UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


US House Armed Services Committee



26 FEBRUARY 2003

The opinions that follow are exclusively those of Dr. Kagan and should not be construed to reflect the views of U.S.M.A., the Department of the Army, or any agency or department of the U.S. Government.

Proposals to pull American permanent garrisons out of Germany and to transfer American training bases in Europe to the new Eastern European members of NATO are ill-advised and untimely.  Taking such action now would do irreparable harm to the NATO alliance.  It would undermine the credibility of the American commitment to involvement in international affairs after the conclusion of a war with Iraq.  It would place a significant new strain on the soldiers of the American Army, who are already under enormous pressure to carry out the missions required for the success of the war on terrorism, the possible war against Iraq, the defense of the Korean peninsula, the maintenance of peace in the Balkans, and other critical tasks.  In addition, the removal of permanent American bases in Europe could very well prove to be a slippery slope toward the permanent reduction of the U.S. Army, an action that would be extremely dangerous for America.

Undermining America's Credibility

We must make those changes in our armed forces that are necessary to prosecute the war on terrorism successfully.  We must also remember, however, that our national security interests go beyond the war on terrorism.  The U.S. remains the only state in the world able and, so far, willing to shoulder the burden of maintaining the peace.  If aggressive regimes believe that we will not oppose their offensive designs and our friends believe that we will not come to their defense, then war will become more likely.  We must avoid any action that threatens our credibility in foreign affairs, and few actions would call our commitment into question more dramatically than removing our permanent bases from Germany.

After the resolution of the current crisis with Iraq, the world will watch closely to see what course America will follow.  Our enemies hope that we will lose interest in the Middle East, that we will have been exhausted by the political and, perhaps, military costs of the Iraq conflict, and that we will effectively withdraw from our commitment to keep the peace.  The same beliefs will frighten our friends.  If we remove our permanent bases from Europe and maintain only training areas to which troops periodically deploy, as has been proposed, we will strengthen other states' convictions that we are no longer interested in playing an active role on the world scene.

For the first century and a half of America's existence, the U.S. avoided "foreign entanglements," involvement in Europe or, indeed, anywhere outside of the Americas and a few Pacific islands.  America refused to make any permanent commitment to the maintenance of democracy, free trade, peace, and a stable international order.  Our attitude toward world involvement changed in 1941, and the establishment of the permanent garrisons of American forces, including ground forces, in Europe was the tangible symbol of that change.

The decision to re-integrate West Germany into Western Europe after World War II, to allow it to re-arm, and to include it in the political and military structure of NATO was one of the most defining moments of the Cold War.  The results of our long-term commitment to Europe were the economic reconstruction of the western countries, their re-establishment as independent military powers, and, most important, the consolidation of democracy throughout the region.  These developments have led to a situation unprecedented in history-one in which war between European states is unthinkable.  Our presence on the continent has played the vital role in that development.

After the Cold War, many states expected us to revert to our previous ways.  When we did not pull our forces out of Europe in 1991-and when the Europeans did not ask us to do so-we and they made a fundamental statement about our future role in the world.  We made it clear by keeping our forces in Germany even after the Soviet threat had passed that we had once and for all turned our backs on our isolationist path.

The fact that re-united Germany remained within both the political and military structure of the alliance was one of the defining moments of the transition from the Cold War to the current era.  The maintenance of American ground forces in Germany has been the most visible proof that America would remain committed to the defense of Western Europe, and then that America would remain committed to keeping the peace, for more than half a century.  It has ensured that the end of the Cold War did not see the revival of old tensions among European states or the development of new and dangerous rivalries among our friends.

These positive trends could be reversed.  Removing our forces from Europe following a war against Iraq might undo much of the benefit that we have gained from keeping them there for so long.  It will call our commitment to keeping the peace deeply into question.  Many will say that our involvement in Iraq was not part of a concerted effort to keep the peace but resulted from other, more particular, factors.  They will say that now that America has confronted Iraq, we will not trouble ourselves with other states.  They think that America will retreat into a purely defensive posture in which we will only consider military action to support the war on terrorism.  If we remove our forces from Europe, we will abdicate our responsibility to ourselves and the world to keep the peace.

The Withdrawal of U.S. Permanent Garrisons and
the Death of NATO

NATO cannot be a doughnut with a hole in the middle where Germany was.  We cannot maintain warm relations and permanent bases in Great Britain, Spain, Italy, and all of the new members in Eastern Europe while excluding, isolating, and punishing Germany.  Doing so would destroy the essential meaning of the alliance.  For one thing, we must assume that such an action would lead to an even further deterioration of our relationship with Germany.  The current problems with Germany are probably transitory, but if we remove our forces we will probably create a long-term if not permanent rift.

If we act now to remove our permanent bases from Germany, or even if we simply announce our intention to begin such a move, it will inevitably appear that we are doing so primarily to punish Germany for opposing the President's policy against Iraq.  Punishing Germany is extremely unwise.  The Schroeder government is by no means clearly representative of the German electorate, having won its own election by the smallest margin in modern German history and having just lost two critical regional elections-in which Schroeder campaigned on an anti-American platform.  We should not take this drastic and permanent step simply because we are angry with such a government, whose policies may well prove ephemeral.  Even if the actual intention of this proposal is not to punish Germany, taking the proposed action will inevitably seem to Germany and other European states to be a retaliation.  Such an action could well harden Germany's now wavering anti-Americanism.

We would then have to expect Germany's reaction to our proposals in the North Atlantic Council to continue to be hostile and obstructionist-and Germany, unlike France, does sit on the critical military planning bodies in the alliance.  It is likely that we would be compelled henceforth to forgo formal NATO support in critical endeavors and operate only with coalitions of the willing-but in that case NATO will have lost all of its meaning and significance.  Pulling our permanent bases out of Germany will destroy NATO.

The Strain on America's Soldiers

Right now, American soldiers stationed in Germany move there as part of a normal rotation cycle.  They deploy with their families and the assignment is like any other they might encounter in their careers.  They live there for two or three years.  If we removed our bases from Germany and simply established training areas in Eastern Europe to which soldiers rotated for six-month tours, the situation would be completely different.  During those six months, the soldiers would be in Europe alone and unaccompanied, away from their families.  Such deployments put a great deal of strain on soldiers and their families, as we have seen in numerous reports, including testimony before this committee, in the past decade.  Because this deployment would be on a large scale (several tens of thousands of soldiers would need to be involved if the forces rotating through the training areas in Eastern Europe would be equal to those now stationed in Germany), this additional stress would affect a very significant portion of the Active Army.

It may be objected that the Army routinely deploys units for six-month unaccompanied tours to the Balkans and, until very recently, Kuwait, and that the other services do so all the time.  The trouble is that the Army is not organized to support such an additional deployment burden.  It was already overstretched and overstressed even before September 11th.  If this new deployment burden is simply to be added to the pressures already affecting Army units and Army families, the consequences in terms of morale and, critically, officer and enlisted retention, could be dramatic.

The Slippery Slope

Rumors have been circulating for several years about plans to reduce the Active Army by eliminating divisions from the force structure.  Such actions would be devastating to America's security and our ability to protect our interests around the world.  Let us briefly consider the situation at present.  According to the newspapers, deployment orders have already gone out to three active divisions (the 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions and the 101st Air Assault Division) to support combat operations in Iraq.  Major elements of another division (the 82nd Airborne) currently patrol the unstable peace in Afghanistan and attempt to root out Taliban and al Qaeda remnants.  When the war is over, the re-establishment of peace and a stable government in Iraq will certainly require that the divisions that fought be replaced, given the size of Iraq, by at least two and possibly three others.  Major elements of still another division sustain peace in Bosnia and Kosovo.  One division alone (the 2nd Infantry Division) guards South Korea against possible aggression by the North-if a war on that peninsula broke out, it would almost certainly require one or two (or more) other divisions as reinforcements.

These deployments and others involving homeland security have required the long-term mobilization of large numbers of reservists, many of whom now find themselves under great strain.  The length and scale of this reserve mobilization, in my opinion, indicates that the Active Army is, in fact, too small, and this problem will continue to place an excessively heavy burden on the Reserve as time goes by.

We have entered an extremely dangerous period in international relations.  Virtually the entire Active Army and a considerable part of the Reserve is required to conduct known operations, prepare for expected wars, and guard against anticipated contingencies.  Should other states (or non-state actors) seek to take advantage of our preoccupations, seeing in our danger their opportunity, we would be hard pressed to respond rapidly, even with the current force structure.

If, as many suggest, the removal of permanent forces is the first step in reducing Army force structure, then the consequences will be disastrous.  The strain on our active forces will increase significantly.  The need to call upon our reserve forces will also increase.  The temptation to send those reserve forces on six-month training deployments will be great.  Moreover it simply makes no sense to increase operational risk, and therefore, national security risk, when our forces are already stretched thin.  The North Korean crisis proves beyond doubt that there are opportunistic international predators out there who can move rapidly when they feel that we are unlikely to respond.  Our forces are currently so obviously stretched thin that Pyongyang has sensed a chance to gain a tremendous strategic advantage, either by actually fielding nuclear weapons in significant numbers, or by extorting an enormous bribe for not doing so.  The more we reduce our forces, the more likely we make such predation in the future as potential adversaries, rightly or wrongly, conclude that we are too weak and preoccupied to react quickly.  It goes without saying that this is the worst possible moment to discuss removing any of our forces from Korea.

The best way to ensure that this danger does not come to pass is not to take the first step.  The key question really is: Do we have ground forces permanently stationed in Europe or do we not?  If we once decide that the answer to that question will be no, the pressure to eliminate all foreign deployments (and, perhaps, the forces supposedly maintained to support them), will only increase as time goes on.  As we give in to that pressure and pull back to CONUS, our ability to influence the international scene and, above all, to keep the peace and protect our interests, will erode exponentially.

Quality of Training

One of the arguments advanced for accepting this proposal is that we will be able to find better training areas and develop more favorable Status-of-Forces-Agreements with the new Eastern European members of NATO.  This is not likely to be the case.  The truth is that the current SOFA with Germany permits American units to conduct excellent maneuver training.  Our training facilities at Hohenfels and Grafenwoer, moreover, are by far the best facilities on the continent of Europe, and are second only to the facilities we maintain in CONUS as the best in the world.  We will not find facilities in Eastern Europe that would remotely compare with those training areas without the infusion of a substantial amount of resources and effort.

Another problem we will encounter as we try to use former Soviet bases in Eastern Europe is that the Soviets did not train the way we do.  They had mass conscript armies most of whose soldiers and NCOs served for two years.  They focused their training, therefore, on basic soldiers skills up to the company level.  Their training areas reflect this attitude.  The maneuver areas are mostly small and broken up.  The professional American Army does things rather differently.  It takes advantage of the skills of our long-service soldiers to develop our training to the battalion and brigade level.  The training areas in Germany, therefore, support this larger scale of operations, which is critical in maintaining our edge in maneuver warfare.  It is not at all clear that we will be able to find or develop equivalent areas in the new NATO countries.

It is very likely, on the other hand, that the cost of establishing ourselves in Eastern European training areas will be very high.  The Soviets did not maintain living facilities at anything like the standard we would demand for our troops.  Nor did they adhere to safety and environmental protection codes remotely like the ones we use.  Some of their bases are still contaminated with chemical weapons residues and with other sorts of toxic waste.  The costs of ensuring that there is no unexploded ordnance on the ranges can also be much higher than one might think-as the West Germans found when they began rehabilitating East German casernes.  I am not able to offer figures concerning this problem, but no proposal to use East European bases should be accepted without a detailed and impartial evaluation of the likely renovation and rehabilitation costs of the bases we would like to use, to set against the supposed savings.

Ease of Deployment

Another argument used in support of this proposal is that it would put our forces in Europe closer to the areas in which they are likely to be used, either in the Balkans or in the Middle East.  This argument does not stand up at all.  The measure of proximity for military forces is not in miles but in minutes, and moving our forces into Eastern Europe will not substantially reduce, and in some cases may increase, the time it would take to get them to areas of importance to us.

The deployment of heavy units is conducted, in the first place, by rail.  Units deploying to the Balkans would have to travel by rail to a concentration area near the conflict and then de-train and drive to the areas in which they were to operate.  Poland is no closer to Macedonia than Germany is.  Although it is tempting to imagine forces from Rumania or Bulgaria racing to western or southern Balkan trouble spots, we must consider that the inferior nature of the transportation networks in those countries will probably slow down that movement more than we might imagine.  Even if it did not, however, the time it would take to move ready units from Germany by rail would add hours or days at most to the trip.

Heavy units deploying to the Middle East or North Africa must travel by rail to ports and then be loaded onto ships.  It might seem tempting, at first, to imagine units in Rumania or Bulgaria racing to Black Sea ports for their passage, but it is essential to keep in mind that international treaties restrict the transit of warships through the Turkish Straits, and the delays involved in adhering to or negotiating for the circumvention of such limitations are likely to eliminate any slight advantage gained from having troops in closer proximity to their ports of embarkation.  Once again, on the other hand, it is no closer (and in some cases rather farther) from bases in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary to Italian or other ports along the Adriatic or the Mediterranean than it is from Germany.  I have not discussed the deployment of light units because they travel by aircraft and the time gained in their deployment by moving them to Rumania instead of Germany is insignificant.

Still another problem with this aspect of the proposal is that it ignores the absolutely critical role that the support units attached now to V Corps and the two heavy divisions in Germany play in conducting our operations in the Balkans.  Because we maintained those units permanently deployed in Germany and ready to deploy elsewhere, we were able to support the rapid movement of our soldiers into Bosnia and Kosovo and to sustain their operations there without immediately redeploying scarce combat service support elements to the region.  There was a mature and established staff, planning, and support structure in Germany to which the forward elements could connect and on which they could rely.

There are two possibilities concerning this issue if the proposal under consideration is adopted.  First, we could pull the support structure out of Europe, maintaining only that, much smaller, structure that would be needed to sustain the rotation of units to conduct regular training.  Second, we could continue to maintain the support structure even without its having any units to support.  In the second case, the savings involved in not maintaining permanent forces in Europe will be considerably reduced, since the support and staff structure in Europe is large.  In the first case, we will not be able to establish, support, or sustain forward bases in the Balkans as rapidly as we have had to in the past even though our troops might be theoretically closer to their areas of interest.  The elimination of this permanent support structure would make each deployment slower, more painful, and more reliant on trans-Atlantic deployments than they have been to date.


There are very few advantages to the proposal to remove U.S. forces from their permanent bases in Europe, apart from the fiscal savings (and almost all of those advantages could be realized in other ways if we chose to do so).  Against the likelihood of those savings, however, must be set the probable costs.  We will harm our relationship with Germany, destroy NATO as an organization with any meaning or potential, increase the strain on our already over-stressed soldiers, and undermine our international credibility, thereby helping to destabilize the global situation.  This proposal will increase our risk, weaken our alliances, and decrease our ability to protect ourselves and our interests.  That is a price that we should not be prepared to pay.

House Armed Services Committee
2120 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list