Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is warning the kind of threats the world now faces have changed so much since the Cold War that a large number of American forces deployed overseas are not positioned to effectively respond if needed. With the United States now at war with a faceless enemy known as terrorism, the defense chief has begun what is expected to be a decade-long military transformation to respond to these new, 21st century threats.
It's an issue that has been the focus of Pentagon planners for years. Again Thursday, Secretary Rumsfeld warned U.S. military posture overseas is long outdated, reflecting Cold War-era threats, not the kind the world has seen with the rise of terrorism and rogue states intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Many of the nation's 230,000 forces abroad, he says, are located far from where they need to be if called upon to respond to these new challenges.
"It's clear that our existing arrangements are seriously obsolete. We're still situated in large part as if little has changed for the last 50 years, as if for example, Germany is still bracing for a Soviet tank invasion over the north German plane," he said. "In South Korea, our troops were virtually frozen in place from where they were when the Korean war ended in 1953. So we've developed a set of new concepts to govern the way we will align ourselves in the coming years and decades."
Last month, President Bush announced the largest realignment of American forces overseas since the end of the Cold War, in part to the address these new emerging threats. On a day when new concerns emerged that a nuclear-armed North Korea may be preparing to conduct another missile test, the defense secretary told a Senate hearing American forces no longer have the luxury of time to get from big bases far from conflict zones to where they are needed.
"It's not possible to know where a threat is going to come from. We are going to have to deal with capabilities that enemies have that are increasingly lethal and dangerous but can come from any number of locations and as a result I just felt compelled to push this," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld has long argued that capabilities are more important than numbers, meaning that in future conflicts, rapid reaction forces equipped with 21st century technology will be more important than the actual number of troops deployed. Toward that goal, the military is looking to close down big military bases like those in Germany and instead open smaller outposts around the world that would be closer to potential zones of conflict.