TCS Daily


Base Motives

By Stefania Lapenna - December 21, 2005 12:00 AM

Anti-Americanism in Italy has prompted the regional administration of Sardinia, an Italian island located just below Corsica, to pressure for the removal U.S. Naval Base in La Maddalena, an archipelago in the north of Sardinia.

The debate that preceded this decision lasted for more than five months. It has been the hottest topic on the agenda of the new regional administration of the island since it took office after winning the elections last year.

It all started with the claim by the ruling coalition's Communist and Green parties that there is a "threat posed by the American nuclear-powered submarines to the environment, landscape and the archipelago's population".

This absurd statement came following an accident that occurred in October 2003, involving the nuclear submarine USS Hartford, which was severely damaged when it ran aground at Secca dei Monaci, in the port of La Maddalena. This led some to fear that there may have been leaks of dangerous radiation. However, further analyses showed there was no environmental damage and nothing has thus far proven the claims of the base's opponents that the base threatens the local environment in the long term.

Local environmentalists have long complained about the supposed risks of keeping a naval base on the island, and the incident fueled calls for withdrawal. Curiously, though, accidents involving Russian tankers on south Sardinian shores have not prompted the communists, independence activists and leftist environmentalists from demanding an end to the Russian tankers' visits to the island.

Perhaps the most galling part of this controversy is that the island's population as a whole has not been allowed to have its say on the issue. Sardinia's main television channels have been conducting interviews with a number of citizens of the archipelago, and most have reacted nervously to the decision to close the base. They are vowing to take to the streets in order to make their voices heard once and for all. Some have started collecting signatures for a petition to be submitted to the regional president, in an effort to reverse the decision.

The American population in La Maddalena is currently 2,500. This includes U.S. Navy personnel and their families. Their relations with the locals since the base opened in 1972 have in general always been excellent, based on mutual respect and assistance, despite occasional disputes with the long-time opponents of a U.S. presence. During the decades of the American presence in the area, the local economy has developed from one mainly based on fishing and agriculture to one based on tourism and technology.

Many Sardinians have benefited from working at the naval base, running restaurants, shops and clubs alongside their American friends and colleagues. Others have simply rented apartments to the sailors' families, relatives and friends coming from the United States to visit their loved ones. These are just a few examples that highlight the many benefits the American presence has had for the native population.

At the end of November, Lee Brown, an official from the U.S. embassy in Rome, arrived in La Maddalena to hold talks with the town's mayor. Asked if he thought the decision to close the naval base had something to do with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's statements about moving U.S. military installations out of Europe, Brown replied: "We're going to talk to those who took this decision. I can't say anything more."

While it is true that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a 30-minute meeting with Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino at the Pentagon, agreed to the withdrawal "as part of the overall transformation and realignment of forces", this might have been in part due to pressures coming from the ruling regional authority.

Renato Soru, Sardinia's left-leaning regional president and a fierce opponent of the U.S. military presence - whose removal has been one of the main topics of his election campaign - welcomed the agreement as "wonderful news".

It remains to be seen whether the he and his whole administration will be able to keep the archipelago's economy as strong as it has been and offer new opportunities to those who are going to lose their jobs. The only sure thing is that many in La Maddalena won't keep silent too long.

Stefania Lapenna is an Italian activist and author of the weblog Free Thoughts.
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2 Comments

Apart form the straight out lies in this piece
Ask yourself these three questions.
Would Americans like a foreign force having a base on US soil?
Would Americans pay less tax if Europe did it's fair share of defending the free world?
Would there be a need for a US base if Europe did the above.

Not sure about your points
For starters, the US requires overseas bases because our forces operate worldwide. It's a necessity. We must have them. We don't have foreign bases on our soil, but many foreign militaries train in the US.

Next, many nations support a US base presence in their country.

Third, it's useless to think about Europe in terms of defense. Witht the exception of the United Kingdom, they will most likely grow weaker over time. They have neither the will nor the resources anymore--they are slowly going broke--to develop forces that can project outside of Europe. Those types of forces are very expensive.

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