The Corner

New World Order

If there’s one thing that’s consistent about John Kerry it’s that his attitude to foreign policy is rooted firmly in the past. We’ve heard plenty about the lessons he took away from those four months in Vietnam, but, unless his attack on the Bush administration’s recent decision to re-deploy some troops from Western Europe was merely an act of cheap political opportunism (and who’d want to allege that?), the only explanation for Kerry’s stance is that the poor fellow is still hopelessly mired in the geopolitics of the Cold War, still worried, perhaps, that the Red Army might be about to pour through the Fulda Gap.

In truth, of course, even after massive cuts, the US garrison in Germany has long been too large for the realities of the world since 1991. Reducing it further was long overdue.

This week’s Economist takes a look at this whole topic. The link requires subscription so here are some (shamelessly selective) extracts:

“Mr Kerry would rather recruit another 40,000 soldiers to cope with the problem of overstretch. All the same, it makes little military sense to keep America’s overseas forces in the two great clumps, in Europe (chiefly in Germany) and Asia (chiefly in Japan and South Korea), that formed during the cold war to deter the Soviet threat. America now needs a more globally integrated military structure, able to move forces quickly to any trouble-spot. The plan is for numbers to come down faster in Europe, but the backwash of the changes will be felt most keenly in Asia.

“Europe currently plays host to 114,000 American troops (down from over 300,000 at the end of the cold war) and over ten years will see the number drop to 72,000. Smaller changes will take place throughout Europe, but Germany will lose its two American heavy divisions, while gaining a much smaller but more mobile brigade. The net effect: 40,000 troops would still be based there, compared with over 70,000 today. A snub after the recent political strains over Iraq? Both sides flatly deny it. America will also keep its huge Ramstein airbase, to rotate troops on to the Middle East and other hot spots.

“A threat, then, to NATO? The alliance is undergoing its own streamlining of commands, and many of its officials think the reorganisation could go further. Most members have also accepted the need for reforms that will help turn out more capable and deployable soldiers of their own, though few have also agreed to pay for this. Mr Bush’s planned military reorganisation may encourage them.

“American officials accept that, despite long months of consultation, some allies are still nervous. But in Europe and elsewhere the reorganisation will help America build new defence relationships with countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, and in strategically important places like Central Asia, as troops rotate in for shorter tours in less permanent training facilities. It remains to be seen, though, whether this lighter “footprint” will be enough to reassure new allies (and some old ones) of America’s continuing commitment.”

Mr. Kerry is also criticizing plans to pull some troops out of South Korea, but The Economist doesn’t seem to agree with him on this either:

“In Asia, by contrast, the threats are still looming, and the planned cuts in overall numbers correspondingly smaller. But why cut at all? Pointedly, Mr Kerry asked this week how it can be safe to withdraw 12,000 American troops (actually 12,500, out of 37,000) from South Korea by the end of next year, just as America is negotiating with a hostile and probably nuclear-armed North Korea. Last week 3,500 combat troops were redeployed from South Korea to Iraq, suggesting that strains elsewhere have been having an effect.

“Yet the bulk of the draw-down on the peninsula will come from cutting support services that can just as easily be provided from elsewhere. The decision already taken to move American bases away from Seoul and the front line with North Korea, it is argued, will actually strengthen America’s ability to help defend South Korea. So will the extra $11 billion already earmarked for military improvements there. Putting more heavy bombers on Guam, and possibly moving an aircraft-carrier battlegroup from the Atlantic to the Pacific, will enable America to respond swiftly and forcefully to any attack. All the same, the South Korean government has asked for a two-year delay in the withdrawal.”

Food for thought, John?

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