Konversion militärischer Liegenschaften
Eine weltweite Herausforderung

Release date: 1996-09

Mayors and city leaders from 13 countries (Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Sweden, the Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States) met in Düsseldorf and Frankfurt (Oder), Germany, to pursue international solutions to the challenges posed by military base closures. This forum of more than 100 local leaders raised the issue of base conversion above the narrow confines of local or domestic policy to the agenda of international policy-makers. High level government officials from the United Nations and from countries mentioned above addressed the meeting, co-sponsored by the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC) and the European Union sponsored Network DEMILITARISED.

Base closure is both a challenge and an opportunity. Between 1990 and 2000, more than 8,000 military sites will be closed worldwide. Although the United States and Russia have been responsible for 80% of the closures, Germany was the most seriously affected country due to the high number of foreign troops stationed there during the Cold War. Since 1990, nine states have closed military bases in Germany (the US, Russia, (former) East and West Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada). As a result, Germany ranked number one in terms of total hectares closed and civilian jobs lost per- capita and scored high in other impact indicators. The participants of the base closure conference had the opportunity to visit redeveloped sites in Western and Eastern Germany as well as in Poland to get an impression of the similarities and differences of the sites. Most of the former Warsaw Treaty Organization member countries were also heavily affected by base closure. In Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltic nations seem to have had the highest per-capita impact, but the other countries were not far behind in terms of military infrastructure reductions. Providing an exact ranking of countries is currently impossible due to large differences in employment, real estate, and environmental impact criteria (for more details see Bonn International Center for Conversion, Conversion Survey 1996, Oxford 1996). In the United States, for instance, the focus is on the loss of jobs and investment at closed sites. On the other hand, the closed city-style of Russian bases makes the economic impact of their closure much less in the WTO countries. In those countries, environmental contamination of the sites and a less conducive economic environment make redevelopment more difficult.

These differences in impact have led to regional differences in base redevelopment priorities. While all countries are interested in job creation, the United States tends to see this as the sole criterion for successful base redevelopment. This exclusive focus has been matched by a history of job creation success on closed sites.

Although every city, country, and continent is drastically different, the conference organizers believed there were core issues, obstacles, and opportunities that are the same for communities worldwide. The conference was intended to report on these experiences so that the 'wheel would not have to be reinvented' with each new base redevelopment project. Participants identified the worldwide issues, opportunities, and obstacles involved in reusing military bases and demonstrated how some countries and communities approach base conversion. Some important ground rules were laid down for comparing countries' experiences.

One of the experiences in the United States was the often predicted catastrophic effects of base closure, which seldom became a reality. A 1995 Department of Defense study showed that base closure communities in the United States are replacing lost civilian jobs at a 2-1 ratio. Several factors have led to that dramatic success.

The generally good condition of closing facilities in terms of environmental conditions, regulations regarding personal property, and general base maintenance and upkeep. In contrast, most of the former WTO bases suffer from severe contamination and poor maintenance which delays and, in some cases, prohibits redevelopment. Additionally, even the most well maintained bases will be quickly looted and vandalized following closure unless the proper security measures are enforced.

The closures are often geographically separated. The closures in the United States lack the physical concentration of the smaller, more densely populated European countries. Imagine that the combined US base closures all occurred in an area the size of Montana. One could parallel this to the situation in Germany.

A nationwide government support program operated by the Office of Economic Adjustment in the US Department of Defense. This program puts the responsibility for redevelopment squarely on the shoulders of the local officials, while simultaneously providing support and assistance from experienced project managers.

Finally, the United States has benefited from the enthusiastic, powerful, creative, and business-minded nature of its local leaders.

Since bases have only been closing for five and a half years in Germany, no meaningful job creation statistics are available yet. A slightly different redevelopment experience is developing in Germany.

Due to the large number of base closures and job losses, Germany is the largest recipient of funds of the European Union's KONVER program.

The nearly nationwide housing shortage has made for relatively easy conversion of all but the most isolated military housing sites.

The proximity to urban areas of most of the foreign army bases in Germany, due to their initial mission of maintaining order in the large cities, has significantly aided redevelopment.

These factors have led to mixed results in Germany. While housing reuse and redevelopment projects are proceeding quickly, other large-scale industrial or job-creating uses will require more time. Civilian cargo centers, airports or manufacturing centers require significant investment and patience making any definitive judgment premature.

The rest of the European Union members have experienced relatively few base closures compared to Germany, but isolated regions in Greece, the United Kingdom, and Spain did experience large closures. Several of these countries have joined the Network DEMILITARISED to share ideas and advocate assistance for defense-dependent communities at the European Union level.

After considering the relative success of the Western nations in base redevelopment, it may appear that the Central and Eastern European countries face only obstacles. Widespread reports of abandoned military cities, environmental denigration, and difficult economic transitions have caused many in the West to view base redevelopment in the former WTO countries with skepticism. The tremendous obstacles to redevelopment there require a different, more patient approach to redevelopment. The Eastern countries will have to move away from many of the Western models in search of their own competitive advantages and approaches. This is particularly true for communities that want to attract Western investment. The conference participants had the opportunity to visit former Russian Army military bases at the German and Polish border in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany, and in Slubice, Poland, that are both in the process of being converted for the European University Viadrina.

Despite the diversity of the experiences in the 13 countries represented at the base closure conference, some general conclusions can be drawn from the presentations and discussions at the conference:

Military base redevelopment is as much a question of ideas as funding. Ideas for viable alternatives need to be developed and funding in a public-private partnership proved to be the most promising road to success.

Military base redevelopment is a global challenge that requires international cooperation. The clear success of limited cooperation programs in the United States and the European Union point to a well-defined constituency that could benefit from cooperation worldwide. Networks can be modest and informal. BICC will facilitate further cooperation among affected communities. The conference participants accepted a declaration to extend the Network DEMILITARISED to include members beyond the European Union, throughout Europe.

The core set of problems and objectives in base redevelopment are largely the same throughout the world. Communities want to attract investment and jobs, compensate for lost income, improve their population's standard of living, and provide a safe, sustainable future for their citizens. In doing so, communities need to develop business plans for former military structures based on their comparative advantages, build consensus on different development priorities, effectively market themselves to the outside world, work with their national government to create an environment conducive to success, and promote patience- the redevelopment of sites does not happen overnight.
The government can play a decisive role in offering the right incentives for communities to initiate redevelopment. Communities can learn about national and state-level assistance programs in other countries and encourage the application of principles from the best programs in their own country.

A high concentration of closed bases in economically weak areas, especially concerning large, hard to redevelop sites like air bases, can quickly exceed market demand. Without some program to manage these projects regionally, the inter-site competition of investment could doom all to slow starvation.

Remediation of all but the most serious environmental hazards must be linked to economic development. Even rich governments cannot afford to clean all of the contaminated military sites that exist in their country. These problems are even more severe in the cash-strapped governments of Central and Eastern Europe. Priorities for clean-up must be established. Contaminated sites could be divided into three sets. The first set includes the sites that pose such a danger to human health that governments must act immediately to clean them. The second set includes sites with such high economic potential that the environmental clean-up will quickly pay for itself, through economic growth on the site. The third group consists of sites not dangerous or economically valuable enough to fit in either of the first two groups. The long-term goal, of course, is to nibble off either side of the latter as projects are completed and eventually eliminate the group completely.

Redevelopment must be directed locally. Unless the community supports the redevelopment plan, it is doomed to fail. Local officials worldwide agree that the emphasis has to be on local decision-making with regional and central government assistance that is less bureaucratic.