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Repositioning US Troops Could Have Drawbacks - 2004-08-19

The Bush administration has announced what could turn out to be the biggest realignment of U.S. military power since the end of the Cold War. The plan calls for the repositioning of thousands of troops currently stationed overseas back to the United States or to new bases in other countries. The move has potential economic and political pitfalls.

The number of U.S. forces stationed overseas may have changed since the end of the Cold War, but the geography of their deployment has changed little. Permanent U.S. bases are predominantly concentrated in Germany, South Korea and Japan.

But President Bush now proposes bringing 60,000-70,000 troops back to home bases in the United States, along with some 100,000 civilian workers and their families. In making the announcement Monday, he said the move will make for a leaner and more flexible military.

"Over the coming decade, we'll deploy a more agile and more flexible force, which means that more of our troops will be stationed and deployed from here at home," he said. "We'll move some of our troops and capabilities to new locations, so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats."

But some defense experts say such a move should be considered very carefully before it is implemented. In a telephone interview with VOA, former Defense Secretary William Cohen said deploying troops from the United States to trouble spots may not necessarily be easier.

"The notion that you would bring lots of those troops back home with their equipment, to me, raises serious challenges, because it's not going to be less expensive or easier to deploy from the United States than it would be from our bases in Europe, or in Asia," he said.

Mr. Cohen, a Republican who was secretary of defense in the Democrat administration of President Clinton, says the notion of reconfiguring U.S. troops was under consideration even during his tenure at the Pentagon. He says repositioning troops, especially to new facilities in the new member countries of NATO, could turn out to be very expensive, at least initially.

"In the short term, it may even be more expensive than maintaining our current posture," he said. "The investment that would be required to dismantle and bring home much of those forces, many of those forces, and the equipment would be quite expensive. Secondly, you have to ponder what it would take to build up the infrastructure of those facilities in other NATO countries, the new NATO members. And so, that would be fairly expensive as well."

Russia, which has opposed the expansion of NATO to its borders, and Japan, which is concerned about a potential threat from North Korea, has voiced little concern about the proposed realignment. South Korea is reported to be nervous about losing U.S. troops. In a separate interview with VOA-TV, former Deputy Defense Secretary Lawrence Korb, who held his post during the administration of Ronald Reagan, says he is not surprised at the muted official foreign reaction.

"One has to be very careful about what countries say publicly, as to what they really feel privately," he said. "And so, I'm not surprised that many of the countries have not responded, saying, 'gee, this is terrible,' because, obviously, we would do the same thing. We would quietly go behind the scenes if we objected to something."

U.S. officials have said any withdrawal will not weaken its deterrent against North Korea, and a senior U.S. defense official met with South Korean counterparts in Seoul Thursday to reassure them. Mr. Korb says the realignment plan has merit, but it may be premature, particularly with regard to South Korea.