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US Contemplates Moving Troops to Asia - 2001-09-05

The United States is considering moving American troops from Europe to Asia to meet changing conditions. VOA asked some analysts how this would affect U.S. global strategy and how other nations in both Europe and Asia might react.

A basic premise of President Bush's foreign policy is that the main danger to the United States lies in Asia. There, China is a growing - and perhaps menacing - power, and North Korea remains a threat, both to South Korea and to the region.

With that in mind, the Bush Administration is considering moving U.S. troops from Europe to Asia.

It makes sense, says Lawrence Korb, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former top U.S. Defense Department official. Asia is far less stable than Europe, he says. The 100,000 U.S. troops stationed in Europe could be reduced by half. Mr. Korb said, "The Europeans are very concerned that the United States may either retreat to the isolationism that they had between the world wars or emphasize Asia at the expense of Europe. So I think there is a certain amount of anxiety in Europe. But, I think, if it is done gradually as the Europeans begin to develop their own defense capability, those problems should be over come."

"Removing U.S. troops from Europe is long overdue," says Cindy Williams, research scientist at the security program of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since the end of the Cold War, she says, they have served no useful purpose.

"I feel we kept the 100,000 troops permanently stationed in Europe in the early 1990's with the thinking that we might see at one time a resurgence of Russia or even of the Soviet Union," she says. "Now that we know that is all behind us, it strikes me as good idea to reduce the number further."

Mr. Korb says the U.S. troops should move from Europe to Asia to discourage conflict in the region and any Chinese expansionist tendencies. "Most countries in Asia, other than China," he says, "recognize that the United States is the country can bring about stability in that area, and since it is so vast, an incremental increase in the number of Americans in Asia, I do not think will look very large."

Mr. Korb concedes China would see a transfer of U.S. troops as a challenge to its own ambitions in Asia. All the more reason, then, for U.S. troops to be there. The China-Taiwan dispute is irreconcilable, he says, and so China may eventually resort to force.

Cindy Williams of MIT agrees China is a rising power but not necessarily a threatening one. "For that reason," she said, "I am not that interested in seeing an increase of troops in Asia. We have had problems with the view that Asians have of our troops, especially in Okinawa and, to some extent, in South Korea as well. I think we have to be very measured in thinking about adding to the numbers of troops and certainly in the way that we go about our deployment."

If we insist on considering China a threat, it may turn out to be one, says Melvin Goodman, professor of national security at the National War College and a former top CIA official.

It is clear that these troops are not needed in Europe, but it is not so clear that the troops are needed in Asia. What concerns me is that we are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in Asia, that we are so concerned with the potential of China being a threat to U.S. interests that we are building up for a struggle that does not necessarily have to take place.

Mr. Goodman recalls U.S. troops came to grief on the Asian continent in Vietnam, and the earlier Korean War was also costly. In his opinion, these conflicts argue against adding to the 96,000 U.S. troops already in Asia and the Pacific.

Lawrence Korb replies these wars argue for greater readiness on the part of the United States so that it does not suffer the setbacks of the past.