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Reconfiguring the American Military Presence in Europe

Reconfiguring the American Military Presence in Europe - Cover

Authored by LTC Raymond A. Millen.

February 2004

34 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The author examines America's options regarding the basing of ground troops in Europe and considers three major options available to the United States--complete withdrawal, annual rotations, and restructuring the Alliance to accommodate a smaller U.S. presence. While weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each option, he does not lose sight of the ultimate objective of NATO--to provide credible land power for the full spectrum of operations. He introduces a NATO 3-3 Force Structure concept that rests on a smaller NATO ground force adaptive to the capabilities and wealth of member states; increases interoperability (technologically and procedurally); and supports the expeditionary force structure already in progress by the formal establishment of three standing combined joint task forces (CJTF). Additionally, he recommends the adoption of nine division-sized bases in Europe located at key geostrategic points for greater access to the Middle East and Africa.


As the United States prosecutes the war on terrorism, it is also in the process of adjusting its global security posture. Not surprisingly, the American presence in Europe will be profoundly affected by the U.S. calculations, and hence by extension, so will NATO. It is no exaggeration that the whispered conversations within the Pentagon reverberate within the halls of NATO headquarters, so the ultimate decision has the potential to rock the Alliance, no matter how benign it may appear to the United States.

The United States has three basic options regarding its future ground presence in Europe—withdraw completely, rotate divisions, or restructure the Alliance to permit a smaller U.S. presence. Maintaining the status quo in Europe is not a viable option, since it does not rectify the U.S. over-extension of forces or accommodate the dynamics associated with the war on terrorism.

A withdrawal from Europe permits the consolidation of ground forces in the United States for power projection missions globally. Because the United States maintains relatively modern divisionsized posts with contiguous maneuver training areas, unit readiness would be much higher than in Europe and certainly more cost efficient. Power projection from the United States provides greater flexibility in that the United States can rely on staging bases in Europe and elsewhere (“Lily Pads”) en route to trouble spots. Unfortunately, a withdrawal will likely result in a European loss of confidence in the United States and a de facto marginalizing of U.S. leadership and influence. More disturbing, the European Union (EU) will fill the void with its Rapid Reaction Force, which will compete with NATO for resources but fail to live up to expectations. In the end, the Alliance will not likely survive the trauma.

The rotation of divisions has the advantage of maintaining power projection flexibility without endangering U.S. commitment to the Alliance. However, given the enormous effort and associated costs for preparation, staging, moving, and reception, this option is incredibly expensive and time consuming. Given that rotations traditionally involve three units (those preparing, those deployed, and those recovering), require extensive organizational reconfiguration for the mission, and present a host of logistical and administrative challenges, this option is impractical. It might look good on paper, but would needlessly distract the Army from more important matters.

Restructuring the Alliance to accommodate fewer and smaller units presents significant opportunities despite the initial challenges and visceral resistance. As opposed to the dozens of ill-equipped and undermanned divisions and brigades currently comprising NATO, a restructuring to nine integrated multinational divisions is in order. (See Table 2, page 17.) Organized into three permanent combined joint task forces with three divisions each, along with an allotment of specialized units at the CJTF level (NATO 3-3 Force Structure), Alliance members would contribute fully modern and manned forces in accordance with their capabilities and wealth. Because of the relatively small size of the new force structure, each member would contribute only four to five battalions or brigades to the Alliance.

In connection with restructuring, NATO should modernize its concept of unit stationing. Rather than relying on the 19th century concept of small casernes scattered throughout Europe, the Alliance should establish nine division-sized posts at geostrategic locations. Because each post would also require a contiguous maneuver training area as well as modern facilities, NATO should solicit members to compete for the contracts giving relative value to location, available land, and potential for modernization. Sufficient time is required for member states to hold referendums and select sites for the bases. The construction and other associated costs for new bases will be offset by the closures and sales of hundreds of obsolete casernes as well as the energy and maintenance savings with modern facilities.

The NATO 3-3 Force Structure and division-sized bases fits perfectly with the new NATO Military Command Structure and NATO Response Force. Most importantly, the NATO 3-3 Force Structure provides a standing force for force generation, currently a long and tedious process within the Alliance. Integrated multinational divisions permit all NATO members to make a meaningful contribution and increase the interoperability (both technologically and procedurally) between the United States and its allies.


• Adopt the NATO 3-3 Force Structure.
• Establish a NATO working group to explore nine division-sized bases.
• Adopt a public awareness campaign to inform member states of the need for a NATO 3-3 Force Structure and division-sized bases.
• Withdraw U.S. political support of, and a priori support of, the use of NATO assets for the EU Rapid Reaction Force.

The United States can have its cake and eat it too without appearing unilateralist. The United States needs a power security partner, and any decision which endangers that need will be to U.S. detriment. The implementation of these long-term recommendations will provide the Alliance with a powerful, sustainable expeditionary force and significantly ease the security burden on the United States.

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