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U.S.: Washington To Make Biggest Troop Redeployment Since Cold War's End

Going home soon? U.S. President George W. Bush said yesterday he will withdraw tens of thousands of troops from bases in Europe and East Asia. He said this redeployment will take America's fighting forces out of the Cold War mind-set and make them more adaptable to the nuanced threat of groups like Al-Qaeda. Bush gave few specifics, but it appears that the United States' military presence will shift from countries like Germany and South Korea to regions like Eastern Europe and Central Asia. But as RFE/RL reports, one civilian military analyst says this new presence will probably be more modest.

Washington, 17 August 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Fifteen years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Bush says it is time for the United States to shift its military strategy from the enemies of the past to the threats of today.

Speaking yesterday to a military veterans' group in the central U.S. city of Cincinnati, Bush said he has a new vision for the country's military strategy.

"The new plan will help us fight and win these wars of the 21st century. It will strengthen our alliances around the world while we build new partnerships to better preserve the peace. It will reduce the stress on our troops and our military families," Bush said.

The new U.S. plan has taken more than two years to develop. Bush said yesterday as many as 70,000 troops -- along with about 100,000 family members and support staff -- will be withdrawn from Europe and Asia over the next decade.

Bush gave no specific details. But administration officials say nearly half of the U.S. installations in Europe will be closed.

Some troops also are expected to be withdrawn from South Korea. The United States already has moved troops out of the capital, Seoul. It has also redeployed forces from the Demilitarized Zone along the border with North Korea to bases in central South Korea.

The beneficiaries of this withdrawal are likely to be states in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This according to Marcus Corbin, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information, a private policy research center in Washington.

Corbin tells RFE/RL that he expects countries such as Poland, Bulgaria, and Uzbekistan -- which have supported Bush's foreign policy -- will soon be hosting U.S. military forces under the new plan.

"I don't say 'bases,' because the new model is that the U.S. is really establishing access and facilities, rather than bases, in countries like Poland and Bulgaria and Uzbekistan -- things that they can go to if needed in an emergency. I don't necessarily see a large jump in the number of stationed troops there," Corbin said.

The permanent presence of some 70,000 U.S. troops in Germany has been a significant boost to the local economy. One union official estimated that more than 15,000 Germans are employed in jobs connected to the U.S. military presence.

Such massive economic benefits will not be seen under the new U.S. plan. But Corbin says even small-scale facilities can be economically important to the economies of countries emerging from decades of Soviet control -- particularly Bulgaria and Uzbekistan.
"The new plan will help us fight and win these wars of the 21st century. It will strengthen our alliances around the world while we build new partnerships to better preserve the peace. It will reduce the stress on our troops and our military families" -- George W. Bush

"To set up an access to an airfield in a place like Uzbekistan, you're obviously not going to get anywhere near the same economic benefits locally as you would if you had a base with 10,000 people permanently deployed there, particularly if there are dependents and civilian employees and all of the other [things] that come along with a permanent base. [But] I don't think it's anything that the recipient countries would sneeze at," Corbin said.

Such plans are still years away from being realized. But, as Corbin notes, Uzbekistan is already benefiting from a large U.S. troop presence to support operations in neighboring Afghanistan. Corbin says it is only after operations in Afghanistan finish that Uzbekistan would have to readjust to a more modest U.S. military presence.

Such post-Cold War reforms are long overdue, Corbin says, though he concedes that any plans to update the U.S. military stance were justifiably slowed down as the country reacted to the 11September attacks.

Still, he says, the United States could do much more to reform the military -- for example, by eliminating weapon systems designed for fighting a perceived superpower like the Soviet Union.

Corbin points to F-22 fighter jets, which he says are necessary only in a Cold War context. Yet the Pentagon is still buying and maintaining its fleet of F-22s -- at a cost of $4 billion a year.