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Responding to Resurgent Russia: Should US Troops Go East or Go West?

Wess Mitchell, director of research at The Center for European Policy Analysis, writes that the EU's largest states are more interested in avoiding a rupture with Moscow than in protecting the vital interests of the Union's eastern members. Therefore, the United States should announce its intention to transfer the entire Europe-based American military establishment to new locations in Central Europe. Read his Op-Ed for the Atlantic Community: "How America Should Respond to Resurgent Russia

One familiar commenter suggested:

We are in agreement about the need for the US to redeploy its forces in Europe. We are in disagreement as to the direction. You want them moved eastward and I want them to move west, as in to the United States. The US should withdraw from Europe until such time as the Europeans take their security seriously. They don't and have not for a long time. I am sure the members of the chocolate summit can devise a treaty which will make the Central European nations feel secure.

Here's part of Wess Mitchell's response:

I'm sympathetic to your view. However, I believe that if we were to withdraw our forces from Europe altogether, as for example Stephen Walt argues in a recent book, a future generation of U.S. leaders would have to send them right back. They can stay as a preventative or return as a corrective; either way, it is our fate to remain a European power.
That being the case, I'd rather stay. But if we're going to do that, let's use the forces we have there more wisely. As Ron Asmus points out in an oped in today's Wall Street Journal
"NATO's Hour", we've resisted permanently redeploying U.S. military assets to the east in the period since the Cold War on the logic that this act of self-restraint would be seen as a confidence-building move in Moscow. As he points out, this logic no longer applies.

Is that still the case? Would US troops have to return to Europe as a corrective, if they do not stay as a preventative?


Endnote: Could someone please refresh my memory: Which US politician has famously declared that America is a "European Power"? I know that
Richard Holbrooke wrote an essay with such a title in 1995, but he did not coin that term.


Related articles on this issue can be found in the sidebar feature "Tips from our Readers." For instance
International Herald Tribune: "Poland's president criticized the way France and Germany have handled the crisis between Russia and Georgia, accusing them Saturday of being too soft on Moscow due to their commercial ties with Russia." Or The American Prospect: "The conflict between Georgia and Russia has reignited a long-standing debate over NATO expansion."


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Kevin Sampson on :

Since we have already concluded an agreement with Poland that will station US troops there, withdrawing from Europe is not really an option. Rather, we should withdraw from NATO, negotiate bilateral security agreements with suitable central European nations (a la Poland), and transfer our forces there under the auspices of these new agreements. Iím curious, though, about why we will inevitably need to return to Europe? And what does this say about Europe?

joe on :

Kevin, The foot print of the proposed missile site is very small. When and if it is fully stood up, the total personnel will be very much under a 1,000. Actually the total for both sites would be under a 1,000. Therefore there is no reason not to withdraw from Europe. There is no need to have US forces deployed there. I am sure our european allies would be hard pressed to come up with any good reasons for the US to remain. While ideally to withdraw from NATO would be the best course of action for the US, the political climate today is such that this is not possible. This climate is however improving. Once the US withdrew its forces, it could reassure Europe that we will remain strong members of NATO. Just as the germans, french, spanish, etc have for the last 15+ years. Do not forget starting in 1967 right up to the fall of the berlin wall, the US ran the REFORGER excerises. So the skill sets are there to reinforce Europe should the need arise. However, there is some risk involved in this for Europe, if there are no Americans in harms way. I am sure Congress would have to have a lengthy debate about deploying US forces to another war, a war which might not just be in the interest of the US. While waiting for Congressional approval to deploy US forces, we could witness the novel image of german mothers sends their sons off to defend Polish mothers and infants.

Zyme on :

"While waiting for Congressional approval to deploy US forces, we could witness the novel image of german mothers sends their sons off to defend Polish mothers and infants." Ah this cheers me up again :)

Pat Patterson on :

Congress cannot make a decision to deploy or not deploy troops any where in the world. However they could cut the funding for that line in the defense budget to pay for such a deployment. But the president can simply move money around, except for the few areas where funds are dedicated and keep troops overseas for years with or without congressional approval.

joe on :

Pat, Correct me if I am wrong but every POTUS has sought the consent of Congress prior to deploying US forces in harms way with the notable exceptions being Panama and Grenada. Do you honestly believe the POTUS would not seek the consent of Congress prior to deploying the vast majority of US forces to die in Europe.

Pat Patterson on :

Every president since the War Powers Resolution was passed in 1973 has essentially ignored it as violating both the separation of powers and the oath the president takes to defend the country. The War Powers Resolution was created to limit the power to the president by tying any warlike act he makes to certain time constraints. He has to notify Congress of what he has ordered in the first 30 days and must either get an authorization from Congress or a declaration of war at 90 days. Under no circumstances does Congress have any power to restrain troop movements ordered by the president. In fact Pres. Clinton has been the only one who actually ignored the 90 day notification because he simply did not want a debate on the issue close to the national elections. The president can order mobilization of reserves, shut the borders, order suspension of the Posse Comitatus Clause of the Constitution, send assets anywhere in the world without congressional approval. But he is constrained only by the power that Congress has to simply stop paying from any new appropriation and some have argued that Congress could also freeze all current expenditures. Except that has never happened. At a certain point if there is enough support or opposition one or the other side will call for a vote authorizing the movement or a declaration of war.

Kevin Sampson on :

You have a deft touch with sarcasm. Never the less, if we're going to position our hardware there, we need to have our people there to man it.

joe on :

Kevin Just how many people do you think it takes to man 10 missles? I can assure you it does not take the more than the 100,000 Americans that we currently have in Europe.

Kevin Sampson on :

Obviously, but itís not just the ten missiles but a Patriot battery as well, and probably more to come. No, it wonít be the approximately 135,000 troops we have deployed in Europe now, but the bottom line is, we are probably going to be stuck there for the foreseeable future.

joe on :

Kevin, You imply the US will man the Patriots being deployed to Poland. Unless you have a source which I do not, that is not part of the current military aid package to Poland. If you remember in the run up prior to Iraq, Turkey had requested the deployment of Patriot units from NATO assests for its protection. These assets were controlled by our german allies who did not want to deploy these. It took a rather lengthy time and much discussion before one member nation of NATO would supply requested assets to another member nation. I am lead to believe that the Patriots to Poland will not be a NATO assets unless Poland choses to chop these to NATO. I think the Poles watched and remembered how NATO responded to Turkey and learned a lot in what it wanted from the US, remembering the current agreement between Poland and the US has taken place outside of the NATO framework. There might be good reasons for this both from the Polish and US prespective. Who knows.

Zyme on :

Am I reading correctly? "They can stay as a preventative or return as a corrective; either way, it is our fate to remain a European power." This must be the peak of insolence. Just listen to an African when being confronted with the idea of European peacekeepers (=corrective) - and European people are expected to have an understanding for such a joke? A fatal error. Collect your soldateska and get out of here!

Kevin Sampson on :

We're working on it.

SC on :

"Stephen Walt argues in a recent book, a future generation of U.S. leaders would have to send them right back. They can stay as a preventative or return as a corrective; either way, it is our fate to remain a European power." Joerg, to these assertions, you ask whether the central assertion is "true". First, that is unknowable. However, the fact that it is asserted by no less than Walt, who I believe is a Professor in Harvard's Kennedy School, is, hmmmm, interesting; no? I don't think Walt has the reputation of being a dreaded "neocon" or imperialist running dog of the Zionist conspiracy. So, where do you think he and Mitchell are coming from? Zyme attributes it to "insolence", because he no doubt knows them both so well personally - apart from their presumed citizenship, that is. What else could possibly explain it? Zyme, responds to this presumed insolence with a hearty harrumph and back of the hand with his version of "Yankee go home". (Yawn) To which, I'd like to know the answer to this, Zyme, "Why?" Because y'all don't like us? (Yawn) You have to do better than that. This is a discussion group, devoted to transatlantic affairs. The starting point ought to be some understanding of the motives of the parties. Zyme's reaction is perfectly stated and understandable. So, what is the motivation for the US to permanently station forces in Europe and throughout the world all these years, why the sudden zest for all the "foreign entanglements" - particularly after resisting this temptation, for the better part of its 232 years of existence? To make a long story short: American belief in its inherent "exceptionalism" has a history that stretches back to the founding of the republic and beyond. But, one of the unappreciated and underrated corollaries of this is a healthy skepticism and lack of trust in most, if not all, of the rest of the world. Yes, that means you too Zyme. :) Now look at the history of the 20th century through the eyes of, say, Dwight Eisenhower. What does he see? He sees a country whose starting position for each of the two great catastrophes of the century was to stand aloof but whose finishing position in each case was a bit different. After 1.3+ million casualties of which 500k+ were deaths - admittedly much less than many others involved but a hell of a lot for country that twice thought two oceans were a sufficient buffer - he might be determined that this would not be repeated. "Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me", goes the old saying. And so it was that the views of foreign policy conservatives in the US became less convincing after 1945 and men like Eisenhower, Truman, Acheson and all the others put in place structures, now grown old and taken for granted, that in their day were as much about guaranteeing that there would be no third time, and that the fences were to be set far beyond the surrounding seas. The men who fought in one or both of the century's catastrophes governed US foreign policy up until the most recent times. Walt was born in 1955 - one generation removed only and a generation now waxing ascendant - and he clearly feels in his bones what motivated the generation before; he's far from alone. American forces aren't going home from Europe now because some Europeans don't like their presence. I expect them to leave any country when asked. However, they won't leave before that request comes unless and until people like Walt and Mitchell, and the many like them, are convinced that the chance of there being a third time is exceedingly small; and the reason that the request hasn't been made, I suspect, is that those who actually have responsibility in European governments, over the years, are not yet convinced that such a guarantee is possible.

Martin on :

Well, let's have Dwight Eisenhower speak for himself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdrGKwkmxAU "I expect them to leave any country when asked." Incl. Iraq?

joe on :

Martin, We in fact do leave when asked. You might want to check with the Philippines to confirm that. You might have more current information than I do about Iraq. I do not believe at this time they have made such a request. One can only hope our so called ally Germany will ask the US to leave. I am sure that request will be honored.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

[i]Joerg, to these assertions, you ask whether the central assertion is "true". First, that is unknowable. [/i] Sorry, I have not been specific enough. My question "Is that still the case?" was meant to refer to Mitchell's statement that "it is our fate to remain a European power." Hasn't America's fate changed in the last two decades? What do you think? Hm, can fate actually change? I guess, I am not "spiritual" or "esoteric" enough to believe in fate...

SC on :

Like you, I haven't much to say about fate, but circumstances surely have changed. Those are being processed by all concerned. Instituions evolve more slowly than thinking. Certain structural changes are only now taking place in the General Staff of the US Army that reflect the new post-Soviet realities; and that in response 9/11 and Iraq. Mitchell statement, while being "poetic", I take to mean that he doesn't see the near certainty I alluded to arising in his view anytime soon.

Zyme on :

Yes from an American perspective this is totally clear and understandable. With your troops gone so is a good deal of your influence, as it would mark another cornerstone in the transatlantic development. New political movements would no longer have to consider the American stance. I was speaking from a European and especially German perspective. At the two most decisive moments in the 20th century American soldiers showed up and both times it wasn't exactly to our advantage, you know. Without American involvement in the First War, how good would the chances have been for another major war? Would we have had any need for an exhausting creation like the EU to project our foreign politics? As a Frenchman I might see things differently. "Now look at the history of the 20th century through the eyes of, say, Dwight Eisenhower. What does he see?" I posted the link a while ago - in case you didn't see it, take a look at that video. It perfectly proves your statement: http://einestages.spiegel.de/static/topicalbumbackground/1822/der_film_der_seinen_zweck_verfehlte.html

SC on :

Thanks for the link. Believe it or not, I've not seen films like the US Army orientation film queued up first at the link. Interesting. Sure, as I first wrote, the reaction you initially expressed is quite understandable, not only as a German but even moreso as one, I take, to be a member of much younger generation. Old people and their memories suck, don't they? ;) Good questions about the first catastrophe, Zyme. Jacques Barzun in his magnum opus, "From Dawn to Decadence" makes the fair point that despite the horrific numbers of dead after the second catastrophe, it was the first that was the worst because it murdered a civilization and that we've been paying the price ever since.

Don S on :

Pretty good reasonig there, Professor SC. There is one minor sticking point which you failed to deal with, however, one which may lead to the US withdrawing further from NATO. That point is the lack of participation of the continental members of NATO in both their own defense and in deployments important to the US and other transatlantic and transchannel allies (Canada and the UK). Germany finally deployed 250 combat troops to Afghanistan this spring - how many years into the conflict? Replacing a larger contingent of fighting Norwegians I believe. There is a huge political component to this of course - witholding active participation in Afghanistan apart from garrison duties in Kabul was the German way of expressing profound lack of enthusiasm. But only in part. Germany confessed 'exhaustion' after deploying a mere 10K troops outside German borders, the majority in decidedly undemanding peacekeeping roles. They are expanding their capabilities - but at a glacially slow rate. The French record is somewhat better but really nothing to write home about. Spain after Aznar? Next to nothing. Italy? Not much was expected, and there have been no surprises. The UK has really the only credible performance among the large European countries in NATO. Some of the smaller NATO countries have done considerably better, of course. I cannot fault the Canadians, and Nederlands, Norway, Poland, and other of the newer members or would-be members have at least made a real effort. But - is it enough? I think not. The US should not allow 75% or moire of the effort to defend Western Europe to be left on her shoulders while most of the other large contries do as little as possible. We cannot do this and should not be asked to.

SC on :

US interest in support of NATO is manifest based on US actions over the last 17 years, despite the changes you note here, below, and in many past posts. The role of NATO is evolving, quite obviously, it has always had a political as well as military component. By its actions, the US has asserted a priority of the political over the military components during this time. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union the military component has become a handmaiden to the overtly political goals surrounding NATO enlargement. NATO and the EU are being used to reshape the political map of Europe in a manner that fits with the long term security needs of the US vis a vis Europe. It's a cold, hard, calculus which seems to take into account the imbalances you've cited: Washington still finds NATO's utility outweighs the annoyances you've noted. Will that change? I doubt it, but then anything can change, and I'm no better at predictions than most. However, there's one thing the past 60+ years shows to be true, and it's this: The US will stand the cost if it feels the need. Recognition of and belief in a need is manifest in the words of men like Walt and Mitchell. If anything, this has been punctuated with an exclamation point with signing of the US-Polish missile defense agreement, together with Tusk's suggestion of an agreed upon bilateral security commitment apart from NATO structures. The US is very long way from the point at which it is about to "bring the troops home". The fence will remain in Europe. That's how I read it.

Anonymous on :

Why do Americans vote for politicians that let the United States play world policemen? The military of the United States is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world, with more than 369,000 of its nearly 1.4 million active-duty troops serving outside the United States and its territories. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deployments_of_the_United_States_Military

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

SC and others Let me ask you: Do you think the US maintains a large troop presence in Europe as a "preventative"? Do you think that a withdrawal of US troops from Europe would lead to a situation that forces America to return to Europe as a "corrective"? In my understanding "corrective" does not mean some altruistic "saving of Europe" but refers to the defense of US national security interests like in WWI and WWII. Why do you think America is called a "European power"? (Who coined that term? It must have been an American)

joe on :

Joerg, What a great set of questions to carry the discussion forward, Not being a scholar like so many here, I can only do comparative analyses of history. In this case I use 1945 as a break point. In my analysis I compare wars in Europe prior to 1945 and to the period after 1945. This analysis has lead me to the conclusion there have been fewer wars in Europe since the stationing of US forces there than at any time prior to 1945. From a US perspective this has resulted in the saving of a great deal of our national treasure. This is true even as Americans have died during this period but not to the same extent as prior to 1945. I realize that some gaints will point out how much more sophisticated Europe has become as a results of WWII, I belive this is the standard reframe of the Left, yet I was under the impression Europeans have always consisted themsevles to be very sophisticated much more so than say the Americans. But accepting this position that Europe is now a mature group of sophisticated nations well on the way to disvolving the concept of the nation state, then there appears to less and less reason for the stationing of US forces of any size and any number in Europe. A return of US forces to Europe would have to in some way be in the national interest of the US. I find with each passing day it more difficult to identify just what that national interest really is. It really is a difficult question to answer. I see both Wess and Anmus struggle with it. At the end of the day about all they can come up with it seems is some vague concept of "exceptionalism". This of course irriates our so called allies. This irration can be seen on the blog almost daily. If anything listening to the leaders of Europe and their populations one finds little common interest other than one of trading partners.Then again the US has lots of trading partners and few enjoy formal security agreements. In fact, most Europeans and espically those who have lived under the largess of the security blanket the US has provided for more than 60 years seem to share less and less with the US with each passing generation.

SC on :

Joe: It can't be said often enough, despite the triteness of it, that the US and western Europe, in particular, have drawn quite different lessons from the history of the 20th century. Or, maybe I should say that they've come focus on different lessons to be learned from the previous century. Each is understandable and understood by the people who've come to occupy positions with real responsibility and authority in all the governments over the years, but how to respond and accomodate has proven, at times, a bit difficult.

joe on :

SC I agree with you. One only has to look at the revisionism of history as it is now being practiced in europe to understand why there is a difference in focus and different lessons learned. This surely explains why there can be tens of thousand protesting the US for going to war to overthrow a dictator and no one seems to care that a sovereign nation with a popular democratic elected government has been invaded. It all makes perfect sense to me.

SC on :

Joerg: I've put your question of provenance for the phrase "European Power" in the context of describing the US before a historian friend of mine who has specialized in US military-diplomatic history for the WWII years and after. Let's see what he has to say. (Somewhat) short answers: 1. Do I think that the US maintains a large troop presence in Europe (elsewhere as well, for that matter) as a preventative? Yes, and for reasons already stated. Another pertinent old(ish) saying is this: "I want to be there for the takeoff and not just for the landing". 2. Do I think that a withdrawal of US troops from Europe would lead to a situation that forces America to return to Europe as a "corrective"? Probably, hopefully . . . really hopefully, "No". But you get the idea. Actually, a more relevant example might be this: Assuming that the US remained in NATO, if US forces had departed Europe, I don't think the history of US involvement in the recent Balkans flareups would have been substantially different, and that would then have involved a return to Europe, broadly speaking, as a corrective. However, you would be exactly right to describe it as an involvement in pursuit of national interest.

Don S on :

SC, I see (and perhaps agree) with your point about preventative strategy. With a huge but, that 'But' being that we cannot do this unilaterally or nearly so. After WWII we undertook that burden, but that was ain an era when the US had 50% of the planet's industrial output. As that advantage declined the other NATO members rapidly geared up and took much of the burden so it became a truely collberative alliance. Today we see the result of 2 decades of hollowing out (the peace dividend), by the US as well as the continental members. But the continental members cut far deeper than the US ever did, with the result that there is very little left in Germany's case. Nor do they appear to rearming with any urgency. If this does not change, and quickly, he US should reduce it's committment - because defending a Europe which won't defend itself is an utterly impossible undertaking.

Badboy Recovered on :

I agree word for word. But they will not rearm and you know it. If we take our troops out of Europe we wouldn't need any help in Afghanistan. They are just sending as few as they can so when and if shit hits the fan for them they can call us and say -- Hay! we helped you! Having a country send 2000 troops to OUR war zone just so we can call it a coalition is stupid. If you don't think so look at the mess that policy has got us into with Georgia. Did they really think we were going to go to war with Russia for Tblisi? Please..... I've said it before and ill say it again, the euro's dont want to help us in Iraq or Afghanistan. Fine, because we don't need their help anyway. Let them go home. Im not mad and you shouldn't be either. Because asking/ begging for their help when we have 80,000 troops sitting on their ass in Europe is just silly. Not to mention the other 28,000 troops sitting on their asses in that other ingrate asian country id like to dump a big bucket of fuck you on. So to answer your question.... WEST! Stick a fork in NATO its done. All we need is for NATO to fail in Afghanistan or a little more anti americanism from Europe and its over.

Marie Claude on :

yeah ? the euros don't help you in Afghanistan, you must be blind !!! 10 of our best special forces were killed yesterday in the war against the jihadists and more than 20 injureds stop whinning !!!!

Zyme on :

The deaths of those French soldiers was a very sad event. But do you really think the French Army is in Afghanistan to help the Americans? Here in Germany a former defense minister has coined the phrase that "Germany is defended at the Hindu Kush" - describing pretty much the only official reason why we have soldiers there.

Marie Claude on :

Zyme, you should write humor comedies :lol:

Anonymous on :

Boy... Talk about missing the point!

Marie Claude on :

Anonymous, a clever wiki link, would say a favorite professor of mine ?

Joe Noory on :

A chaotic asia minor has and continues to cause problems to the entire west. Germany, France, and all the rest of us are indeed defending ourselves there. For one thing there needs to be a disincentive to setting off bombs in train stations in Madrid, London, and so on. For another the concept of Jihad needs to fail on the sword and exhaust itself. There was also a time that a kilo of hash cost 500DM in Berlin - not to mention harder and laced drugs - less than ever, only because of the chaos in central asia, and being transitted hand to hand by the NCO cadres of the Red Army. Those were under relatively controlled circumstances, and the social toll it took - principally on the paranoia of a large percentage of people using them. Imagine what a firmly rooted Taliban looking for cash could do with weapons and any other 'cash crop' that could readily plumment their cost through excess supply inside fortress Europe.

joe on :

SC I disagree with your assertion about how the US involvement in the Balkans would not have been much different if the US had no forces in Europe. I think it would have been hugely different. To the degree the US might not have been involved at all. I base this on two facts. The first is Europe initially chose to frame this as a European problem to be solved by Europeans. Secondly there had been no attack on a member nation to cause a redeployment of US Forces. No thinking person would view this as a threat to NATO. Just as today Russia's actions in Georgia are not to be a threat to NATO by many of the Western Euroopean member nations. And who knows what would be happening in Georgia today had the Balkans adventure turned out differently.

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