- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 24, 2004

GENEVA — The planned worldwide redeployment of U.S. troops has created an acute problem for Germany, which has benefited for decades from the largest concentration of American bases in Europe.

At stake are about 80,000 jobs in a country unable to halt the tide of unemployment, now at 10 percent of the labor force, and the loss of considerable revenue to regional administrations.

Mayors of towns near U.S. bases have appealed to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to persuade Washington to change its mind.

The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the protesting mayors and regional chiefs that it was in contact with Washington and that “no definitive action has been taken,” according to German sources.

Diplomats point out that the German demands have nothing to do with defense and everything to do with local economic considerations.

The Pentagon has announced a major reduction in U.S. military presence abroad, affecting an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 troops stationed mainly in Europe and Asia. The gradual withdrawal is to begin in 2006 and will last four years as part of the changing strategy in the post-cold War era.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet bloc has already resulted in the reduction of U.S. military strength in Germany from 250,000 to 73,000 personnel. The new cuts are expected to reduce that number by half.

“The American withdrawal would be a catastrophe for us,” said Franz Bohjm, mayor of Kitzingen in Bavaria, southern Germany. He claimed that his small town would lose $3 million annually, or 7 percent of its budget, if the adjacent U.S. base of 3,500 troops is closed.

This and other such protests have added to the problems besetting Mr. Schroeder as Germany struggles to emerge from recession.

For the past few weeks, hundreds of thousands have demonstrated in about 150 towns across the former communist east German region in protest against the government’s latest reform plans.

The demonstrations were mainly triggered by the law that cuts jobless benefits to those who decline job offers, even if the offers don’t correspond to the applicant’s qualifications and his previous salary.

Unemployment in former East Germany has reached 20 percent in some areas.

So far, Mr. Schroeder has refused to change his mind. “I see no other alternative for Germany,” he said, despite a considerable loss of popularity by his ruling Social Democratic Party.

Against such a background, politicians have been assuring their constituents that the beginning of the U.S. withdrawal is still distant and other factors may intervene.

Karsten Voigt, coordinator for U.S.-German cooperation, claims that Germany will remain the main area of U.S. military deployment in Europe. According to some reports, the United States has put out feelers about moving several bases eastward, to Poland, Hungary and Romania.

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