hile some German politicians are worried about the
closing of US military bases in their regions, others fear nasty surprises will
surface after the Americans depart. The United States has consistently valued
military power more than the environment - but at what price?
Some in the White House argue that
US national interests transcend greenie niceties, and this certainly was the case
with Bush's 3-day stay at Buckingham Palace last year. US security forces trashed
the Royal Gardens, historic statues and even the palace itself in an effort to
provide the best environment for the president. The Queen's ensuing outrage didn't
seem to bother Washington: if US self-protection mandates despoiling a patch of
land far away, then so be it.
The issue of US military bases overseas arouses similar conflicts.
According to Gary Vest, an assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental
security, "There is not a [US] military base in the world that doesn't have some
soil or ground water contamination. That is just a given."
A classic case involves the Clark and Subic bases in the
Philippines, which after closing in 1992, were discovered to be veritable
death traps: wells had been poisoned by insecticides, industrial waste and toxic
metals had been buried in random landfills, and petroleum had leaked from underground
tanks. As a result, ground water and nearby agricultural lands were contaminated,
and Filipinos living at or near the bases suffered from disproportionately high
rates of illness.
It gets worse: while the cost of
decontaminating Clark and Subic was estimated to be $1 billion, the US claimed
to be exempt from any clean-up liabilities, and even refused to provide technical
assistance and pertinent documents.
Germany's tough environmental laws
and strategic importance have ensured more favorable treatment thus far, but significant
problems remain. In 1999, a US Department of Defense inspector general said base
cleanup costs in Germany could total at least $1 billion.
Yet another black mark in the US environmental record abroad concerns
toxic weaponry dumped on countries such as Afghanistan. Via independent monitoring
of weapon types and delivery systems, the Uranium Medical Research Center (UMRC)
indicated that "radioactive, toxic uranium alloys and hard-target uranium warheads
were being used" by US-led coalition forces during 2001's Operation Enduring Freedom.
UMRC's follow-up assessments of uranium contamination in Afghan civilians'
urine samples found "abnormally high levels of non-depleted uranium," 400% to
2000% higher than normal population baselines.
Put bluntly, in addition to littering the Afghan countryside with
cluster bombs and a seismic shock warheads, it appears US-led forces helped irradiate
the local environment, with unspeakable civilian health implications.
Same story in Iraq. In the 1991 Gulf War, depleted uranium (DU) bullets
and shells were widely used by US forces because of DU's ability to cut through
conventional armor plating on tanks. DU-weaponry burns upon contact, emitting
radioactive dust which can then spread across a large region.
Experts at the Pentagon and the United Nations estimate that while
375 tons of DU were used in Iraq during the Gulf War, up to 2,200 tons of DU were dumped on the country by
US-led coalition forces during the 2003 invasion. DU remains destructive for 4.5
But military bases and the War
on Terror and aren't the only justifications given by the US for its assault on
the global environment; its War on Drugs has dealt Mother Nature a separate death
The White House has mandated a
sharp increase in funding for aerial spraying of coca and opium poppy crops abroad,
despite evidence that domestic drug treatment programs are 20 times more effective
than eradicating drug supply at the source.
Aerial eradication, a process by which toxic herbicides are indiscriminately
dumped from airplanes onto the land and water below, flies in the face of logic.
A United Nations' study, for example, found that coca cultivation in Colombia tripled
between 1996 and 2001, despite nearly one million acres of Colombian
land having been sprayed during that time.
More alarmingly, an herbicide commonly used in US-sponsored Colombian
eradication programs is Roundup Ultra, a broad-spectrum Monsanto product which
destroys food crops, water supplies and Amazonian bio-diversity along with the
intended coca and poppy plants. According to its warning label, Roundup Ultra
should not directly come into contact with bodies of water, people, grazing animals,
and desired crops; regardless, the US is funding Colombia to spray such herbicides
over hundreds of thousands of hectares each year.
The theme is clear: too often America's War on Fill-in-the-Blank
becomes a war on the environment, a trumped up justification to rape and pillage
Mother Nature in the name of increased personal security.
And too often this approach backfires into a spiral of destruction
It's safe to say George W. Bush will not be invited back to Buckingham
Palace anytime soon - consider that door slammed. Given the ongoing attacks on
American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would appear US interests are not
welcome there either. And it's doubtful that aerial drug eradication in Latin
America will lead to much else than hungry locals enraged at Yankee destruction
of their habitat.
The White House has to learn that it's impossible to secure a sustainably
safe environment through the destruction of nature and endangerment of people