The Magazine of Future Warfare


     A few months ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress that reshaping the US military's overseas base alignment makes sense because the Cold War is long over, and the move would allow the United States to better fend off its newest enemies.  "We do not expect our forces to fight where they are stationed," Rumsfeld testified.  "We know that our forces will need to move to the fight, wherever it is."  Because the United States' global defense posture has been "virtually frozen in place" for 50 years, Rumsfeld said, a military that stresses agility and flexibility is now needed.  Rumsfeld's plan is to shift most of the 73,000 US soldiers based in Germany and 12,000 of the 20,000 soldiers based in Korea back to the USA over the next ten years.  This will free thousands of soldiers now committed to base support duties for infantry units.

     One of Senator John Kerry's blunders during the last presidential campaign was to attack this plan.  With some 200,000 US troops tied down in the Middle East, closing outdated Cold War bases makes sense.  Kerry should have attacked Bush from a different angle, asking why he waited over three years to announce a vague plan which will take over ten years to accomplish.  Kerry didn't understand that most US citizens consider it wasteful to maintain Cold War bases overseas, especially in wealthy nations which devote far less of their GDP to national defense.  Moreover, the USA borrows money from Germany and Korea to finance its budget deficit, and part of that spending is used to maintain forces in these wealthy nations.  Few Americans realize that South Korea is now the world's 13th largest economic power, ahead of Australia and even Russia.

     Some Democrats supported Kerry by voicing misconceptions.  For example, several stated that US soldiers in Germany are closer to trouble spots in the Middle East.  However, in recent years the US Army learned that heavy forces from the USA can deploy to the Balkans and the Middle East faster than those in Germany.  Over 95% of heavy forces deploy by ship, so those in Germany were shipped by rail to northern German ports, then all the way around Spain and into the Mediterranean.  One might assume that heavy forces could deploy by rail or truck southward, but they cannot cross the Alps as several tunnels are too narrow and several bridges too weak for outsized equipment like M-1 tanks.  Deploying eastward around the Alps requires cooperation with several different nations with different rail systems.  They charge high fees and US forces can use rail lines only when not used by commercial rail.  Once US troops reach Mediterranean ports, all the forces must offload, stage, then embark on ship at small ports already crowded by normal commercial cargo traffic.  And all this assumes that each nation's government and rail and port unions approve of the US military deployment.

     This is why the Army plans to move two heavy divisions back to the USA, along with just two brigades each as their third brigades are already stationed in Kansas.  The Army has been vague about where these units will be based, so there is speculation that these divisions may be permanently based in Iraq instead.  As they leave, the Army plans to place a light armored vehicle brigade in Germany which can be flown to trouble spots.  Some American communities are excited about the money more soldiers will bring in, and an expensive building boom is hoped for.  However, the Army eliminated several divisions in the USA this past decade and has calculated that it has 24% excess domestic base structure.  Therefore, it should cost nothing more to absorb these four brigades into US bases, especially since annual funding for new construction overseas can be diverted to domestic bases.

     Another invalid criticism was that reducing US troops in South Korea was unwise during this time of tensions.  Yet Korea has been tense since 1950.  One of the barriers to peace is the North Korean demand that all foreign troops leave the peninsula; there are no Russian or Chinese troops in North Korea.  As a result, the presence of US soldiers is a cause of tension, and the reason that the majority of South Koreans want US troops to go home.  Despite paranoid warnings, the 3600 soldiers of the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, permanently stationed in Korea, were deployed to Iraq last summer, and North Korea didn't invade. This is because the South Korean military is roughly five times more powerful than the North, so if one million North Koreans insanely attack the mobilized South Korean army of five million, 20,000 US Army soldiers will have little impact.  Even though South Korea's modern military receives five times more annual funding than the rag tag North Korean Army, South Korean leaders plan to increase military spending to reduce fears. 

     Meanwhile, millions of dollars can be saved by laying off German and Korean base workers, something their union lobbyists in Washington DC oppose.  Korean base workers are organized into a powerful 18,000 person union.  German business owners in military towns fret about the potential loss of about 170,000 Americans, a figure that includes family members and civilian employees.  These are equivalent to permanent tourists and provide a boost to the German economy.  As a result, German and Korean unions and corporations are spending money to lobby against this idea in Washington DC.  Of course there are no ethnic Korean or German lobbyists roaming the halls of Congress trying to save "their" bases.  They hire Americans, often retired Generals, to argue that pulling troops back will weaken NATO and lead to instability in Asia.  Meanwhile, South Korean insiders have agreed to allow the remaining American soldiers to relocate to fewer bases in Korea, if the USA pays them $11 billion for "new construction."

     The Pentagon must rebuff this foreign subversion.  Removing over half of US soldiers from Korea doesn't require money to expand bases in Korea; one brigade from Korea is already moving to Fort Carson in Colorado.  It doesn't matter if NATO is "weakened" because it has no enemy.  After the USA closed its two major bases in the Philippines in 1992 to save billions of dollars, fearmongers warned of regional "instability", which never appeared.  Since many Germans and most South Koreans want US troops out of their nation, closing some bases will increase stability.  Nevertheless, corporate lobbyists hoping to keep their profits flowing warn that closing bases will harm alliances.  However, Rumsfeld's proposal is not to close all bases in Germany and Korea, just half.  If closer military relations are required, perhaps Korea and Germany can show gratitude for US help in defending their borders during the Cold War.  They can spend billions of dollars a year to build and maintain a series of bases along the US-Mexican border to help turn back the million aliens who walk across each year.  This would help maintain alliances and reduce trade imbalances.  Of course the Germans and Koreans would laugh at that suggestion as an absurd waste of their money.

     A third misconception is that moving soldiers back to the USA will costs tens of billions of dollars.  US servicemen rotate overseas for one to four year tours, so moving them home during normal transfers will cost no more money, while ending moves overseas begins to save money.  The US military doesn't just ship GIs with hand-carried luggage overseas and back, but also moves their families, furniture, and even their cars and pets.  In addition, military equipment is rotated back to the USA every few years for replacement, upgrades, and overhauls.  Finally, it is much cheaper to close overseas bases rather than domestic ones as the US military need not clean up bases since they officially belong to the host nation.  Needless to say, well-connected moving and shipping companies stand to lose billions of dollars and their lobbyists are fighting Rumsfeld's plan.  They've had some success as US Army Generals have already scaled back reduction plans in Korea.

      Another reason for closing some overseas bases is the US military is overstretched around the world and overspending by Congress has weakened the US dollar.  It has fallen 32% against the Euro these past two years, meaning that local goods in Germany cost 32% more and local workers are paid 32% more.  So another advantage of moving troops back to the USA is to take advantage of cheaper American labor and excess base capacity at home.  Some of the money and personnel freed can be used to establish new forward operating bases near areas of potential conflict.  While the advantages of Rumsfeld's plan are obvious, shifting thousands of US troops back to the USA will slash profits for many powerful insiders, so they have implemented a traditional bureaucratic plan of stalling until the Bush administration is gone.

     The US military often brags that it can deploy any unit anywhere in the world in 90 days, so why does it take ten years to move units back to the USA?  During World War II, millions of US troops deployed overseas and back home within four years.  The reelection of George Bush gives his administration four more years, which is more than enough time to make this change.  If his administration is serious about transformation, it must reset the timetable to accomplish this task before President Bush leaves office.  It can fend off efforts of foreign sponsored lobbyists by vocalizing the economic advantages of firing German and Korean workers in order to hire Americans, while taking a small step toward reducing America's trade imbalance by shifting billions of dollars in annual US military spending from Germany and Korea to the USA. The Cold War ended long ago, it is past time to bring most soldiers, their families, their furniture, their cars, their pets, and their payroll home from Germany and Korea.

                                                                       Carlton Meyer 

G2mil editorials may be freely distributed without permission


Winter 2004 Articles

Letters - comments from G2mil readers

2005 Base Closures - likely closures (updated 12-1-04)

Why the V-22 Osprey is Unsafe - detailed analysis

Ballistic Protective Blankets - something grunts need

The Generals Speak - retired military leaders

Will Iran Be Next? -  wargaming the options

Government Debt - the greatest threat to national security

Amphibious Warfare Capabilities of the PLA - improvements in China

Terrorists Crossing US Borders - just walking across

The Grand Illusion - why Iraqis will not die for the USA

Defense News - worldwide military news

Why We Cannot Win - in Iraq

The Sunburn Threat - a supersonic anti-ship missile

Guerillas, Terrorists, and Intelligence Analysis (pdf) - Les Grau

The Airborne Laser Hangs On - a real turkey

Did Terrorists Poison MREs? - illegal aliens packed them

Rafael Weaponry - what the Israelis are selling

The cost of the Iraq war - your bill $3415.00

All's Fair in Space War - USAF plans

G2mil Library

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Transforming National Defense

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