The United States has launched talks with its allies on its plans to re-align its worldwide military posture to better deal with 21st century challenges like terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Two top U.S. officials met Monday with NATO ambassadors to discuss the changes, which are widely expected to lead to base closures in Western Europe.
The two U.S. envoys, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, told reporters that Washington has not yet made any final decisions on moving troops from Cold War-era bases in Germany to bases in Eastern Europe that are closer to potential trouble spots.
But Mr. Feith made it clear that the Defense Department's new force structure will reflect the fact that seven eastern European countries are joining NATO next year. "The recent expansion of NATO, which has been a great strengthening of the alliance, is an important new reality. And a lot of the current force posture in Europe is based on the realities of the Cold War, and so adjustments are going to have to be made to take into account that the alliance is larger and stronger than it was a few years ago," he said.
Although the plans for realigning the U.S. force structure have a worldwide scope, Mr. Feith and Mr. Grossman have begun a series of consultations designed to explain the changes with visits to a dozen European capitals, including Moscow.
The U.S. military has long wanted to move its personnel out of permanent bases in Europe, such as those in Germany that house about 80,000 troops and their families, to forward operating facilities that would allow them to deploy more quickly into crisis situations.
Secretary of State Colin Powell told the NATO allies last week that U.S. basing arrangements in Europe are obsolete and need to adapt to new threats like terrorism and reflect the advances in technology and mobility that U.S. military forces have acquired.
But Mr. Feith declined to set a timetable for any redeployments. "We are not at the point where specific decisions are going to be discussed, let alone announced, on moving particular units from here to there. What we are looking at is how do we make sure that we have capabilities in Europe that will allow the NATO alliance to remain capable and sustainable and relevant for decades ahead," he said.
Although he says he is sensitive to the fact that base closures can affect local economies, Mr. Feith says some changes may be made as early as next year.