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Reductions of US Troops in Europe Could Impede US Operations

"Some American defense officials are reconsidering a plan to cut the troop force in Europe in half," writes Gordon Lubold in the Christian Science Monitor (HT: Marian) on April 24, 2007. The main reason for the criticism of the planned troop reductions is that roughly 75 percent of the US force in Europe is either deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, is about to go, or just returned and both wars are expected to take longer. This means:
Many senior defense officials are concerned that the plan to cut by nearly half the number of forces in Europe could make it difficult to support American interests in the European theater. The troop reductions, they say, go too far.
"I am very apprehensive about how low we are taking capabilities of the US Army in Europe," says one senior defense official in Europe, who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing discussions.
For years, the presence of more than 110,000 US troops at big, established bases in places like Germany and Italy has been seen as a cold-war relic. In 2002, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld oversaw an initiative to reduce the American military footprint in Western Europe in favor of smaller, more agile forces at temporary bases in places like Romania and Bulgaria. That would put US forces in far less stable areas and make them far more relevant.
Under the plan unveiled in 2005, many of the extra forces are to be returned to the United States. By 2012, only about 60,000 US personnel would remain in Europe.
But that was so two years ago. Today, those assumptions may not hold. Russia's democratic reforms have moved in reverse, and Iran has emerged as a potentially serious threat. In addition, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted longer than expected, which has tapped American forces based in Europe who would otherwise be engaged in European Command missions such as building "partner nation" capacities. That has made it difficult for European Command to pursue a new, more active strategy with these nations and potentially prevent problems before they occur. Indeed, exercises and other military engagements across Europe and in Africa have had to be canceled because the command has or will have fewer troops. (...)
There is another problem of a more practical nature: The forces the Army is returning to the US don't have a place to go. Congress has only partially funded the Base Realignment and Closure Act, which governs a series of base closings and consolidation.
Personal comments: Is "building partner nation capacities" still in the US interest, since many European partners do not want to commit that many troops to US led wars? Isn't that the (correct) perception of more and more Americans? See the debates on for instance.
Anyway, I think it is interesting that it's US defense officials, who are voicing their opposition to the troop reduction plans. German officials are not lamenting the troop reductions, except for local city governments who lose revenue. Most Germans would not mind if all US troops would continue to stay here. The troops are welcome, but not US nukes.
I think it is fair to say that most Germans are not concerned that they will be attacked as a consequence of a US troop withdrawal. The US troops based in Germany are not seen as the big brother that protects us poor Germans, as some US bloggers like to pretend. What some folks apparently don't understand: US troops are in Europe to serve US interests (incl. the promotion of NATO). They are not doing charity work for defenseless Europeans, who desperately need "capacity building." If US and German troops practice together, then both sides and NATO as whole benefit. See also this post in the Atlantic Review:
German and American Volunteers Support US Soldiers at Landstuhl Military Hospital.

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Atlantic Review on : "Maybe It's Time for NATO to Die"

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Our reader Sue wrote this  comment:Maybe it's time for NATO to die. It's outlived its function. Maybe there is no value to the Atlantic military alliance. I certainly don't see one for the USA. I like Europe culturally, but the emotional connection A

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SC on :

Joerg, might the building of "partner nation capacities" have more to do with former members of the Soviet bloc now members, or members in waiting, of the EU, than Germany and the remainder of Western Europe? In this context, I do think that Washington continues to see this as in the interest of the US. Does the US have a presence in countries like Poland anything like it has had in Germany? Does it plan to? Would such a presence contribute to the stability of relations with Russia, or not? I think the answer to all of these questions may be, "No." If so, then I could easily see why the maintenance of some of the current bases in Germany would be seen by those not sharing Rumsfeld's vision as very much in the interest of the US, and Europe as well. Question to you: While the "man-on-the-street" in Germany might be nonchalant in the face of a draw down of US forces, does the same attitude apply to German government, military, and business establishments? Or, would they see such a withdrawal as destabilizing?

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

You make an excellent point in the first two paragraphs. Re your question in the third paragraph: I believe the establishment does not consider a withdrawal as destabilizing. I think they also have a nonchalant attitude. I think the consensus is that Germany is pretty safe. The Russians are not going to invade. And the US military or any other military can't protect us from terrorism anyway. I also think that most politicians lack a long-term vision, but that is typical of most elected politicians in most countries. I am surprised by the lack of concern in Germany regarding our future relationship with our allies. Not many politicians realize that the German policy on Afghanistan is pissing of Canadians, Americans and other NATO allies. And I am not saying that Germany should put combat troops under US command in southern Afghanistan. I just think that Germany should encourage some sort of international Afghanistan Study Group so that NATO can devise a new strategy for Afghanistan. So that the complains about lack of burden sharing end. We need to bring in all of Afghanistan's neighbors as well. Unfortunately, all this is missing. Instead people are just complaining about US mistakes in Afghanistan and whether Germany gets its hands dirty by supporting the US. I encourage everyone to read Axel's great comment: [url]http://atlanticreview.org/archives/758-Afghanistan-.html#c9322[/url]

SC on :

The perceived nonchalance of establishment types is indeed interesting to note. You see, I and think you are aware, that the point I was driving at was not the fear of invasion by Russia, or anyone else, but rather the greater sensitivity to the presence and actions of Russia of states to your east. Their confidence, or lack there of, is likely to be reflected in internal European politics and that is where there is potential for instability. Though the typical US "man-in-the-street", is likely to share his German counterpart's nonchalance, I suspect that those in Washington with longer experience, and those institutions with even longer institutional memory, become a bit uncomfortable when contemplating the thought of instability in Europe.

Don S on :

"I think they also have a nonchalant attitude. " I think this is about as insightful a comment as I have read from a German in more than a year. Though I think that some politicians are not nonchalant or complacent - I don't see Angela Merkel as either though Schroeder certainly was. I'm seeing a lot of nonchalance from the German 'man on the street' With sertain honorable exceptions (notably you, Joerg) the higher in the German intelligentsia the more complacnetr (and dare I say insoucsant) they seem to be. So the short-sightedness of the politicians is natural - if the German citizenry doesn't seem to recognize the value of the Atlantic Alliance how can they expect the politicians to see it? The fact is that NATO is in danger because of lack of maintenance on both sides. I think the damage comes from both sides of the Atlantic. The difference is that I think the problem is fairly widely recognized in Washington - but not in Berlin or Paris, though more so in Paris than in Berlin. That is a huge crisis - because it will take enormous efforts from both sides to patch the wounds & stop the bleeding, much less start healing. Unfortunately only one 'spouse' sees there is a problem at all. And as we all know, that way lies divorce........

Sue on :

Don, Maybe it's time for NATO to die. It's outlived its function. Maybe there is no value to the Atlantic military alliance. I certainly don't see one for the USA. I like Europe culturally, but the emotional connection America has to Europe will fade as the bulk of our immigrants increasingly come from elsewhere. In thirty years, the American populace will not be willing to fight any wars in Europe for any reason. The Kosovo war was the last gasp of American interference in European wars. The next time we will be in a big war (Iraq is not big), it will be in Asia or Africa.

Don S on :

Sue. Maybe. I have not been chary of advocating the dissolution of NATO - as Joerg could tell you! I don't think NATO will die with a bang but with a whimper, though. I don't see any politicians with the courage to formally end it. Instead it's substance is gradually being leeched away by deliberate withdrawal of committment from the major parties - not excluding the US. Yes, Germany and France did it first but the US has followed - as is perfectly natural.

Zyme on :

Maybe it would be best if they left alltogether. This would make it clear that we are no longer under Washington´s command. But taking into account recent demands of the american side, one gets the impression that they would still like to behave like our masters: http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/0,1518,497032,00.html

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

I actually think that is good news. I wrote a new post about this: [url]http://atlanticreview.org/archives/763-Germanys-Biggest-Bank-to-Cut-Business-Ties-to-Iran.html[/url]

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