- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

The global repositioning of U.S. military forces proposed by President Bush yesterday will have profound effects for some German, Japanese and South Korean communities.

“The town would bleed to death,” said Peter Lang, mayor of the southern Germany town of Baumholder, where two-thirds of the town’s 18,000 residents are Americans posted to the nearby military base.

Lee Myeong-seok is the head of a merchants group in the district around the massive U.S. Yongsan Garrison in downtown Seoul. The proposed American redeployment would abandon the base and the estimated 6,000 Korean employees who work there.

“Business is already bad, but after the U.S. troops leave, the local economy will collapse,” Mr. Lee told the Singapore Straits Times last month.

Bush administration officials say the troop withdrawals are a response to post-Cold War realities and insist that the pullout will be prepared carefully, in full consultation with allies.

“We don’t want any good surprises for our good friends around the world,” a senior administration official said in a background briefing yesterday.

But with about 70,000 American troops scheduled to be called home over the next decade, communities that have come to rely on U.S. troops and their families as employers and customers will take an unavoidable hit.

Germany, home to the largest permanent deployment of U.S. forces, is braced for the biggest blow. About 70 U.S. military installations and 71,000 U.S. troops are in the country.

The impact will be uneven: The huge base at Baumholder would be closed, as would a number of other Army and Air Force installations, while others, including a base in the Bavarian town of Grafenwohr, could be expanded in the consolidation.

Annette Rech, who runs a hotel in Baumholder, said, “We cannot imagine a life without Americans. There are many private contacts; they enjoy the German cuisine. Apart from that, there is nothing here, no industry, nothing.”

U.S. bases in South Korea often have been a source of friction, but South Korean analysts say that the proposed reduction of 12,500 U.S. troops — a third of the deployment — would have a significant impact on the local economy.

In addition to the jobs lost, Seoul faces a major expense to retrofit the land once used by American forces and increased defense spending to compensate for departing American troops.

The government plans major increases in defense spending in the next decade. The Korea Herald recently cited estimates that it would cost $4.3 billion to equip a South Korean division to match a 13,000-troop U.S. division.

The Pentagon’s plans for about 45,000 military personnel stationed in Japan are less clear. Many U.S. military bases on the island of Okinawa are profoundly unpopular with local residents, but plans to consolidate the nearly 90 U.S. military facilities in fewer sites also could prove controversial.

Countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, including Romania and Uzbekistan, have been campaigning openly for expanded U.S. military bases and the anticipated economic spinoffs.

But Pentagon officials say they do not plan to re-create the massive, citylike bases used in Germany and South Korea, preferring smaller, more flexible sites.

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