U.S. plans to withdraw about 70,000 troops from Europe and Asia are prompting defense officials in Europe to modernize their own security strategies to deal with threats in the 21st century.
The plans announced by President Bush this week are part of a U.S. strategy to remove large Army units from Europe and replace them with smaller, more mobile forces during the next 10 years.
The United States plans to withdraw 30,000 troops from Germany alone, breaking down the largest U.S. troop concentration in Europe. U.S. officials say Eastern European nations that are closer to trouble areas like the Balkans and Middle East could become new launch pads for American forces.
The details are still being worked out, and Mark Joyce, head of the trans-Atlantic program at Royal United Services Institute, described the concept to British radio.
"One concept that has been bandied around [discussed] is this idea of 'lily pads,' small strategic hubs strung out across the globe from which the Americans can deploy their forces at very short notice to just about anywhere in the world," said Mr. Joyce.
The planned reconfiguration of troops came as no surprise to NATO, which is already reshaping itself to deal with new global threats. Alliance spokesman Robert Pszczel says the shifting of forces is not a new issue, and it is generally understood why the change is needed.
"Broadly speaking the U.S. plans are consistent with the alliance's collective commitment to lighter, more flexible forces organized and deployed to meet demands of the new security environment," added Mr. Pszczel.
Mr. Pszczel says the Cold War dynamic of large, standing blocs of Eastern and Western forces facing each other is over. Now forces must be ready to quickly target international hot spots when they flare up, and European defense planners realize this.
"First of all, we need different forces. Secondly geography is no longer, this is not a cold war with static masses," he noted. "We need light forces, we need forces which can deploy, and of course we know it from practical, concrete experience. Whether it is operations in the Balkans or operations in Afghanistan."
Mr. Pszczel says European officials must invest in smart weaponry, large transport aircraft, and advanced satellite communications to upgrade their forces. While expense is involved, the NATO spokesman says, pooled European resources should be able to meet the bill.
The 25-nation European Union in principle has embraced the idea. It has set a goal of creating a number of rapid-reaction battle groups by the year 2010. But some analysts say it is not clear if Europe will be able to live up to its responsibilities and deal with major crises without the U.S. help that was needed in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s.
There are about 200,000 U.S. troops abroad, excluding Iraq and Afghanistan. About 100,000 are in Europe, with 70,000 in Germany. The rest are in the Pacific and Asia.