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J.F. Kelly, Jr. - Contributor

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

Redeploying America’s Military Forces
A global war, a new challenge...
[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 8/26/04

President Bush’s recent announcement of plans to reposition up to 70,000 American troops from locations in Western Europe and the Far East to other locations including Eastern Europe and the United States should come as little surprise. It is, in fact, long overdue.

The permanent basing of troops decades ago in Germany and South Korea was a reaction to the Cold War and the Korean War. A sizeable American military presence in West Germany and South Korea was a part of a so-called “tripwire” strategy designed to deter a Soviet attack on Western Europe and a North Korean attack on its southern neighbor. It was considered most unlikely that these communist nations would not risk an attack that would endanger the “hostage” U.S. forces there, knowing that such an attack would trigger an immediate and forceful U.S. response.

The Soviet Union has since folded and we won the Cold War. Western Europe now has much more to fear from Muslim terrorism than from its neighbors to the east. The North Korea regime, a pathetic Communist relic of the Cold War which fields a large, nuclear-armed military but which cannot provide even basic comforts for its people, nevertheless still presents a significant threat to South Korea and perhaps to Japan. But North Korea’s rulers know that an attack on these allies would elicit a forceful response from us in accordance with existing treaties. To the extent that the tripwire tactic is still valid, it is just as valid with a hostile force of 15,000 as it is with the current 35,000.

These deployments, at least at their current numbers, have long since served their purpose. Germany, the third largest economy in the world and the richest member of the European Union has enjoyed a free ride under the U.S defense umbrella for a long time. Japan, the world’s second largest economy, has enjoyed similar benefits and needs to play a larger role in regional security. Their economies have grown at the rate they have partly because they have had to spend relatively little on defense. There have, moreover, been increasing signs of discomfort on the part of the people in the host countries, especially the younger generations with little memory of past wars, with the large American military presence in their midst. There is no point in overstaying our welcome, especially when some of these forces can be more usefully deployed.

Some of the forces may be redeployed to Eastern Europe in countries that have supported us as a part of the coalition in Iraq. They would welcome our forces and the boost to the local economies they bring. The bulk of the overseas forces, however, would probably be repatriated to the United States, hopefully with significant savings and reductions in the numbers of military families living overseas.

The intent of the plan is to increase flexibility and mobility. Forces can be deployed to wherever they are needed and when they are needed just as easily from bases in the United States as from their current static locations overseas, without the need for providing advance notice to host governments and without having to be as concerned about families left behind. The realignment should not be viewed as a drawing down in our resolve to protect our interests overseas or to honor our commitments to our allies. Rather, it reflects the recognition that the gravest threat to American interests is not centered in Germany or in the Korean peninsula. The greatest threat is international terrorism sponsored by Islamic fundamentalists based in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, Senator Kerry, with little experience in troop deployments or strategic military planning, chose to politicize this long-anticipated redeployment by asserting that it sends the wrong message to North Korea and damages our relations with Europe. By Europe, I presume he means Germany and France, as if they had some role in determining U.S. troop deployments.

Our military forces, especially the army and marine corps, are currently over-committed and over-extended, necessitating repeated and extended combat tours and greater than anticipated use of reserve and national guard forces. Given the long-range nature of the war on terrorism, there is little relief in sight. The challenge requires a mobile and flexible military with sufficient sealift and airlift to move it swiftly to any spot on the globe if necessary. Such a force will not be characterized by large concentrations of troops and their families living in overseas locations selected half a century ago based on world conditions then. CRO

copyright 2004 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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