BRAC and Civil-Military Relations

Phil Carter has an article in Slate noting that, while closing and realigning bases makes fiscal and operational sense, it has the downside of further isolating the military from the civilian sector.

Debased – The hidden problems in the Pentagon’s base-closure list

There are several clear trends in the BRAC list: the elimination of many bases in the Northeast, the shutting of myriad civilian defense agencies’ offices, and the elimination of reserve armories in towns across America. The Pentagon says the closings will save $48 billion over 20 years. But they will also have one dramatic negative effect. BRAC will separate America’s military even further from America’s citizenry by consolidating military bases and removing the presence of the military from hundreds of towns across the country.


Every round of base closings has inspired massive lobbying and political battles to protect particular local interests, and this round will, too. But there are also two new considerations in this batch of proposed closings. First, shutting these armories may undermine homeland security efforts, which rely in part on the geographic dispersion and availability of reserve units to respond to domestic emergencies. Local governments depend on reserve centers for use as staging areas and temporary shelters in their emergency plans. The base-closure commission should evaluate this impact before accepting the Pentagon’s recommendations.

Second, and perhaps more important, this closure will change the relationship between the U.S. military and the society from which it’s drawn. Many of these reserve centers, armories, and defense offices play an important role in their communities’ lives—reserve armories frequently serve as local meeting halls and polling places, and reserve units often engage in community service projects, for example. When these bases go away, so too will the presence of the military in the lives of the people who reside and work near them. Initially, reservists may drive hours to drill with units at the new consolidated armory locations, but eventually these reservists will move nearer the big bases or quit the reserves. Either way, communities that today contribute reservists to the military will no longer do so.

Today’s civil-military divide is greater than at any time in American history, and these cuts will widen it.

A fair point, and one that I hadn’t given much thought to. I’m not sure we can justify massive inefficiency in order to preserve these relationships, but this is something that ought be considered on the margins. If there are two National Guard armories that are in contention for being the “winner” in a realignment, perhaps community considerations ought help decide.

Another, largely unrelated, issue that clearly was not considered when compiling this list was commuting infrastructure. For example, the consolidation of thousands of additional personnel currently housed in leased office space in the DC area to Fort Belvoir is quite logical as far as it goes–Belvoir has a huge amount of unused land and is much easier to secure than a civilian office building. Unfortunately, the major access points are already choked with traffic and there is no Metro service there.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Just Me says:

    My husband was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina when they voted to shut down the Shipyard and Navy base there, and the reality is that while the communities think the loss is huge, they will adjust.

    I don’t know that preserving relations with all towns across the US is worth the cost to keep the base going.

    I actually think consolidation is a wise move. They also need to look at moving various units that are stationed in Europe and move them closer to “hot” spot areas or just bring them back to the US for future deployment. The next major conflict is very unlikely to occur in Germany.

  2. NOTR says:

    Some more ruminations on the last BRAC. How does Granite City Army Depot keep dodging the BRAC bullet?

    Why in the world is Ft. Lee still open?

    So far as Ft. Belvoir goes, it will never close so long as members of Congress can continue to get tee times at the golf course. I won’t bore you with the tales of Tee-times where I as an active duty type had to defer to the “anointed ones” on the Potomac.