Editorial | Beating bases into ploughshares

Councils should greet base closures with open arms, not self-centred arguments in favour of the status quo

When the military announced earlier this month that it was recommending that parliament close five bases as part of a plan to save the Defence Ministry 2.7 billion kroner annually, the reaction from the councils that host the bases was sadly predictable.

Voicing their opposition to closing bases in their area, mayors hauled out every argument they could: from historical ties between their region and the military to their importance for the local economy. About the only argument not heard was that the locations were strategically necessary.

Hosting a base has a major psychological and economic impact on councils, many of which are already grappling with a shrinking tax base, so it should come as no surprise that they are interested in having the military stick around. What is disappointing is that faced with the loss, local officials failed to look at two successful examples of alternative strategies.

In considering their counter strike, local officials should have first considered a collective defence. Such has been the strategy of the six councils currently being reviewed by the Health Ministry as the possible home of a nuclear storage facility. These councils have come together to protest against the opening any such facility, anywhere in Denmark. Whether their group effort will be successful remains to be seen, but with the government now considering alternative plans, it is looking increasingly likely it will.

For the six councils facing base closures, a similar response would have been to draw up a list of proposals that would on the one hand accommodate the military’s need to save money, while on the other make a case for some form of continued military presence. There might still be winners and losers, but the risk of some losing everything would be significantly reduced.

Secondly, instead of struggling against closure, the councils could have volunteered to have their base closed. Less an act of heroism than self-interest, such a move would have allowed mayors to negotiate the terms of the military’s withdrawal.

In doing so, local officials could have followed the example of Furesø Council, which saw the closure of nearby Værløse Air Field in 2008. Furesø was granted the rights to the 450 hectare suburban property that includes a runway, pristine natural areas and a number of buildings. Valued by the military in 2005 at 25 million kroner, if carefully developed to allow for residential, commercial and recreational use, its worth could far exceed that amount.

Base closures can mark a sad transition for their host towns, but instead of wringing their hands over their loss, councils should celebrate being allowed to forge their own economic ploughshares.