Troop cuts in Europe: How far should they go?

STUTTGART, Germany — For the past 10 years, U.S. infantrymen stationed in Europe have deployed time and time again to Iraq and Afghanistan. During that decade of near constant absence from their respective garrisons, Europe has remained secure.

Would anything change for Europe if some or all of the four Europe-based U.S. Army brigades in Germany and Italy redeployed to the U.S. or disbanded as part of an effort to cut Pentagon costs?

Some analysts suggest not.

“Europe is experiencing unprecedented sustained peace,” wrote NATO expert Sean Kay this week on foreignpolicy.com. “If there ever was a moment to take advantage of that climate, it is now. The risks of defense re-nationalization are next to zero and potential conventional threats far over the horizon.”

As part of a five-point plan Kay outlines for adjusting the American presence in Europe, the U.S. should close or transfer to allies some major bases. “A symbolic start would be to relocate EUCOM from Germany to the United States with American command structures similar to CENTCOM,” Kay writes. U.S. European Command is based in Stuttgart, Germany, while Central Command, with responsibility for the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan is based in Florida.

In a matter of weeks more details will be made public about the Pentagon’s plans for Europe. While Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was tight-lipped last week regarding details of the Pentagon’s strategic review, some U.S. officials have indicated that there will be a smaller Army presence in whatever U.S. force is left behind in Europe. What remains unclear is whether reductions will extend beyond the Army.

In an interview with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung this week in Berlin, Philip H. Gordon assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, indicated that the loss of some infantrymen who have been deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan shouldn’t be cause for concern on the security front.

“What needs to be decided is how many of them go back to a permanent deployment in Europe or alternatively whether something else is done with them, being disbanded or being based in the United States,” said Gordon, according to a transcript of the interview released by the State Department. “That needs to be sorted out. But it is important to keep in mind they haven’t been there (in Europe) for nearly a decade. I think Europe has been amply well defended during that period.”

His comments echoed those of Julianne Smith, deputy assistant defense secretary for Europe and NATO policy, who on Monday said that, of four brigade combat teams stationed in Europe, two have been deployed most of the time and might not be back permanently.

A question for Stripes Central readers: Should the Pentagon limit troop reductions to a couple of Army brigades or embark on a more ambitious restructuring that targets units across the services?


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