Troops In Europe: Can The United States Afford Them?
AUTHOR Major Charles K. Curcio, USMC
SUBJECT AREA Foreign Policy
TITLE: TROOPS IN EUROPE: CAN THE UNITED STATES AFFORD THEM?
I. Purpose: To determine the origin of the commitment of United States
troops to Europe and to determine the feasibility and advisability of
continuing that commitment.
II. Thesis: The United States should withdraw the bulk of its troops
from Europe because of the changing strategic environment, its own
military decline, and its economic difficulties.
III. Data: After World War II most Western democracies demobilized
their military machines feeling a period of peace would follow. They also
felt that the newly formed United Nations would foster this peace.
However, the Eastern bloc countries retained strong militaries which lead
to instability in Europe. Due to this instability, security alliances were
formed by both sides. Initially, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO) was formed by Western countries, and soon afterward, the Treaty
of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance (Warsaw Pact) by the
East. These pacts lead to large troops concentrations by both sides in
Central Europe. Today, the strategy of both the United States and Soviet
Union affect the situation in Europe. The military and economic recovery
by the countries in Western Europe and the Soviet advances in the Western
Hemisphere have obliged the United States to reevaluate its commitment
of troops to Europe. The steady military decline in the United States since
World War II and increasing importance of forces committed elsewhere
have raised questions concerning the wisdom of committing troops to
Europe. The economic decline in the United States has been directly
affected by the large expenditure on the defense of Western Europe.
IV. Conclusions: The United States rightfully committed troops for the
security and defense of Western Europe after World War II. However, since
that time, Western European allies have recovered sufficiently to provide
for their own defense with the aid of the United States' strategic
deterrence. Soviet advances in the Western Hemisphere, United States
military decline, and a sagging United States economy call for a change in
United States policy toward the defense of Western Europe.
V. Summary: The United States should retain a strategic nuclear
deterrence toward the Soviet Union, but it should withdraw the bulk of its
troops from Europe. These forces should be deployed elsewhere to meet
other more critical threats and to help regain military strength and
TROOPS IN EUROPE: CAN THE UNITED STATES AFFORD THEM?
Thesis statement: The United States should withdraw the bulk of its
troops from Europe because of the changing strategic environment, its
own military decline, and its economic difficulties.
I. The History of European Alliances
B. Warsaw Pact
C. Strategies and Tactics
II. Strategic Environment Between The United States and Soviet Union
A. Soviet Strategy
B. United States Strategy
III. Status of The United States Military
A. Decline Since World War II
B. Current Status
IV. Economic Conditions in The United States
A. Industrial Decline
B. Agricultural Decline
C. Overall Economic Decline
TROOPS IN EUROPE: CAN THE UNITED STATES AFFORD THEM?
Since the beginning of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in
1949, the United States has committed troops for the defense of Western
Europe. This policy was initially sound since the European countries had
been devastated by war and could not defend themselves. Their economies
were decimated from the demands of war. Europe needed help from a
strong ally, especially one with nuclear superiority over the entire world.
(12:54) However, after almost thirty years the situation has changed in
Europe. It is now neither expedient nor necessary to commit a sizable
contingent of United States troops solely for the defense of Western
Europe. The United States should withdraw the bulk of its troops from
Europe because of the changing strategic environment, its own military
decline, and its economic difficulties. Before I elaborate on the reasons
for this change, we must review the history of the European alliances.
After World War II ended, most Western democracies demobilized their
military machines feeling a period of peace would follow. Also, since the
United Nations had been established, most countries in the West believed
this organization would foster peace. However, the Soviet Union had a
different idea. Having taken over the Baltic countries and parts of Finland,
Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Germany as the spoils of war, it decided to
further expand its empire. As early as 1945, the Soviet Union had brought
pressure to bear in Greece, Turkey, and Iran to further the communist
cause and gain influence. By 1948 Communist parties had seized control in
Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. In addition, in
October 1947 the Soviets formed the Cominform, which clearly highlighted
the expansionist policy and aimed to fight and destroy the political
systems of the West. Twenty-three bilateral treaties and large standing
armies among the Communist bloc countries created a state of unrest in
The Western hopes of maintaining peace by United Nations' action were
fruitless. The five permanent members of the Security Council, to include
the United States and the Soviet Union, were allowed the right of veto.
Therefore, attempts to control atomic energy, the reduction of armaments,
and the creation of an international force came to nought. By 1949 the
Soviets had vetoed at least thirty items which the free peoples had hoped
would promote world order. (17:6)
With this temporary failure of the United Nations and with this weakness
in Western military forces, a treaty was signed at Brussels, Belgium on 17
March 1948. The Brussels Treaty between the United Kingdom, France,
Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg was a defensive alliance to build
a common defense under the direction of Field Marshal Lord Montgomery.
Although the United States promised to support the signatories in the
efforts they would undertake to ensure their defense, it was not enough.
The United States realized its obligation to the free world after World War
II, especially its immense industrial potential and the possession of the
atomic arm to counter any imbalance of power. Even though political ties
between the United States and European countries had been rejected from
George Washington's time, congress voted on 11 June 1948 to adopt a
resolution authorizing the government to ally itself with such mutual
defense agreements as could contribute to the security of the United
Negotiations began among the Western countries, and on 4 April 1949 an
alliance was formed. The twelve nations signing the North Atlantic Treaty
were the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark,
France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal.
Greece and Turkey acceded to the treaty in 1952 and the Federal Republic
of Germany in 1955. In 1966 France withdrew its military forces from the
alliance, while remaining a member, and in 1982 Spain entered the
The treaty contains the following points:
1. The peaceful settlement of disputes and abstinence from force or
the threat of force.
2. Economic collaboration among the signatory countries.
3. The strengthening of the means for resisting aggression, both by
individual national efforts and by mutual assistance.
4. Consultation in the event of any signatory being threatened.
5. Mutual assistance in case of aggression.
6. Accession of other European states is permitted.
7. After twenty years any party may cease to be a member. (17:9)
Not long after NATO was formed, the communist bloc countries held a
conference and formed their own alliance. On 14 May 1955 a pact was
signed between the USSR, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary,
Poland, Rumania, and the German Democratic Republic. Since it was signed
at Warsaw, Poland, it became known as the "Warsaw Pact." Although the
pact appeared to be in retaliation to the NATO agreements, in reality, it
brought together countries whose governments were controlled by
communist parties under the control of the most powerful of the
countries, the Soviet Union. The pact provided primarily for a military
system enabling the armed forces of the member states to be placed under
Soviet command. This "Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation, and Mutual
Assistance" contains the following provisions:
1. Co-operation in all international actions designed to safeguard
international peace and security.
2. Developing and fostering economic and cultural relations with one
3. Joint command of the armed forces among the parties.
4. Mutual assistance in the case of armed attack in Europe.
5. Accession of other states is permitted.
6. The treaty will initially remain in force for twenty years.
7. Marshal of the Soviet Union is appointed Commander-in-Chief of
the Joint Armed Forces. (16:3-21)
Soon after the NATO and Warsaw Pact alliances were entered into, each
side developed a strategy. The initial theme of NATO's policy was known
as the "tripwire" policy. This called for striking the Soviet Union with a
massive nuclear retaliatory strike if its troops invaded Western Europe.
However, in the mid 1960's the Soviet Union had developed the capability
to strike United States soil with its own nuclear weapons. Therefore, this
tripwire policy was no longer valid.
Over a long period of time ending in 1967 a new, more plausible, strategy
evolved known as "flexible response." This policy is still in effect today
and calls for conventional forces to meet any Soviet non-nuclear attack as
far forward as possible and to hold them off until reinforcements can
arrive. It also provides for theater nuclear weapons to bridge the gap
between conventional forces and strategic nuclear weapons. Although the
recently signed INF treaty will remove United States theater nuclear
weapons from Europe, other NATO countries still possess that capability.
The essence of flexible response assumes that if NATO conventional
forces are visibly failing and reserves are exhausted, political authorities
of NATO are expected to authorize the use of nuclear weapons if there is
no other way of stopping the Warsaw Pact. (19:158-159)
Warsaw Pact strategy and tactics in Europe initially called for
numerically superior conventional forces. However, since the development
of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union capable of reaching not only
Western Europe but also the United States, the strategy now calls for
nuclear mass destruction if conventional war fails. Conventional force
tactical doctrine relies on a massive initial surprise assault by a large
number of mobile land units deployed simultaneously on multiple fronts.
This will be followed by second and third echelon attacks to exploit the
penetration or breakthrough. Combined air and airborne operations are
called for to achieve suppression of NATO's air defense capabilities and
rear-echelon interdiction. (19:40-41)
Recently, efforts have been made to enhance the conventional defense of
Western Europe by NATO. Warsaw forces stationed in Eastern Europe
outnumber NATO forces in Western Europe about 1.5 to 1. Numerical
advantages in Warsaw Pact weaponry vary from 2 to 1 in main battle tanks
and attack helicopters to 1.6 to 1 in armored fighting vehicles and
artillery pieces. (19:45) This imbalance must be evened out to retain a
credible deterrence on the conventional level. However, a conventional
defense of Europe must take into account the ever-present American belief
that the European allies are not contributing their fair share to the
As the European countries prospered and their military strength grew,
United States officials became more sympathetic to the proposition that
the Europeans could afford to do more to help themselves. Shortly after
leaving office as president, Dwight D. Eisenhower declared, "For eight
years in the White House I believed and have announced to my associates
that a reduction of American strength in Europe should be initiated as soon
as European economies were restored . . . . I believe the time has now
come [for] withdrawing some of those troops." (2:39) In the 70's Senator
Mike Mansfield called for United States troop reductions in Europe, only to
be stifled when the Soviet Union agreed to Mutual and Balanced Force
Reductions which have had little effect. (19:164-165) Although European
allies claim to provide 90 percent of the manpower, 85 percent of the
tanks, 95 percent of the artillery, and 80 percent of the combat aircraft;
the United States pays two-thirds of the bill for the conventional defense
of Europe. (19:5)
Europe has recovered sufficiently to shoulder the burden of its own
defense. Its active military forces number 3.4 million men compared to
4.2 million men for the Warsaw Pact forces on the European front.
(3:30),(2:39) Although an imbalance exists, NATO Europe's population of
373 million people is larger than the population of either the United
States or the Soviet Union and could support a larger active force. Its
economies, while not the strongest on the globe, have stabilized to permit
a relatively high standard of living. Its technology has advanced to the
point that both France and Great Britain have independent nuclear forces
capable of reaching the Soviet Union. (12:57)
Now that we have reviewed the origins of the European alliances and their
current philosophies ,let us turn our attention to the overall strategic
environment between the United States and the Soviet Union as it exists
today. Since the revolution in Cuba in the early 1960's, the Soviet Union
has continued to expand its interests in the western hemisphere. Its
interests in the area are, at least, fourfold. First, it maintains influence
in the vicinity of the Panama Canal. Only thirteen U.S. warships are
incapable of transiting the canal, which reduces significantly the transfer
time between the Pacific and Atlantic. This allows the United States to
maintain a three ocean naval presence with only a one and a half ocean
navy. If, in time of war, the Soviets could block passage through the canal,
the ability of the United States to wage war would be hindered.
Second, Soviet control of the Caribbean sea lanes from the United States
would greatly hamper shipping in support of a war effort, especially in
Europe. In World War II more than 50 percent of united States supplies to
Europe and Africa were shipped from Mexican Gulf ports. The thirteen sea
lanes in that area pass through four critical choke points which are easily
interdicted from Cuba. Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan realized the
importance of Cuba as a naval base when it was still friendly toward the
United States. He stated:
supplies can be conveyed from one point to the other, according
to the needs of a fleet by interior lines, not exposed to the risk
of maritime capture. The extent of the coastline, the numerous
harbors, and the many directions from which approach can be
made minimize the danger of total blockade to which all
islands are subject. (11:62-63)
Fleet Admiral Sergei Gorshkov, architect of the Soviet naval offensive, has
To achieve superiority of forces over the enemy in the main
sector and pin him down in the secondary sectors. . .means to
achieve sea control in a theater or a sector of a theater. . .the
enemy will be paralyzed or constrained in his operations. . .and
thereby hampered from interfering with our operations. (11:64)
Third, Soviet presence in Central America continues to dominate that
region. Although Nicaragua is currently the only Soviet-influenced
country, others in the region are in a state of turmoil. Soviet H18
helicopters and T-55 tanks are in use in Nicaragua, and there is evidence
that the Nicaraguans have undertaken preparations for the arrival of
Soviet Mig aircraft. Although Nicaragua has yet to join the Soviet bloc,
this Soviet presence in Central America is a direct threat to the southern
border of the United States. (11:86)
Last, the Soviet Union is not only gaining influence to the south but also in
the Arctic region. One-third of the Soviet divisions are deployed
throughout the Asian-Pacific region. While these fifty-five divisions are
mainly concerned with the Chinese border, they also are within reach of
the northern approaches of the United States. Of even more significance is
the Soviet Union's attempts to use the Arctic Ocean to transport forces
between the North Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It can already redeploy
aircraft and nuclear submarines between the fleets, but it is striving,
with the use of nuclear-powered icebreakers, to develop the capability for
the year-round redeployment of surface ships. (13:56)
This capability would also provide the possibility for landing troops and
deploying forces on the northern border of North America to complete the
strategic double envelopment of the United States. Although the Soviets
profess to be a peace-loving people interested only in protecting their
borders, they bear watching at all times. World domination is a very
tenant of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine. A statement made by Dimitri Z.
Manuilsky, Deputy to the Comintern at the Lenin School of Political
Warfare in Moscow, in 1930 is just as valid today:
War to the hilt, between communism and capitalism, is
inevitable. Today, of course, we are not strong enough to
attack. Our time will come in twenty or thirty years. To win,
we shall need the element of surprise. The bourgeois will have
to be put to sleep. So, we begin by launching the most
spectacular peace movement on record. There will be
electrifying overtures and unheard of concessions. The
capitalist countries, stupid and decadent, will rejoice to
cooperate in their own destruction. They will leap at another
chance to be friends. As soon as their guard is down, we shall
smash them with our clenched fists!
Related to this Soviet strategy, the United States should have three
strategic goals. First, it should maintain and update its strategic nuclear
capabilities. This nuclear deterrent would not only deter Soviet invasion
of the United States, but also support NATO in the defense of Western
Europe. General John R. Galvin, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, has
General nuclear response remains the ultimate deterrent......
Strategic nuclear forces are the foundation of NATO's strategy
of flexible response and the basis of our capability at the
ultimate level of combat power . . . essential updating of our
strategic force should continue as required, even if we are able
to obtain an agreement in the START negotiations. (8:56-58)
Second, our maritime strategy must not only continue to keep the sea lines
of communication open in the western hemisphere, but also be prepared to
close those leading from the Soviet Union. Former U.S. Chief of Naval
Operations, Admiral James D. Watkins, holds that morally, legally, and
strategically we must be prepared to fight in forward areas, especially in
Soviet home waters. (12:56)
Third, the majority of United States troops stationed in Europe should be
withdrawn. These forces could be placed in the many installations in the
United States which have been closed in recent years.
This last point leads me to a discussion of the condition of the United
States military. This fighting force reached its zenith by the end of World
War II. Few times in history had a country mobilized so quickly and
performed so courageously to contribute to the unconditional surrender of
two formidable opponents such as Germany and Japan. The American
people and the politicians were totally behind this war effort. However,
since that time, the United States military has been in decline. Although
part of the decline has been from within, some blame must be shouldered
by the politicians who have hampered military leaders from completing
In the Korean War, the United States military performed admirably pushing
the invading North Korean and Chinese armies all the way to the Chinese
border before the politicians halted the offensive. The results of that
action are still evident today, over 35 years later, with no official end to
A decade later the United States went to Vietnam to "stop communist
aggression" in Southeast Asia. The military decline was even more evident
there. Although many brave and wonderful men fought there, the military
was replete with internal strife resulting in discipline and drug problems
and numerous incidents of "fragging." In addition, the politicians held such
tight reign on the military leaders that they could not perform their
mission of defeating the enemy. As months turned into years, the
American people slowly withdrew their support for the war effort
resulting in the withdrawal of United States forces without a victory.
As the memory of Vietnam has faded, popular support for the military has
rebounded to the point that the United States military is one of the most
respected institutions in the country. The buildup in the early 1980's has
allowed the military to train and equip itself better than at any other time
since World War II, but it still is deficient in many areas, especially
political backing. In Lebanon from 1982 to 1984 the Marines were unable
to fulfill their mission as "peacekeepers." In an environment where the
daily routine involved artillery and small-arms fire between rival
factions, the Marines were initially restricted from carry loaded weapons.
Only after the first American casualties were taken could the weapons be
loaded, and then still under certain restrictions. The Marines were ordered
to withdraw from Lebanon without accomplishing the mission for which
they were sent.
Throughout history, nations whose military was in relative decline have
found it increasingly difficult to meet extensive overseas obligations.
Imperial Spain around 1600 and the British Empire around 1900 found it
difficult to bear the burden of strategic commitments made decades
earlier, when their political, economic, and military capacity could handle
those commitments. (10:36) The United States must face the fact that its
global obligations are far too large for its capacity. It must reduce those
obligations including withdrawing troops from Europe.
Next, we must look at the impact of economic factors in the United States,
and economic trends abroad. At the end of World War II, the United States
commanded a forty percent share of the world economy." However, since
that time this share has diminished. Industrial decline has been a major
contributor to this overall downturn. This is also true for Europe. As
labor unions gained in power, their influence drove wages upward. As
these wages became inordinately high, industry could no longer efficiently
modernize plants and equipment, and, therefore, could not compete with
those nations avoiding this trap. (10:29)
Much of this industrialization has moved to the Pacific basin. Japan's
economy is now the second largest in the world and is apt to continue
growing. China, too, is growing and could easily become the second or
third largest economy in the world by 2010. (4:6)
In addition to industrial problems, agriculture also grew into a state of
decline. In an effort to stem the growing threat of famine around the
world, the United States exported much of its agricultural technology.
Many of those countries have recovered to the point that they have become
direct competitors of the United States in food export. Additionally, large
farm investments were made in the 1970's when interest rates were high
resulting in many foreclosures. (10:29)
These, as well as other, conditions have resulted in the decline of the
United States economy to about half its world influence in 1945. Along
with this decline has come great turbulence in the nation's finances. The
federal deficit has reached one trillion dollars, and the national debt has
grown by immense proportions in the last few years threatening a
collapse of the entire economy. In addition, since United States goods are
often not competitive with the prices of foreign goods, the United States
trade deficit in 1986 was 160 billion dollars and growing.
During this economic decline, the United States military commitment
overseas has increased. In 1986, 134 billion dollars of the 314 billion
dollar defense budget request was allocated for the conventional defense
of Europe. By demobilizing six of the ten divisions in Europe, the United
States would realize an annual savings of at least thirty billion dollars. If
more troops were withdrawn, the savings would be even greater. (2:39-
Conditions have changed radically since the end of World War II. The
United States now finds itself overcommitted strategically, militarily,
and economically. It must be prepared to defend its own borders against a
Soviet strategic double envelopment, while it maintains a strong nuclear
deterrence against the Soviet Union. A balanced military posture calls for
the removal of troops from Europe so that they can be committed
elsewhere. Finally, the United States' economic difficulties require
reduced spending on its NATO commitment. This retrenchment will
enhance protection of its borders, while enabling the United States to
regain the capacity and strength it once held.
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