Skip to comments.What's behind the big US troop reshuffle
Posted on 08/21/2004 9:28:02 AM PDT by maui_hawaii
By replacing overseas bases with virtual staging posts, America is laying the foundations for greater global involvement
By Jonathan Eyal
THE dispute surrounding President George W. Bush's decision to withdraw a relatively large number of American troops from Europe and Asia, unveiled in a speech this week, continues to reverberate.
Democratic Senator John Kerry, his presidential opponent, quickly denounced the move, and the usual array of armchair commentators has been wheeled out, some praising Mr Bush's choice as farsighted and others castigating it as unfortunate.
Yet most of this is just electoral noise; regardless of who wins the White House this November, a realignment of the American military presence around the world remains inevitable.
The President's speech earlier this week was a surprise only to those who had not been following American military affairs too closely.
It may be an unpleasant truth for Mr Kerry, but the re-evaluation of US bases was actually initiated by the administration of then president Bill Clinton, a fellow Democrat.
And for good reasons, because the US military posture harks back to the end of World War II and has little relevance to either the strategic priorities of today or the advances in defence technology.
Even after the cuts already introduced more than a decade ago, when the Soviet Union collapsed, a full 44 per cent of US foreign troop deployments are still in Europe, a continent as rich and as stable as the United States itself.
However, a smaller number of troops are deployed in Asia, where the threat of conflict remains much higher and where America's main future strategic rival, China, is.
More curiously still is the fact that the US permanent deployment in the Middle East (excepting the current operations in Iraq) amounts to merely 3 per cent of all US forces, in the most volatile and economically important region of the world.
Africa, with its myriad of ethnic conflicts, does not even rate in the Pentagon's deployment map, and Latin America, Washington's traditional backyard, absorbs merely 1 per cent of US foreign deployments.
No president, of whatever political persuasion, can justify such a skewed balance of forces, based on the assumption that the only continent which matters is Europe, and that the only enemy remains the Soviet Union, a country which no longer exists.
Technological advances have also diminished the importance of foreign bases.
When wars were fought by large formations of armour and infantry, the concept of pre-positioning such military bases around the world made sense.
Today, however, conflicts require smaller numbers of troops in various combinations, and these can be easily airlifted from the US itself.
All America needs is a constellation of virtual bases, staging posts around the world, in order to ease the passage of these contingents to any conflict area.
Again, this is something Democratic and Republican presidents have been planning for more than a decade.
Much of the debate which has raged in Washington is, therefore, based on myths.
Some of Senator Kerry's people have suggested that the draw-down is merely Mr Bush's petty way of punishing countries which have criticised his policies, such as Germany.
But politics has nothing to do with the current realignment: Britain, Washington's closest global ally, is losing a major naval command post.
Mr Kerry himself has claimed that President Bush is proposing to cut the bases because of the over-stretch of US forces.
Wrong again: Despite a vast international presence, just one in five of all American soldiers has ever been permanently stationed overseas; the rest have always remained in the US itself.
Mr Bush's critics have also suggested that the current botched operation in Iraq necessitated the cuts.
Hardly a persuasive argument, for many of the troops currently serving in Iraq are actually from bases in Europe and South Korea, and could theoretically return there when the Iraqi operation is over.
The US is indeed suffering from an over-stretch in Iraq, but this is because it did not plan for such an intensive or lengthy operation, a serious omission, yet not one related directly to the question of bases.
Finally, the accusation that the closure of barracks in Japan, South Korea or Germany sends a signal that the US is no longer interested in global security is equally misplaced.
Far from withdrawing, America is actually laying the foundations for a much bigger global involvement.
For the areas currently considered as staging posts in future combat operations, countries such as those in eastern Europe or, indeed, Singapore, the reconfiguration of American forces will represent more, rather than less, US involvement.
All these countries maintain their sovereign right to refuse use of their territory for American military passage, yet at least they now have the opportunity of considering such a commitment, should their own security be directly threatened.
Either way, the result is hardly a US reduction in global responsibilities.
Of course, Mr Kerry and his advisers know all these facts. Much of their current criticism is, therefore, little more than the traditional posturing before any presidential election.
The promise made by the Kerry camp this week to withdraw US troops from Iraq within six months after the US elections is also little more than a half-hearted attempt to tap popular frustration with the operation in the Middle East, rather than a serious new policy.
Mr Kerry will be the first to realise that putting a date on the US withdrawal will be an invitation for more mayhem in Iraq itself.
In any case, even if he is serious about pulling out from Iraq by mid-2005, his agenda will not be much different from that of President Bush, who also hopes to pull back the troops from that country within a similar time-frame; the difference is therefore one of presentation, rather than substance.
And the same applies to the future of US bases around the world. If elected, a President Kerry may well order the Pentagon to re-evaluate its global military posture plans.
Yet the outcome is likely to be similar to that currently proposed by Mr Bush: A move away from fixed bases around the world, less emphasis on the number of soldiers and more on equipment, as well as a continued investment in heavy air-lift capabilities in order to provide the US with the necessary means to deploy quickly to any corner of the globe.
Just about the only interesting fact to emerge from this week's debate is the ambivalence with which the entire world still treats the US.
The same governments which usually complain about an overpowering America are also usually the first to cry foul the moment the US decides to cut down on its military bases around the world.
But the truth remains relatively simple: Washington's global reach is about to be enhanced.
Most of America's soldiers will no longer be seen and frequently resented in the streets and bars of Okinawa or Germany's Bavaria, but will be stationed at home.
Yet many will come pouring in with an even mightier iron fist, whenever and wherever Washington decides to act.
This is a certainty, regardless of who ultimately occupies the White House in January.
Jonathan Eyal is Director of Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, a think-tank in London, and a regular contributor to The Straits Times.
"...others castigating it as unfortunate..."
Yeah, unfortunate to those like germany, france, and the rest of the E.U. that WON'T be getting those BILLION$ from the troops, their families and other necessary local suport.
Too freakin' bad!
"Yet many will come pouring in with an even mightier iron fist, whenever and wherever Washington decides to act."
Better them than anyone else, and the reason we can't risk Kerry as Chief Decision Maker. (Sorry, shouldn't ever use "Kerry" and "decision" in the same sentence...)
A Lilly pad would be smaller and less integrated into the host nation than our current installations. It would be essentially a forward deployed base of operations that would be manned by a force necessary to maintain and secure it. When/if the area goes hot the lilly pad would be ready to support a division that would be deployed from the states. Everything required to support thatdivision in the field would be in place and ready to go. Romania, Poland and one or two of the FSRs are likely host nations.
All of the above plus the US needs all those billions of dollars spent by the GI's and famlies to help our "outsourced Economy".
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