Kerry Warns Against Base Closures

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) said Friday that the work of the military base closing commission should be suspended as he warned of a "terrible disconnect" between President Bush's approach to shuttering installations and the demands on U.S. forces.

The next round of closures are set for 2005, but Kerry said in a statement that a complete assessment of the military's needs is warranted before any steps are taken to reduce the number of bases.

The comments were at odds with Kerry's vote on Sept. 25, 2001, for base closings (search). The Massachusetts senator then backed the efforts of the Bush administration for another round of closures.

"We shouldn't be wasting resources with excess bases, but we also have to know what our future needs will be at home and around the world," Kerry said. "Base closures must be driven by logic, not ideology."

Base closings remain a politically volatile issue, especially in communities faced with the loss of their facilities. In New Hampshire, which narrowly went for Bush in 2000, the fate of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (search) in Kittery, Maine, is a major concern.

The shipyard, located on an island in the Piscataqua River that separates New Hampshire and Maine, employs about 4,000 people from the two states and Massachusetts.

Military officials have said there is no target number of bases to be closed. There are approximately 425 major military installations nationwide. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said he believes the military has about 20 percent to 25 percent excess capacity at its bases.

"There's a terrible disconnect between the stated goals of the base closure process and the realities we face today in managing our force structure and providing for our troops," Kerry said.

He said a long-range review needs to be "honest about the challenges we face. And in the meantime, we should suspend the work of the base closure commission."

In four earlier rounds of base closures, from 1988 to 1995, 387 major and minor bases were closed or realigned, saving about $17 billion through 2001 and $7 billion per year after that, a Pentagon official told Congress last month.