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The Boston Globe November 26, 2003

Shift Begins For Military Overseas Large-Scale Redeployment Around World

By Bryan Bender, Globe Correspondent

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration yesterday signaled the official start to the most sweeping shift in the American military presence abroad since World War II, telling allies that it would immediately seek to redeploy troops, ships, and aircraft stationed around the world.

The administration indicated that nations such as Germany, Japan, and South Korea, which for decades have hosted hundreds of thousands of US troops, could see a significant decrease in American military presence as the Pentagon focuses on prosecuting the war on terror and meeting other emerging national security challenges.

"Beginning today, the United States will intensify our consultations with the Congress and our friends, allies, and partners overseas on our ongoing review of our overseas force posture," President Bush said in a statement from Crawford, Texas. "We will ensure that we place the right capabilities in the most appropriate locations to best address the new security environment. High-level US teams will begin consultations in foreign capitals in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere."

State and Defense Department negotiators acknowledged that some of the discussions with long-time allies who have hosted US forces for decades will be painful, while gaining new basing rights will be difficult. They pledged that the consultative process will be a two-way street, where old and new allies alike will have significant input into what the US ultimately decides and the locations American forces eventually call their new home.

They added that the consultations have only just begun and that no specific decisions have been made about how many troops will be moved, where they will come from, or where they will end up.

But the broad outlines of the new approach call for the United States to move away from the large, fixed facilities in western Europe designed to guard against a threat - namely that of the Soviet Union - that disappeared nearly 15 years ago. The United States still has 68,000 troops in Germany, for example. It also has 100,000 in the western Pacific, including 37,000 in South Korea alone.

General James L. Jones, head of US European Command, has said that 20 percent of the 499 US installations in his area of responsibility - everything from tiny outposts to full-blown bases - should be shut down.

The military's new emphasis is likely to be on geographic areas where US forces have increasingly found themselves fighting the global war on terrorism - particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The United States has started expanding its network of small, sparsely populated facilities in Africa, Central and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. In the last couple of years, US facilities have been established in the Horn of Africa (Djibouti), in former Soviet republics (Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan), and in former Eastern Bloc states (Bulgaria, Romania).

"Since the end of the Cold War, 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," Bush said.

Defense Department officials said that the reordering of US forces, expected to take five or six years, is meant to move the military out of its lingering and outdated Cold War system of basing and deployment towards a model better suited for dealing with terrorism and the main threats of the 21st century. That model would be quicker, leaner, more agile, and, most importantly, better suited to respond to global unpredictability.

"The tasks that the United States found itself in in recent years took us in different directions geographically," a senior State Department official told reporters on the condition he not be named.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said recent changes in American military technology have made it possible to reduce the size, if not the number, of overseas bases because the US ability to project military power is not necessarily directly tied to the number of ships, planes, or tanks, but their ability to work together.

"The goal is to end up with capabilities that are as good or better, and addressed not to 20th-century threats but to 21st-century capabilities and threats," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.

Others said the changes are a direct result of recent US military conflicts that have taken place outside the traditional spheres of American influence.

"A lot of those forces that were deployed from Germany down to Iraq are just going to stay in Iraq, and a lot of American bases in Germany are going to get closed" said John Pike, director of the GlobalSecurity.org think tank. "Basically what they are trying to do is come up with some conceptual construct that accounts for the persistent American presence in Iraq and in [Central Asia]."

Robert Schlesinger of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Copyright 2003, Globe Newspaper Company