With the persistent perception the United States is losing interest in Europe, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit with President Obama this week provides a good backdrop to talk about possible trouble for transatlantic security ties.
In another chapter on our incredible shrinking military, Team Obama has decided to reduce US forces in Europe by about 15,000 troops (of an estimated 80,000) over the next two years.
Specifically, Pentagon plans call for bringing home an Air Force fighter squadron from Germany and an air-control squadron from Italy. Plus, it will close up two army heavy brigade combat teams and an HQ element in Germany.
Two weeks ago, the head of our European Command, Adm. James Stavridis, testified to Congress that the reductions amounted to a “manageable amount of risk” — a notably less-than-ringing endorsement.
Not surprisingly, some in Congress worry that the drawdown decision is more about budget numbers than national security — and experts suspect (very likely correctly) that it’s only the first of several phased withdrawals.
Why shouldn’t we bring home all of our brave young men and women, when the chance of a major war in Europe is so (wonderfully) low these days? Turns out there are many reasons for being there in a big way.
To start, these cuts — which, again, seem unlikely to be the last — will undermine our ability to get to fights quickly and project power in such places as the Middle East, Africa and Eurasia. And there’s no shortage of problems in those places.
Fewer troops in Europe would also mean fewer training exercises with our NATO allies, helping to prepare them for deployments to such places as Afghanistan, where they work shoulder-to-shoulder with US forces.
Having troops “over there” helps when surprises like the Libya war come up, showing that US and European forces must be capable of operating jointly in short order. (Libya, by the way, exposed many NATO problems that need fixing.)
The drop in the number of US forces — from nearly 400,000 during the Cold War — would reduce our political clout on the continent, because our influence comes not only from our global political and economic sway but also from our military might in NATO.
A further US drawdown in Europe could prompt other NATO members to cut their own defense spending, with more nations relying on the EU-led (and US-absent) Common Security and Defense Policy structure.
All of this risks encouraging Moscow to become an even bigger problem than it is now (e.g., on Iran and Syria), especially in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s “re-re-election” as president.
Despite the Obama “reset” efforts, nobody expects the Once and Future President to change his anti-American views. He’s already talking of creating a Eurasian Union of former Soviet states and rolling out the rubles for Russian military modernization.
In fact, Moscow plans a defense buildup to the tune of $700 billion over the next 10 years, reportedly including the addition of more than 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 600 combat aircraft and dozens of ships and subs.
Analysts fear a potential rekindling of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war and unrest in such places as Ukraine, Belarus or even Russia, considering the protests surrounding the last election.
In international security, like in politics and Hollywood, if you’re not appearing, you’re disappearing. Europe, with its Eurasian/Middle Eastern/North African periphery, isn’t a region we should be disappearing from — if we’re smart.
Heritage Foundation senior fellow Peter Brookes is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in The New York Post