U.S. Drawdown: A Heritage Roundtable

Heritage’s Peter Brookes wrote a recent column for the New York Post entitled “A Dangerous U.S. Drawdown” on President Obama’s plans to cut 15,000 U.S. troops from Europe. It has generated responses from other Heritage analysts:

Luke Coffey

There are some who believe that basing U.S. troops in Europe is a Cold War anachronism. Peter Brookes proves this wrong. President Obama has gone out of his way to demonstrate that Europe no longer matters. This policy is shortsighted and dangerous. The forward basing of U.S. troops in Europe today is just as important as it was during the Cold War, albeit for different reasons.

The U.S. military presence in Europe helps to achieve American policy aims in the broader Eurasia and Middle East regions. From the Arctic to the Levant, from the Maghreb to the Caucasus, Europe is at one of the most important crossroads of the world. U.S. military bases in Europe provide American leaders with flexibility in a dangerous world.

Today, the garrisons of American service personnel in Europe are no longer the fortresses of the Cold War but the forward operating bases of the 21st century. Reducing this capability will make America weaker on the world stage, weaken the NATO alliance, and send the wrong message to friend and foe alike.

Helle Dale

Unrequited love might be the best description of European feelings about President Obama. The state visit by British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Obama Administration’s decision on further drawdown of U.S. troops based in Europe capture the badly troubled nature of the transatlantic relationship.

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Cameron is in the U.S. to cement relations with President Obama, whom Europeans are convinced (indeed hope) will remain in office for a second term. Yet, at the very same time, the Pentagon has announced a further drawdown of U.S. troops based in Europe. “In another chapter on our incredible shrinking military, Team Obama has decided to reduce US forces in Europe by about 15,000 troops (of an estimated 80,000) over the next two years,” writes Peter Brookes.

As Brookes notes, this move is logistically problematic and sends terrible public diplomacy signals. The consequences will be diminishing ties with Europe through NATO, declining interoperability within the alliance, less ability for the U.S. to engage in trouble spots like North Africa and the Middle East, and encouragement for Russian revanchism under newly reelected President Vladimir Putin. None of this is good news for the transatlantic relationship or American global leadership.

But the fault is not all on the Obama Administration’s side. The fact is that European views of American power are conceptually self-contradictory—some might call it hypocritical. The narrative of American decline has been a great favorite of many Europeans for a long time, even as Europe enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity under the umbrella of American military protection after World War II. The European Union itself has been seen (particularly by the French) as a “counterweight” to American power.

Under President Obama, however, Europe is getting a taste of what Europe and the world will look like with a diminished U.S. presence. Regrettably, this insight may come at high price.

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Nile Gardiner

No U.S. president in the post-war era has paid less attention to Europe than President Obama. The transatlantic alliance has been barely a blip on Barack Obama’s teleprompter as he prepares to draw down U.S. forces by 15,000 troops in Europe. This sends completely the wrong signal to both America’s NATO allies in Europe as well as to America’s strategic adversaries, especially Russia.

As Moscow grows increasingly aggressive and assertive in the wake of the Obama Administration’s failed “reset” policy, the last thing Washington should be doing is reducing America’s troop presence in Europe. The decision to cut U.S. troop numbers across the Atlantic as well as overall defense spending will only prompt NATO allies to follow Washington’s lead and do the same, further encouraging the rise of a separate European defense identity that will ultimately weaken NATO and undermine Europe’s security.

President Obama has consistently projected a message of weakness to Europe since taking office, and his decision to shrink America’s military presence there is the latest in a series of foolish foreign policy decisions.

Peter Brookes responds

My colleagues are spot-on. Beyond their well-articulated concerns about saggy transatlantic security ties is my worry that this will be only the first of a number of phased withdrawals from Europe in the coming years, further undermining American leadership and casting into doubt the need for, and credibility of, the NATO alliance.

The problem is ultimately that wars are a come-as-you-are affair, where the aggressor gets a vote as to where and when they occur. The question then becomes: Will NATO be ready for the security challenges of the 21st century? In my view, these withdrawals make it less so, making American increasingly at risk in an increasingly troubling world.

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