- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 21, 2003

The Kremlin was quick off the mark.

Within hours of Washington’s acknowledging in late November that it had begun formal negotiations to take over several Polish military bases, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned during a trip to Warsaw that any reconfiguration of the U.S. military presence in Europe must consider his country’s national-security interests.

“The Kremlin is not concealing from the Americans or the Poles its negative attitude toward Polish-American discussions about relocating bases in Germany,” a Russian official said.

But in the weeks to come, the Russians won’t be the only ones jittery about a long-studied repositioning of U.S. forces and bases. For different reasons, allies and rivals around the globe are exercised about the ambitious Bush administration plans to shift and reshuffle tens of thousands of American troops stationed worldwide.

The Polish talks are just the start of the biggest U.S. military realignment since the end of World War II.

With the war on terrorism in mind and the need to rethink overseas base locations in the light of U.S. military commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, Pentagon planners have been working for months on what Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld calls a “readjustment to fit the 21st century.”

Last month, President Bush addressed the issue of a major realignment, saying: “The once-familiar threats facing our nation, our friends and our allies have given way to the less-predictable dangers associated with rogue nations, global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. It remains for us to realign the global posture of our forces to better address these new challenges.”

Informal talks have been under way for weeks with old allies such as Japan, South Korea and Germany about a possible reduction of U.S. troops in their countries, and there have been negotiations, too, about establishing new bases in the former Eastern Bloc countries of Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

Last summer, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy U.S. defense secretary, held talks in Bucharest on establishing U.S. bases in Romania. For the Germans and the South Koreans, planned troop and base reductions spell economic loss. There also are concerns in Seoul about any moves that would reduce the U.S. military commitment on the peninsula. Pentagon sources say changes being discussed include moving U.S. soldiers away from the Korean demilitarized zone.

Elsewhere in Asia, troops based in Japan could find themselves shifted to Australia. A healthy spinoff from that might be a reduction in hostility from residents toward the large presence of U.S. troops in Okinawa. And smaller bases are envisaged for several other countries in the region.

In the Balkans, sources say, the Pentagon is keen to build an air base at Camp Sarafovo in Bulgaria and to establish U.S. facilities at the air base of Mihail Kogalniceanu in Romania.

There also is a good chance that U.S. facilities at the Black Sea port of Constanta will be upgraded. So quickly is the Pentagon working that some troops serving in Iraq could learn that their home bases have shifted before their tours of duty are finished — among them the 1st Armored Division, which is scheduled to leave Iraq in January and return to Germany.

As far as Pentagon planners are concerned, the logistical problems they encountered deploying units such as the 1st Armored to Iraq confirm the need for repositioning U.S. forces based overseas. The Pentagon was frustrated in the run-up to the Iraq war with the time it took to move equipment for American armored divisions out of Germany and deliver it to the Persian Gulf.

But even before the Iraq war, Mr. Rumsfeld and his top aides were sketching out plans for realignment. For them, too much of the U.S. global military posture was outdated and designed to fight an adversary that no longer was on the battlefield — the Soviet Union.

They wanted more forward — but smaller — bases and lighter, more-mobile forces that could react quickly, be deployed fast and project power against enemies. Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides thought advanced U.S. military technology and air power would reduce the need for the kind of expensive and large foreign outposts deployed during the Cold War.

Since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the Pentagon hasn’t confined itself to planning.

Out of the public gaze, the United States has been securing air bases and landing rights, and signing military agreements with countries located in what American military planners call the “arc of instability” — troubled and failing nations in parts of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans and Central Asia. Military bases have been upgraded or established in Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bulgaria, Romania, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, the Republic of Georgia, Djibouti and the Philippines.

Even ahead of final agreement with the Poles, millions of dollars already have been spent on repairing runways, improving infrastructure and building roads at the Krzesiny air base near Poznan in western Poland.

The U.S. military has been pressing for dispersal of its assets in Europe for some years. The amount of money invested in bases in Germany acted as a political deterrent, as did German opposition.

But because of its opposition to the war in Iraq, Berlin is no longer in favor in Washington and two of the U.S. Army’s six heavy divisions remain based in Germany.

“That’s a huge fraction of our army for a theater that doesn’t plausibly offer any operations to use those forces,” writes Michael O’Hanlon, a military strategist at the centrist Brookings Institution.

Some experts, though, worry that pulling U.S. assets out of “old Europe” might make the Germans and the French even more reluctant to agree to U.S. requests. On the other hand, say Pentagon hard-liners, what does it matter?

As far as Mr. Rumsfeld is concerned, there is no need for the kind of large, expensive and permanent overseas bases that predominated during the Cold War. Speaking at a news conference, the defense secretary said: “We’re moving worldwide from a static defense to a different footprint.”

Overall, he wants larger and quicker naval and airlift capacity able to exploit equipment stockpiles located overseas and to utilize harbors and air bases abroad for replenishment and as temporary strike bases.

Many critics say the Pentagon is out to create a new military empire spanning the globe. They also worry that a military presence in so many far-flung places might encourage U.S. adventurism and intervention when national-security interests really aren’t at stake.

Supporters of the Rumsfeld plan maintain that what is being planned isn’t an old-fashioned imperial vision, but a program that will cut costs and allow U.S. forces to strike fast on the global battlefield against terrorism.

Furthermore, they argue that by having more options from which to launch strikes, the United States won’t be so reliant on a handful of allies.

According to Celeste Johnson Ward of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, a centrist think tank, this vision in some ways is born of American distrust regarding some of its oldest allies, including Germany, which opposed the war in Iraq.

• Jamie Dettmer is a senior editor for Insight magazine.

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