22 August 2004
PARIS - It may not have been as dramatic as the recall of Hadrian's Roman legions from borders of the Empire, but last week's announcement that 70,000 US troops would be withdrawn from Germany and South Korea in coming years is an event of major geopolitical importance.
However, far from reducing the 257,000 US troops overseas in over 100 foreign bases, the Bush Administration intends to intensify global military operations even though the undermanned, over-committed US armed forces are stretched to the breaking point. How this will be done remains unclear.
The largest withdrawals will be from Germany. Two heavy divisions, the 1st Armored and 1st Mechanized with 100,000 staff and civilians, will be repatriated to the US. The sharp decline of Russia's armed forces has removed any rational for maintaining the armor-heavy US divisions stationed in Germany since 1945.
This move makes military sense and is long overdue. The heavy divisions will be replace by a mobile, 3,500-man brigade and some new air units. One suspects, however, that the Ist Armored and 1st Mechanized may find themselves - or at least some of their brigades - in Iraq and Afghanistan.
America's smartest, most outspoken foreign policy thinker, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brezezinski, bluntly describes the US-Europe postwar relationship as a `hegemon and its vassals,' with NATO as the principal instrument through which the US controls Western Europe. The US exercises similar control of Japan, `an American protectorate,' in Dr Zbig's words, through the US-Japanese Security Treaty.
American military power underpins both vital strategic relationships. Removal of US forces from Germany, with the inevitable reduction of power, and even the raison d'etre, of NATO, will mean declining US political influence over Europe.
This, in turn, will allow a united Europe to develop into a full-scale partner, or even eventual rival, of the United States - a healthy geopolitical development in our unipolar, geopolitically unbalanced world. One wonders if the Bush Administration's limited thinkers understand this vitally important point.
The planned withdrawal of 12,500 of the 37,500 US troops in South Korea( 3,500 will go to Iraq), is also logical, though the announcement's timing is poor. The reduction of 20,000 Marine in Okinawa, a major irritant to Japanese public opinion, is also a wise move.
South Korea's powerful armed forces are well able to hold off North Korea's larger but obsolescent military. The US 2nd Division's deployment in static defenses along the Demilitarizes Zone makes it - as this writer has seen first hand - vulnerable and hostage to N Korea's massive artillery. Pulling the 2nd back south of Seoul is good military sense, as does thinning US troops in the south. But not when the US and its allies are locked in vitally important nuclear negotiations with hostile North Korea.
US troops withdrawals from North Asia must be conducted with extreme delicacy. These forces, acting as a surrogate for America's total military power, have been the lynchpin that has kept the region in a sort of military stasis since the 1950's. Japan shelters under the US Security Treaty, avoiding offensive weapons systems that would antagonize China. The US also protects Japan from North Korea. Too many US troop withdrawals from Japan and failure to implement a workable anti-missile system to cover the home islands would ignite calls in Japan for development of robust military forces, including nuclear weapons, commensurate with Japan's economic power. This would put Japan and China on a collision course.
The 150,000 US troops currently stuck in the stalemated Iraq and Afghanistan wars - half of all US maneuver ground forces - appear fated to remain indefinitely. This massive commitment will deplete Pentagon budgets, wear out expensive equipment, and inevitably undermine the morale of US garrison forces fighting popular wars of liberation.
Meanwhile, the US will open new bases in Bulgaria and Romania as part of America's new `Imperial Lifeline. ' These Balkan bases will link to new US airbases being built across Central Asia, Pakistan, Iraq, and the Gulf designed to cement Washington's hold on the Muslim world and its natural resources.
As a result, the entire US armed forces are being restructured for `expeditionary warfare,'( the British used to call it, `the imperial mission.') This process began a decade ago, but accelerated under the Bush Administration, which has relentlessly militarized foreign policy.
Army heavy tanks and artillery are being replaced by light, Canadian-made wheeled armored vehicles. Troops are being trained in counter-insurgency operations and urban warfare. A `lilly-pad' concept of austere, rapidly created mini-bases will allow US forces to leapfrog around the globe.
The Navy is developing `littoral warfare' ships for coastal operations that can project fire and troops deep inland. Fleets of prepositioned supply ships deployed around the globe will keep entire brigades in the field for months.
The US Air Force - the modern version of Britain's invincible Grand Fleet - has developed `bare base' operations allowing it to deploy `strike packages' of attack, bomber and recon aircraft across the globe on short notice that can deliver devastating firepower. New cargo transports are abuilding. Constellations of spy satellites, listening devices, and swarms of drones give Washington's eyes and ears everywhere.
These dramatic new deployments signal further expansion of military operations around the globe as America comes ever closer to resembling its forbearer, the British Empire. Most Americans, however, remain unaware of both their government's new imperial plans to rule oil and the Muslim World, or of the unexpected conflicts that lie in wait for America's increasingly far-flung expeditionary forces.