference will be the start of calling together the forces to build the spring actions. Holding the actions in the spring are very important as the U.S. escalates the war in Syria, threatens No. Korea and Iran, announces its intention to defeat its economic rivals in Russia and China, and continues to expand its bases and interventions globally.
It was stressed that the alarm be called now because there is the likelihood that many activists will be pulled into campaigns to build the Democratic Party as the solution to the Trump administration’s rightwing actions and policies, while the core issue of bipartisan endless war will be buried anew. It is vital that our message get out and it is of major importance that the rest of the world see that resistance is alive in the U.S.
The conference was live-streamed and we encourage all antiwar and social justice activists to watch the rich and informative panels representing leaders from movements around the globe.
Marilyn Levin is national co-coordinator of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC).