Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Washington to cut bases in Germany as its forces head east: Washington is planning to cut and downgrade its network of military bases in Germany and to transfer some its European military assets to the new pro-American Nato allies of eastern Europe, according to diplomats and officials on both sides of the Atlantic. [...] While such a decision is seen as too important to have been provoked by the worsening dispute between Washington and Berlin over Iraq, the momentum for moving out of Germany is also being increased by the US-German estrangement.
And as the momentum increases, the estrangement will no doubt increase. Although Germany is doing a really spectacular job of increasing the estrangement itself, with a bit of help from France. (France?) (Purely a side note: an astoundingly neutral presentation of a US/Europe issue, for the Guardian.)
The interesting thing is that even though there really is no need to keep American troops in Germany -- the country is now officially surrounded by NATO countries, whatever that's worth; any invader (who would invade?) would need to go through several layers of NATO just to get to them -- the Germans probably could, until recently, have persuaded the US to scale back the extent of the decampment from Germany. After all, even though there was no real need for the soldiers to remain in Germany, there was also no need or desire on the part of Washington to do real damage to the economy of several German provinces.
The Pentagon ordered all non-essential investment in the sprawling US bases in Germany frozen last month, funds amounting to tens of millions of pounds, according to a German MP who said he saw the secret instructions from Washington to US military commanders in Germany. "All avoidable US investments in Germany have been stopped on the orders of the Pentagon," the Christian Democrat MP, Michael Billen, told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag. His Rhineland-Palatinate constituency in south-west Germany includes major US air bases, venues that have grown into American communities over the past half century. Mr Billen said that US officials had told him that the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, wanted the spending frozen since it was not clear whether the US forces' strength of around 100,000 would remain on that scale.
THAT decision, however, was almost certainly a direct result of the recent US/Germany rift. Most of the spending done on those bases and soldiers is mandated; the money is allocated by Congress to the Pentagon for specific things, so this is part of the relatively little discretionary money that the Pentagon can spend on such things (although note that saying that it's "relatively little" money doesn't mean that it's not a fair amount of change, so to speak). Thus, the administration can use it to send the rather pointed message to Germany that things are reaching the point where the US will simply shrug and allow Schroeder's government to explain to its voters why it did so very much to encourage the US to depart.
Incidentally, there also seems to be a rather significant divide in the German parliament on the issue: in the article German Politicians Spar Over NATO Veto, Rainer Arnold of the government party states that NATO is fine, really, just fine (and, most startlingly, that Turkey will get its defense equipment from NATO -- I suspect that his prime minister and France were a tad surprised to see that in print), while Christian Schmidt of the opposition notes that the government position threatens both NATO and the EU because now everybody knows that Germany cannot be relied on.
U.S. Military in Europe May Change (Washington Post, February 9, 2003): The United States is contemplating radically changing the nature of its military presence in Europe, moving from a "garrison" system of big, heavily staffed Cold War-era bases to a more expeditionary posture in which troops would be deployed to the continent on a rotational basis, said members of the U.S. delegation flying home yesterday from an annual conference on security issues in Munich.
The plain fact is, from a purely military point of view, it makes relatively little sense to keep your force projection core in a country entirely surrounded by allies. It makes more sense to put them in a forward position, where they can serve as some sort of tripwire. Of course, these days, the only place in Europe -- or places pretending to be Europe -- that you can find a tripwire would be in the Balkans -- and we're already there in somewhat larger numbers than we'd like, thanks -- or on Turkey's southeastern border.
Pointless rebellion has taken NATO to the brink (The Scotsman, February 11, 2003): ..... NATO, it was being argued, is dead, torn apart by a transatlantic split. In its place, a new truth: when it comes to defence, Europeans and Americans neither share the same view, nor occupy the same world. This, however, makes two crucial mistakes. NATO was always a psychological tool, never a military one. It cannot have "died" as a means of fighting aggression; it was never alive in this way in the first place. Its history has been one of armed inactivity. Secondly, France’s rebellion is not succeeding. It has been raising the pacifist standard while dragging an economically enfeebled Germany on its coat-tails. To its shock, only Belgium has answered its rallying cry. The other 16 NATO members have steadfastly rejected the Franco-German attempt to exert de facto control over Europe’s foreign policy. The two countries, with their Belgian sidekick, are alone.
The plan they have vetoed was not even one for attack. Lord Robertson asked to send equipment to let the poorly defended Turkey stand up to an attack from Iraq’s northern front. The package involved Patriot air defence missiles, NATO early-warning planes and several units intended to cope with the chemical and biological warfare which Saddam Hussein is expected to have. In a relatively basic and defensive NATO task, Lord Robertson had failed. This has raised an ugly question. If it cannot agree to defend an ally in time of forthcoming war, what is it for?
A question many people have been asking for quite some time now. It makes no strategic or political sense -- even if you're raising what the Scotsman (with a certain sarcasm, I think) calls "the pacifist standard" -- and since when could any country even pretending to be a "great power" afford a pacifist standard? -- why on earth wouldn't you help a theoretical ally protect itself? It doesn't require any sort of commitment or support of the invasion of Iraq to state that a country with which you have been militarily aligned, off and on, for around 50 years, should be given what it needs to protect itself, just in case the worst happens.
Mr Bush has forged a new policy of pre-emption because his country was hit on 11 September, 2001 and forced to update its world defence view. Europe has, so far, not been hit. In its old world order there is no conventional threat and, therefore, no reason to act. [...] Unlike France and Germany, John Howard has been forced to think about the issue - it was mainly Australian tourists who were slain by the al-Qaeda bomb in Bali. This is a grim trend emerging from the 11 September, and it is one which covers few countries in glory. Only countries directly affected by al-Qaeda are recognising the hard decisions needed to tackle Islamo-fascism.
A few problems with that position: (1) The other 16 countries in NATO which are supporting the defense of Turkey -- which, leave us not forget, is actually the issue at hand -- have not been, in any comparably significant way, hit by "Islamo-fascism" (or, to put it more reasonably, significant terrorist attacks); (2) In this context, "Islamo-fascism" pulls together two things which ought to be left entirely separate. It's really only incidental that Saddam is a Muslim; the relevant issue is that he's nuttier than a fruitcake when it comes to the issue of his personal power over his country. And yes, his dictatorship is more or less fascistic. (The US intelligence community, even after Powell's speech to the UN, continues to doubt any real connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq exists.)
Mr Chirac’s conscientious objection would be easier to accept if France agreed to sign several oil deals with Baghdad, so it directly profits if Saddam stays in power. And, on the quiet, Mr Chirac has deployed the Charles de Gaulle aircraft to the Middle East - poised to join in when US cruise missiles hit the bunkers of the Republican Guard. If his NATO ploy fails, France still wants in on the oil action.
What an ... interesting supposition to come out of a European country. (BTW, the word "carrier" should be inserted after "Charles de Gaulle aircraft" -- the Charles de Gaulle is France's aircraft carrier.)Posted by iain at February 11, 2003 11:44 AM