Global Policy Forum

US Military on the Move


By Jim Lobe

Inter Press Service
June 17, 2004

Although hopes for transforming Iraq into a pro-US base in the heart of the Arab world have been badly set back, President George W Bush's administration is proceeding as fast as possible to reinvent US forces worldwide as "globocops", capable of pre-empting any possible threat to its interests at a moment's notice. In the past month, the Pentagon has confirmed plans to sharply cut forces stationed at giant US bases in Germany and South Korea and to redeploy them to smaller, more widely dispersed facilities - sometimes called "lily pads" - along an "arc of crisis" stretching along a wide band from Southeast Asia to West Africa, as well as to bases in Guam and back home.

Pentagon officials have confirmed a proposal to reduce one-third of the US forces in South Korea by the end of next year. That would amount to a cut of 12,500 of the 37,000 US troops there. South Korean officials have stressed that the reductions are only a proposal and suggested it might be revised. In Germany, more than half the estimated 70,000 US troops stationed there - specifically the 1st Armored Division and the 1st Infantry Division - could begin pulling out by next year. About 100,000 US troops are stationed in Europe.

In Japan, about three-quarters of the 47,000 US personnel in the country are located on the southern island of Okinawa. Periodic calls for a reduction in the numbers have been resisted, although the US is reportedly now considering moving some Marines within Japan, from Okinawa to the northern island of Hokkaido. The Asahi Shimbun reported this move would involve about 14,000 Marine Corps. The move was aimed at promoting integration with Japan's Self-Defense Forces to improve efficiency as part of the US Defense Department's plan to globally transform its military, the daily said. Among the changes speculated in the Japanese press are moving US Navy aircraft out of Atsugi, southwest of Tokyo, and US Air Force units out of Yokota, in western Tokyo.

The worldwide redeployments will be the topic of congressional hearings beginning this week. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the force behind the shift in troops, is scheduled to testify before the House Armed Services Committee. The planned redeployments, the most sweeping since the onset of the Cold War more than 50 years ago, are all part of a global strategy to build, in Rumsfeld's words, a "capability to impose lethal power, where needed, when needed, with the greatest flexibility and with the greatest agility". As for where the "need" is, Pentagon officials state publicly that would be defined by threats to "stability". But a closer look at where Washington is most interested in acquiring access to military facilities suggests the determining factor may be proximity to oil and gas-producing areas, pipelines and shipping routes through which vital energy supplies pass.

To most analysts, the proposed redeployments make a lot of sense. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the need for big US military bases that housed conventional forces in Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe evaporated from a strategic point of view, while the steady build-up of well-equipped and well-trained forces in South Korea, where Washington has stationed nearly 40,000 troops for the past 25 years, made it more than a match for North Korea.

In addition, the presence and behavior of US forces in both Western Europe and Northeast Asia, particularly in South Korea and Okinawa, have become increasingly unpopular and a lightning rod for growing anti-Americanism and resentment. Reducing their "footprint" might have the opposite effect. Indeed, Washington withdrew its troops altogether from Saudi Arabia over the past year in large part because their presence there had become politically untenable.

Nonetheless, both the plans - and the ways they are being developed and implemented - are provoking growing criticism at home, as well as abroad. The reasons for this are not difficult to understand, particularly in light of the Iraq war.

In the first place, the planned redeployments appear designed to ensure that the US could indeed enforce a "Pax Americana", based on its ability to exert unilateral military control over the production and flow of energy resources from Central Asia, the Gulf region and the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of West Africa in the face of potential rivals. In that respect, the strategy is an update of the controversial 1992 draft Defense Planning Guidance written under the auspices of current Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser, I Lewis "Scooter" Libby - both of whom played key roles in driving the Bush administration to war in Iraq.

The 1992 paper, which was significantly watered down at the insistence of then-secretary of state James Baker and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, called for Washington to act as the guarantor of global security and predicted that US military interventions would be a "constant fixture" of the future - a prospect that, in light of the unhappy and costly experience in Iraq to date, is not very popular at the moment, either here or abroad.

A second concern is the damage that such a redeployment could do to Cold War alliances, particularly Washington's commitment to Europe, where the Pentagon wants to cut its military presence in Germany - currently some 70,000 troops and scores of warplanes - in half. Some of the forces would be sent home, while most would be moved to cheaper bases in Bulgaria and Romania, closer to the Caucasus and the Middle East.

"The most serious potential consequences of the contemplated shifts would not be military but political and diplomatic," wrote Kurt Campbell, a former senior Pentagon official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Celeste Johnson Ward, in a Foreign Affairs article last year. The redeployments, they warned, could be construed as the beginning of a withdrawal from what Rumsfeld last year scornfully called "Old Europe And that, in turn, could reinforce traditional isolationist tendencies in the US that, before World War II, sought to prevent Washington from engaging in political "entanglements" with European countries or international institutions in ways that might constrain its freedom of action in the Americas or anywhere else.

Indeed, the repudiation of permanent alliances in favor of "coalitions of the willing" - a major feature of the Bush administration's post-September 11 policies as it was in the Wolfowitz-Libby paper - not only recalls isolationism; it is also entirely consistent with the strategy underlying the proposed redeployments. A similar consideration worries South Korea, where Washington's proposed 12,000-plus troop withdrawal includes some 3,500 who are being sent to bolster beleaguered US forces in Iraq. The Koreans worry that such a significant withdrawal now might not only complicate a particularly tense time in intra-Korean relations, but may also signal Washington's desire to reduce Seoul's say in whether or not Washington attacks North Korea. "This is about psychology," Derek Mitchell, a former Pentagon Asia expert recently told the Los Angeles Times.

A related concern was voiced by Campbell and Ward when the proposed redeployments were still on the drawing board. "Unless the changes are paired with a sustained and effective diplomatic campaign," they warned, "they could well increase foreign anxiety about and distrust of the United States." That, in effect, is what has happened, as officials from both Germany and South Korea have complained that they were not fully consulted about the redeployments before they were leaked to the press or officially announced - a failure that only increases the impression that Washington is proceeding unilaterally, even with its closest allies.

This is not surprising, because most of the same people - including Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy - who led the drive to war in Iraq remain in charge of implementing the new global strategy. While these officials have lost virtually all influence over policymaking in Iraq as a result of their virtually total failure to anticipate the challenges faced by US occupation forces after the war, they are working feverishly to reconfigure Washington's global military forces for the coming generation.

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