View Full Version : Time to Reassess Overseas Basing

01-19-04, 05:58 AM

Time to Reassess Overseas Basing

By Paul Connors

In addition to domestic criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, outspoken commentaries from former allies have also been added to the cacophony of noise that is itself commonplace in international relations.

As almost every American knows, French President Jacque Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have been two world leaders most opposed to American intervention. Lately, their strident discourses have moderated somewhat, but I believe it is only appropriate that both the American people and their government take into account the temerity shown by both leaders as our nation took action it believed to be in its best national interests.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has relied on forward basing of its forces to remain engaged around the world. Early on, many of these strategies were directly related to U.S. containment of the Soviet Union and Communist China.

For years, the U.S. maintained a large standing Army in Germany maintaining that precarious balance between the West and a dangerously over-armed Soviet Union. And when the United States finally asked Germany for assistance outside of Europe, to de-fang another dangerous enemy, what did the ingrates in Berlin say? Not just, “No,” but “Hell no!” To add insult to injury, the Germans and the French showed the incredible gall of reminding us that we were wrong to step forward and act positively in our own defense.

In the aftermath of the drawdown in active duty end-strength numbers during the 1990s, the U.S. Army decreased the number of active divisions from 18 to 10 and the size of the USAEUR decreased dramatically. Today, a once proud force of over 200,000 troops has been reduced to the equivalent of just three combat ready brigades.

In Korea, the United States has positioned the 2nd Infantry Division and its supporting units in-country since the armistice of 1953. They continue to stand watch today, albeit removed from the DMZ. Increasingly, they do so while surrounded by a younger generation of South Koreans who did not experience the horror of the war with the North and the Chinese and who see American troops as unwanted occupiers.

Germany and Korea are the two main overseas postings that career members of the Army could count on receiving during their military careers. The Air Force also positioned units on the peninsula and throughout Germany.

As the various service departments continue to adapt to and cope with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s transformation schemes, as well as a pending round of BRAC in 2005, it seems reasonable to make suggestions that will contribute to the process, reduce American force level commitments where they are not wanted and save the American taxpayer some serious money.

Despite negative press and criticism to the contrary, the United States has always been and will probably continue to be the world’s most generous nation. Perhaps it is time we started to rein in some of the largesse and reorganized with our interests in mind. Since infrastructure savings alone will put money back in defense coffers that would otherwise need to be found, here are some options for Rumsfeld and the BRAC commission to consider as they re-design our forces for Fourth Generation warfare.

* Germany: Remove all remaining combat, combat support and combat service support units of the United States Army. Return the 1st Infantry Division to Fort Riley, Kan. Return the 1st Armored Division to a CONUS posting. Close all Air Force facilities with the exception of Ramstein Airbase.

* Eastern Europe: After negotiations with host nations, forward deploy expeditionary units to Hungary and Poland. Retain Aviano Airbase in Italy and the Naval Air Station at Sigonella in Sicily. Declare an end to the U.S. mission in the Balkans. Withdraw the American units in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

Despite the fact that most of these deployments are handled by Army National Guard and Army reserve units, the rotations are costly in terms of personnel and resources that are now needed for Iraq and Afghanistan. These ARNG and USAR units have successfully conducted peacekeeping and nation-building missions and that experience should be employed where it is most needed. Let the French and Germans take care of the Balkans.

* South Korea: Agree to disagree with the government in Seoul. Do so politely, but remind them that we can no longer afford to maintain a forward-deployed infantry division on their soil when so many other demands are being made of our over-stretched forces.

The United States should announce a phased withdrawal of the 2nd ID and the Air Force fighter units in Korea and return them to CONUS or other more “viable” overseas locations. Air Force units could use the huge facilities at Andersen AFB, Guam, as a staging point should there be a flare-up in Asia and as the Army relies less on huge divisions as maneuver elements, combat units can be “brigaded” together where needed to allow for rapid transportation.

The constant strain on the average American GI and the equipment needs to be minimized. To do so, we need to reduce the tooth-to-tail ratio between our operating forces on scene and the nation they leave behind. For far too long, American service members have been doing the nation’s bidding, while also protecting countries and peoples who in many cases, seek only to do us harm.

It’s time to say enough and do what’s right by our troops, their families and the taxpayers who pay for it all. The world has changed and we are no longer everyone’s champion. It’s long past time that the U.S. government realized that and structured our overseas commitments accordingly.

Rumsfeld believes the U.S. armed forces have a 25 percent surplus of bases, but that number includes overseas locations. We are feeding foreign economies with these bases and the spending habits of Americans stationed there.

Instead let’s enhance our own domestic economy by repositioning our troops in CONUS and let our local and national economies benefit.

Finally, we should then tell the Germans, the French, the Belgians and all the other know-it-alls to start carrying their own weight.

Paul Connors is a Senior Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at paulconnors@hotmail.com. © 2004 Paul Connors.