In almost all cases, foreign military bases operate
outside usual democratic processes. Governments,
whether democratic or not, enter into deals that
are recognisable by the lack of accountability written
into them. US base authorities are allowed to
carry out their activities in secret. Questions about
US military activities, whether directed at the bases
themselves or at local and national governments,
are met with a wall of silence or a cloud of obfuscation.
The activities of US military bases simply fall
outside the rights of citizens to ask about what
goes on in their countries.
The rules governing US bases are usually covered
by Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs), deals
negotiated specifically between the US and host
governments. The terms are in many cases kept
secret, but often exempt US military personnel
from visa and tax requirements and from local criminal
jurisdiction, as well as granting US forces wider
abilities to act outside the usual laws of the country.
Even greater secrecy surrounds the deployment of
US nuclear weapons in Europe. Recent research has
shown that the US still has 480 nuclear weapons in
six European countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the
Netherlands, Turkey and the United Kingdom. But
there is no official record of this, with the US and
host country governments refusing even to confirm
or deny their presence.
In Britain, campaigners against the Menwith Hill spy
base have long demanded answers about US activities
on the site. Despite being officially labelled as
a British Air Force base, it is almost entirely staffed
by US personnel, whose role is to monitor telephone
and internet communications from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the former
Although the base is situated in Britain, the country’s
government only receives information from it
via its security services – at US discretion and on a
so-called “need to know” basis. The US base
authorities have tried to use British military liaison
officers to have the peace camp outside the base
evicted, whilst distancing themselves from any
such infringements of the right to protest.
Attempts by campaigners across Britain to ask
questions of members of parliament or government
ministers have been stonewalled. A similar
base at Pine Gap in Australia, monitoring communications
in the Southern Hemisphere, has also
been the target of campaigns by Australians wanting
to know exactly what their government is
allowing the US military to do – and meeting
another wall of silence in the process.
The Philippines hosted two major US bases (and
several smaller installations) until 1991 when, in
response to decades of popular opposition, the
Philippine government did not renew the US military’s
right to operate bases there. However, a
Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a
type of SOFA, was signed in 1999 which allows US
military forces to conduct joint military exercises in
the Philippines, despite the strength of public opinion.
Since then, US Special Operations Forces have
been involved in counter-insurgency operations,
and US troops operating in the country are exempt
from the country’s regular legal procedures.
Roland Simbulan, a leading peace activist and
opponent of US military bases since the 1980s,
describes the long history of the struggles against
the US militarisation of the country:
We succeeded in incorporating a provision against
nuclear weapons in the new Philippine Constitution
drafted after the Marcos dictatorship, and we successfully
lobbied in the Philippine Senate for the
removal of US military bases and US troops in 1991.
These events were part of our struggle for the
assertion of Philippine national sovereignty and dignity,
which have long been trampled by the forces
of US colonialism and the present day neo-colonial
regime. It is part of our social awakening as a people,
a continuation of our national liberation struggle.
Since 1999, though, US military exercises have
been held year-round, including the deployment
of US military advisers and US Special Operations
Forces which are involved in counter-insurgency
operations with Philippine troops. There is no
accountability for their actions or activities, which
are covert and lack transparency. The Philippine
government, through the VFA, granted US troops
involved in the joint military exercises special
treatment, such as exemption from customs,
immigration procedures and immunity from the
regular court procedures should they commit
crimes on Philippine territory. They are given special
treatment not accorded to Filipino citizens.
We monitor the US activities very closely. The
people are our eyes and ears. We can even hear
the US forces breathe. We expose their crimes
against the people and how they violate
Philippine laws and the dignity of our people,
especially women and children, who they use for
their so-called ‘rest and recreation.’ Nothing that
they do escapes us.
Our objective is to remove the US military exercises,
training and logistical support from the
Philippines. It is part of the overall infrastructure
for US military forces worldwide. Without this
infrastructure, the US warmongers cannot wage or
sustain any wars of intervention or aggression
against other countries.