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HEIDELBERG, Germany — The United States’ NATO partners will likely view the loss of more U.S. troops in different ways, said Jan Filip Stanilko, president of the conservative Sobieski Institute think tank, in the wake of an announcement Thursday by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that two U.S. Army combat brigades would be withdrawn from Europe.

“France and Germany, for them, this decision is maybe welcome. They’re not frightened,” Stanilko said. France would like to fill the leadership vacuum.

Holland, Norway and Great Britain, he said, would see the loss of U.S. troops more negatively.

“It weakens the trans-Atlantic bonds,” he said. “Those are the strongest bonds we share.”

But central European countries, historically conquered and reconquered, will feel the loss as a security threat, he said.

These countries remain suspicious of Russia, and joined “the coalition of the willing” in Iraq to forge stronger defense ties with the United States.

“Their ambition was to transform their armies and [get the U.S. to shift] troops from Germany to central Europe, closer to Russia,” he said. “We got no shift. They professionalized their armies, especially Poland, and now [Poland’s is] tiny, the kind of army that can’t defend anything.”

The U.S. security umbrella is getting smaller and more porous, he said, but “we are not prepared to defend ourselves as Europeans.”

Asked whom Europeans might have to defend against, Stanilko said, “From the geopolitical point of view, the enemies are the usual. It’s always the same. From the central European perspective, Russians are the enemy. Russia is always the same. It wants to consume its neighbors. It has imperialism as a part of its national identity.”

And although significant, continuing reductions in the U.S. Army in Europe have been discussed for a decade, Stanilko said Panetta’s announcement still came as an unpleasant surprise.

“There are a lot of things we in Europe discussed for two decades or more,” he said. “It’s something like, ‘We thought that would happen next year or the year after that, or in three years.’ ”

The important take-away from the recent U.S. decisions, said Carmen Romero, NATO deputy spokeswoman, was that President Barack Obama had stressed “enduring commitment to European security, preserving the strength and solidarity of our Alliance and upholdinging our collective defence.”

“In an unpredictable world, the United States’ affirmation that our transatlantic partnership remains indispensable to the security of all Allies is essential,” Romero said in an email.

“Many allies are going through defence reviews themselves to adapt their postures to new security challenges,” Romero said. “The U.S. review is not a zero-sum game: a greater U.S. security presence in other parts of the world will also mean more security for Europe.”

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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