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Where to Next for the U.S. Military?

With the Iraq war over, the Pentagon is again focusing on Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s favorite topic: reforming the U.S. military. Germany, home to the biggest U.S. bases in Europe, could be hard hit.

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U.S. soldiers based abroad are to face major changes in future.

Even before he took the job of Pentagon chief in 2001, Donald Rumsfeld had been pleading for years for a fundamental overhaul of the United States military.

The former naval officer, who had already served as U.S. Defense Secretary from 1975 to 1977, favored a leaner, more mobile and better-trained military. Leading a commission unofficially named after him in 1998, he told Congress the United States faced threats from weapons of mass destruction and attacks on its ports, communication centers and cities. The military needed to respond to those threats should place its emphasis on air power, naval power and the U.S. Marines and look less like a classical army, he argued.

US-Verteidigungsminister Donald Rumsfeld spricht in Katar

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

Five years later, his hypothesis seems to have been proven true. Terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The U.S. military successes in Afghanistan and, most recently, Iraq using highly mobile, high-tech weaponry and troops seemed to confirm that the path Rumsfeld (photo) wants to take towards troop reduction and high-tech hardware is the right one.

New locations for U.S. army

Should a complete restructure take place, the effects will be felt worldwide.

Ottfried Nassauer, director of the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security (BITS), says the future deployment area for U.S. forces most likely lies in Asia. Older bases, such as the United States' Cold War-era European Command, based in Stuttgart, could face serious reshuffling or even closure. Talks are already underway to reduce the number of soldiers, currently close to 120,000, stationed in Europe.

Among the first bases to be hit will be those in Germany, the home of more than 57,000 Air Force and Army soldiers and the military's European Command.

The fall of the iron curtain more than 12 years ago changed the role of U.S. forces initially brought in to Western Germany to protect against the Soviet threat. With German-American relations at a low point in recent months over Berlin's anti-war stance, American officials and members of Congress talked openly about moving the military bases to less-expensive locations in Eastern Europe, where there was more support for the U.S.-led Iraq invasion.

Such plans, if they were ever being considered seriously, were put on the back burner following a meeting last week between German Defense Minister Peter Struck and Rumsfeld. Struck told reporters that he didn’t expect U.S. troops stationed in Germany to moved any time soon.

Reality based decision-making

Nassauer shares this view. He calls the assumption that the U.S. would punish Germany for its anti-war stance on the Iraq issue by moving its troops as "profound nonsense." He said such decisions are made based on factual realities and not based on political motives. Nassauer also points out that it would be absurd for the United States to close down bases such as Kaiserslautern, Ramstein or Grafenwöhr in Germany -- all are facilities in which the U.S. has invested heavily over the years.

Joachim Krause, the director of the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel, on the other hand, doesn’t rule out a possible movement of U.S. troops to central- and eastern European countries like Poland, which sent troops to fight in Iraq. He says that in future the U.S. wants to avoid political uncertainties, like those experienced with Germany in the last six months, when it comes to deploying troops abroad.

Despite the possible reductions of U.S. troops in Germany, the situation here won't be as dramatic as the Pentagon's plans for it Saudi Arabia. Instead of continuing operations in the Saudi kingdom, long Washington's key ally in the Arab world, the U.S. military is now expected to pull all of its troops from Saudia Arabia and instead build up its presence in nearby countries like Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

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