The US global posture review

Posted in United States | 09-Oct-04 | Author: the International Institute for St

Will redeployment ease the strain?

A U.S. army soldier stands guard behind a U.S. and a German flag at the main gate of the Campbell…
A U.S. army soldier stands guard behind a U.S. and a German flag at the main gate of the Campbell Barracks, U.S. Army's Europe headquarters, in Heidelberg, southwestern Germany.
In recent months, the key elements of US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s plans for sweeping changes to the structure of US overseas military deployments have been made public. The global posture review calls for a dramatic reduction in the number of American forces stationed in Germany, allied to the movement of some troops to smaller facilities in Eastern Europe. It also envisages scaling back US military deployments in East Asia, and repositioning many of the residual units in South Korea to new locations. The review might also result in the addition of military facilities in Africa, where al-Qaeda and its affiliates have been active.

Coming some 15 years after the end of the Cold War, and three years since the attacks of 11 September 2001, Rumsfeld’s plan is intended to respond to tectonic shifts in the global strategic landscape, and to better reflect current priorities and threat perceptions. Many elements of the plan are as commendable as they are overdue. Despite the claims of critics and the reservations of affected allies, the plan has been under consideration for too long for its provisions to be considered, as some have suggested, a form of revenge for Germany’s noisy opposition to the US-led Iraq war. Nor is it, as others have postulated, a petulant response to the anti-American sentiments ascribed to some supporters of the current South Korean government, or a product of frustration with Seoul’s allegedly more forgiving attitude towards North Korea’s nuclear recidivism. The Bush administration had already, in its 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, concluded that America’s overseas military posture was ‘inadequate for the new strategic environment’. And in the specific case of South Korea, punishment-by-abandonment would be a perplexing response to Seoul’s contribution of the third-largest contingent of stabilisation troops to Iraq. The global posture review’s rationale is strategic, not political. That said, it does exhibit flaws that could constrain the ultimate effectiveness of the plan.

America’s global footprint

Prior to 11 September 2001, the US at any given time had about 250,000 troops stationed abroad. Just over 100,000 were located in Europe, with most of these situated in Germany (75,000 troops in total, almost 60,000 of them from the US Army); another 13,000 were in Italy; and almost 12,000 were based in the United Kingdom. A further 100,000 were stationed in East Asia, divided between Japan, South Korea and the waters of the western Pacific. About 25,000 were ashore and afloat in the Persian Gulf. Smaller numbers were found in Latin America and Africa.

These patterns of troop strengths admittedly differ substantially from those at the height of the Cold War: prior to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, America had maintained at least 300,000 troops in Europe. But troop reductions carried out by the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War amounted to only the first, and arguably the most obvious, response to the emergence of a new strategic era. They constituted a cut-back, rather than a realignment based on new modes of thought about defence planning and potential threats. Seeking to build on these initial efforts, the Bush administration’s current plan is more conceptual and forward-looking – it is a genuine effort to rethink America’s overseas force posture, in tandem with efforts to pursue ‘transformational’ changes to the US military.

The new lexicon
Main Operating Base (MOB)
'A MOB is an overseas, permanently manned, well protected base, used to support permanently deployed forces, and with robust sea and/or air access.'
Forward Operating Site (FOS)
'A FOS is a scaleable, 'warm' facility that can support sustained operations, but only with a small permanent presence of support or contractor personnel. A FOS will host occasional rotational forces and may contain pre-positioned equipment.'
Cooperative Security Location (CSL)
'A CSL is a host-nation facility with little or no permanent US personnel presence, which may contain pre-positioned equipment and/or logistical arrangements and serve both for security cooperation activities and contingency access.'
Source: US European Command (

The vision

The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London is a "Partner of Worldsecuritynetwork" and periodically contributes its analyses to the…
The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London is a "Partner of Worldsecuritynetwork" and periodically contributes its analyses to the WSN Newsletter.
The ambition underpinning the review is to produce forces that can deploy anywhere in the world in ten days, defeat their enemy in 30 days and be ready to fight again in another 30. It is envisaged that many of these lighter, rapid deployment forces would stage from the continental US. Three types of force location are envisaged: ‘main operating bases’, with permanently deployed forces; ‘forward operating sites’ – scaleable facilities that have a small permanent presence; and ‘cooperative security locations’ – host-nation facilities with little or no permanent US presence and which may contain pre-positioned equipment and/or logistical arrangements.

There are currently about 400,000 American service personnel deployed in 120 countries outside of the continental United States. Deployments in and around Afghanistan and Iraq now total 25,000 and 150,000 troops respectively. Since 2001, virtually all combat forces have been withdrawn from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but capabilities in Europe and East Asia have changed little. Under Rumsfeld’s plan, some 15,000 troops stationed in Asia would be relocated to the United States, with these reductions occurring largely through the consolidation of redundant headquarters in South Korea and Japan. In addition, one of the two brigades of the US 2nd Infantry Division – already deployed to Iraq – would move permanently to the US, rather than return to South Korea. In Europe, it is reported that the 1st Armored Division and the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized) will move to the continental US (to be replaced by a Stryker Brigade Combat Team), while some of the forces currently in Germany could be deployed in smaller numbers on shorter assignments to new bases in Eastern Europe.

Much of the Bush administration’s plan makes eminent sense. In East Asia, the United States has complex and overlapping command structures in Hawaii, Japan, and South Korea. Streamlining these, while also moving US military headquarters in South Korea out of central Seoul, where the highly visible American presence has been resented by the local population, are long overdue. Washington has plans to remove some 12,500 troops from South Korea by the end of 2005, while providing capability enhancements to remaining US forces. South Korea’s military is an increasingly capable force, and the 2nd Infantry Division is no longer needed near the Demilitarized Zone to help repel any initial North Korean onslaught. In July 2004, it was confirmed that the Seoul-based troops would deploy south to the Pyongtaek area – out of range of North Korean artillery, and arguably in a better position to prepare for any counter-offensive against North Korean forces. The deterrent function of the US presence ought to be strengthened rather than diminished by these steps. Meanwhile, the Pentagon will probably add more submarines and some long-range aircraft to its forces on Guam, enhancing its capability for reconnaissance and other missions along the Asian littoral. The US is now benefiting from a major improvement in the ship-based prepositioning of combat supplies for all the services on Guam and elsewhere in the region – a process in train for the last 20 years.

In Europe, smaller and more mobile US forces would face fewer problems training than they presently experience in heavily-populated Germany; they could also exercise more easily with new NATO members. Moreover, a model of rapid deployability would be established that most European militaries would benefit from emulating. According to SACEUR, US Marine Corps General James L. Jones, US bases in Europe should be viewed as ‘lily pads’ for regional and global deployments.

Problems with the review

An U.S. Army soldier stands guard in front of the U.S. Army Camp Casey, the headquarters of the 2nd US…
An U.S. Army soldier stands guard in front of the U.S. Army Camp Casey, the headquarters of the 2nd US Infantry Division, at Dongducheon, north of Seoul.
Although the objectives of the review are laudable, it has its problems. The first is mainly political, threatening adverse implications for the future strength of US defence partnerships. Consultations with allies – not to mention Congress and the State Department – have been belated and insufficient, allowing misperceptions about the new basing plan to flourish. As Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard Myers recently stated in testimony to Congress, ‘During … 2004 … Congress voiced concern over the Department’s overseas basing plan. We are now in the process of detailed consultation with our allies and members of Congress.’ However, it is not clear that the Bush administration, having failed to consult widely at the formulation stage, now has the credibility to convince allies that their concerns will be taken into account at the point of the plan’s execution.

Secondly, if taken too far, some of the changes proposed for the US Army could worsen an ‘overdeployment’ problem that is presently posing the greatest challenge to the all-volunteer force in its 30-year history. Given the ongoing strains of the Iraq and Afghanistan missions (which are unlikely to wind down soon), there are clear downsides to taking large numbers of army soldiers out of bases in Germany – where they can be stationed with their families – and deploying them on unescorted tours to eastern Europe. Soldiers may prefer staying in the US for longer periods, so that their spouses can obtain work and their families can develop ties to one community. Further, housing and other provision would need to be made for such returnees in the US, moves that are subject to the ongoing Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process in the US. For the foreseeable future, it may be prudent to keep any new deployments to Eastern Europe on a modest level. Nor should the budgetary implications of establishing new bases, likely to total $5-7bn in initial investment costs before potentially saving $500 million to $1bn annually thereafter, be overlooked.

Meanwhile, it is possible that the plan for relocating forces in Germany is too ambitious. Bringing home all four heavy brigades currently stationed there may reduce the opportunities for joint training and exercises with European heavy forces – a concern expressed by retired General Montgomery Meigs, former head of the US Army in Europe. Leaving an existing heavy brigade there, while introducing a Stryker brigade, may make for a better mix and a more adequate overall set of capabilities. At a minimum, this possibility should be examined.

By contrast, it has been argued that the plan does not impact sufficiently on the US Marine Corps. Notably, it does not appear to make major changes to the US presence on Okinawa, where 20,000 marines are stationed on a densely populated island – causing local political problems that put the broader US base network in Japan at some risk. Although the United States does need to store equipment on or near Okinawa and have contingency access there in the event of a crisis, it does not need to station so many troops there. Possibilities for relocating the marines may involve other Asian locations such as South Korea or Australia, although the final outcome is as yet unclear.

Known knowns...
In Asia, our ideas build upon our current ground, air, and naval access to overcome vast distances, while bringing additional naval and air capabilities forward into the region. We envision consolidating facilities and headquarters in Japan and Korea, establishing nodes for special operations forces, and creating multiple access avenues for contingency operations.
In Europe, we seek lighter and more deployable ground capabilities and strengthened special operations force - both positioned to deploy more rapidly to other regions as necessary - and advanced training facilities.
In the broader Middle East, we propose to maintain what we call 'warm' facilities for rotational forces and contingency purposes, building on cooperation and access provided by host nations during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
In Africa and the Western Hemisphere, we envision a diverse array of smaller cooperative security locations for contingency access.
Source: Secretary of Defense speech to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Washington, 23 Sept 2004;

To the future

US troops on exercise near the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas.
US troops on exercise near the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas.
The timing of President Bush’s 16 August 2004 announcement of some of the review’s conclusions was partly driven by US electoral dynamics; the president needed to respond to Senator John Kerry’s campaign-trail criticisms that he was overdeploying the army abroad and imposing undue stress on the military. Yet there is a practical rationale for moving the review along quickly at this point: as noted, it has been underway for several years already, and the US is now in a new strategic environment which requires a new force mix and posture.

More to the point, these and other base relocation issues need to be considered prior the scheduled 2005 BRAC process – although given the House of Representatives’ vote to delay BRAC for two years (in passing the FY2005 Defense Authorization Act), the process may be extended. In planning, fine lines will have to be trodden: even though US base capacity remains excessive, and must be reduced to avoid wasting upwards of $5bn a year, it is important not to close bases that may later be needed; as well as any refurbishment costs, it is difficult to regain land that has been sold by the government. Furthermore, US European Command sent 54,000 troops to Iraq from existing bases without long delays, profiting from Germany’s excellent infrastructure, as well as time-tested transportation procedures worked out between both nations. Any new force alignment must have the capacity to provide similar capabilities in similar time frames. Bases in landlocked central European countries lacking equivalent infrastructural capacity may look closer to likely combat theaters, but it can be much harder to deploy equipment from such locations.

Some modifications to the Pentagon’s plan, as well as greater consultations with other parts of the US government and foreign nations, are needed. But if these issues are resolved, the new basing plan will merit strong support.

This article is taken from the latest issue of Strategic Comments and appears by permission of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which retains the copyright. Strategic Comments, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, provides fact-based analysis on issues of strategic significance. It responds to breaking developments in international affairs and anticipates policy questions that are likely to loom large in the calculations of governments, analysts and businesses. Ten issues, each containing five 1,700-word illustrated articles, are published each year. If you would like to subscribe to Strategic Comments, please email James Hackett at or click here

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