President Bush's announcement in August that he planned to withdraw up to 70,000 U.S. troops from Europe and East Asia represents the Pentagon's most ambitious effort in years to realign its military force posture to fit post-Cold War realities. An additional 100,000 support staff and families, most of them now in Germany, are also affected.
The change is long overdue. As the president said in a speech in Cincinnati on August 16: "For decades America's armed forces abroad have essentially remained where the wars of the last century ended, in Europe and Asia." He observed that the previous strategy was designed to protect America and its allies from Soviet aggression, a threat that no longer exists.
The reductions in troop strength will be made primarily in Germany where 71,000 are currently stationed, and in South Korea where 38,000 were based until redeployment of some 14,000 to Iraq began this summer. Still, a significant force of 24,000 will remain to reassure South Korea and Japan of America's continuing defense commitments in Northeast Asia.
Some 40,000 troops will eventually leave Germany, including two Army divisions that remained after the end of the Cold War. The huge U.S. Air Force base at Ramstein is not affected. The Pentagon says that smaller, more mobile brigade-size forces will be positioned in Germany and several Eastern European countries that are closer to the Middle East.
These worldwide redeployments were negotiated with host governments and will be carried out over six years. But the news caused much media comment in Europe, particularly in Germany where the economic impact of the withdrawals will be significant in several localities.
Bush's announcement prompted John Kerry to assert in an August 18 speech that "withdrawing troops from Europe will further undermine already strained relations with long-time NATO allies..." Kerry also deplored troop cuts in South Korea "at the very time we are negotiating with North Korea--a country that really has nuclear weapons. This is really the wrong signal to send at the wrong time."
The Bush-Cheney reelection campaign persuaded retired Marine Corps Commandant, General P.X. Kelley, and Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to respond to Kerry's attack. Kelley observed:: "John Kerry's opposition to troop realignment demonstrates a backward-looking view that blindly embraces the status quo and ignores the realities of the post-9-11 world." The threat America now faces, he added, is fundamentally different from the one that faced U.S. forces deployed during the Cold War.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was criticized earlier by Democrats and Republicans in Congress for not sending a large enough force to Iraq to handle the security problems that occurred after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. They argue that the Army is too small to cope effectively with all the assignments assigned to it by presidents Clinton and Bush after its troop strength was substantially reduced following the Cold War's end in 1990.
Rumsfeld argues that the Army, with 500,000 personnel, is large enough to handle its tasks but that too many troops are tied down Germany, Korea, and other areas and should be redeployed. Currently the Army has 230,000 personnel serving abroad, including in Iraq. An unspoken reason that the administration resists increasing the Army's size is that it will add substantially to the defense budget which critics argue is already too large.
Reducing U.S. troop strength in Europe will remind Europeans that they ought to be more serious about their defense responsibilities. At a time when America is increasing its already large defense budget, the European NATO allies, including Britain, are reducing theirs. Germany, for example, has cut its army to the point where it could not send a contingent of respectable size to Iraq even if the Schroeder government decided to alter its policy and join the coalition. The Bonn government concludes that its modest peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan are the maximum contributions it can afford, even though Germany has Europe's largest economy and population.
Canada, another NATO ally, has a pathetically small military force for a country of 37 million people and one of the world's strongest economies. Even if the Paul Martin government chose to reverse the Jean Chretien policy of refusing to join the U.S.- British coalition in Iraq, it could not find the troops to do so.
A reality of our post-Cold War era is that the world expects the United States to provide the troops and pay the bills for peace-enforcing missions everywhere that dangers arise. Our Cold War allies have become so accustomed to having Washington take the lead that many of them are reluctant to get involved and to share the costs.
The projected redeployment of American troops from Europe and Asia is long overdue and carries few risks that American security will be endangered. It saves the U.S. taxpayers money, makes our forces more mobile in a new kind of war with Al Qaeda, and it puts our allies and friends on notice that the U.S. security umbrella does not come free of charge.
File last modified on Thursday, 12-AUG-2004 09:00 PM EST