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Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Pentagon as Global Landlord

In 2003, Forbes magazine revealed that media mogul Ted Turner was America's top land baron -- with a total of 1.8 million acres across the U.S. The nation's ten largest landowners, Forbes reported, "own 10.6 million acres, or one out of every 217 acres in the country." Impressive as this total was, the Pentagon puts Turner and the entire pack of mega-landlords to shame with over 29 million acres in U.S. landholdings. Abroad, the Pentagon's "footprint" is also that of a giant. For example, the Department of Defense controls 20% of the Japanese island of Okinawa and, according to Stars and Stripes, "owns about 25 percent of Guam." Mere land ownership, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.

In his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire, Chalmers Johnson opened the world's eyes to the size of the Pentagon's global footprint, noting that the Department of Defense (DoD) was deploying nearly 255,000 military personnel at 725 bases in 38 countries. Since then, the total number of overseas bases has increased to at least 766 and, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, may actually be as high as 850. Still, even these numbers don't begin to capture the global sprawl of the organization that unabashedly refers to itself as "one of the world's largest `landlords.'"

The DoD's "real property portfolio," according to 2006 figures, consists of a total of 3,731 sites. Over 20% of these sites are located on more than 711,000 acres outside of the U.S. and its territories. Yet even these numbers turn out to be a drastic undercount. For example, while a 2005 Pentagon report listed U.S. military sites from Antigua and Hong Kong to Kenya and Peru, some countries with significant numbers of U.S. bases go entirely unmentioned -- Afghanistan and Iraq, for example.
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In value, the Pentagon's other properties are almost as impressive. The combined worth of the world's two most expensive homes, the $138 million 103-room "Updown Court" in Windlesham, Surrey in the United Kingdom and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan's $135 million Aspen ski lodge don't even come close to the price tag on Ascension Auxiliary Airfield, located on a small island off the coast of St. Helena (the place of Napoleon Bonaparte's exile and death). It has an estimated replacement value of over $337 million. Other high-priced facilities include Camp Ederle in Italy at $544 million; Incirlik Air Base in Turkey at almost $1.2 billion; and Thule Air Base in Greenland at $2.8 billion; while the U.S. Naval Air Station in Keflavik, Iceland is appraised at $3.4 billion and the various military facilities in Guam are valued at more than $11 billion.

Still, to begin to grasp the Pentagon's global immensity, it helps to look, again, at its land holdings -- all 120,191 square kilometers which are almost exactly the size of North Korea (120,538 square kilometers). These holdings are larger than any of the following nations: Liberia, Bulgaria, Guatemala, South Korea, Hungary, Portugal, Jordan, Kuwait, Israel, Denmark, Georgia, or Austria. The 7,518 square kilometers of 20 micro-states -- the Vatican, Monaco, Nauru, Tuvalu, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Maldives, Malta, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Seychelles, Andorra, Bahrain, Saint Lucia, Singapore, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Tonga -- combined pales in comparison to the 9,307 square kilometers of just one military base, White Sands Missile Range.


by Fran on Sat Jul 14th, 2007 at 01:12:55 AM EST
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