Union Tribune

April 29, 2003

NATO looking to reduce, relocate U.S. troops in Europe


WASHINGTON The American commander of NATO yesterday said he is studying ways to reduce the U.S. military presence in Western Europe, possibly trading some of the large permanent bases for smaller, less-expensive "expeditionary" posts in the new allied nations in Eastern Europe.

Such a move would allow the U.S. military to avoid the restrictions on its training at bases in heavily populated Western Europe, facilitate ties with new NATO members and support operations in the unstable areas of Southeastern Europe and North Africa, Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones said.

"There are a number of opportunities here to reshape a little bit, to continue to transform away from the Cold War model of large, heavy, permanent installations that are extremely expensive" and located mostly in two or three countries, Jones told reporters. The goal would be to "see if we might have a lighter footprint."

Although Jones would not say if the realignment would mean a cut in U.S. forces in Europe, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has suggested that the nearly 100,000 American troops in NATO countries may no longer be needed.

Many members of Congress, worried about the possible impact of the pending base-closure commission process on their constituencies, also have advocated the return of troops from Europe to domestic posts.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, will introduce legislation today to create a commission to study all of U.S. military bases overseas. Their two states have a large number of military bases, which would make them vulnerable in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission process.

Jones, the former Marine Corps commandant, has been supreme allied commander NATO's top military official and commander of U.S. forces in Europe since January.

In that dual position, Jones said he is overseeing studies that could lead to substantial changes in the size and operations of both the European and U.S. forces in NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"NATO has to come to grips with the fact that it probably doesn't need 2.3 million people in uniform," he said, referring to the combined European force.

Jones said the allies must show the discipline "to shrink the force, get rid of all the unnecessary structure we have and reapply the savings" to closing "the technology gap" between Europe's armed forces and the American military.

He also stressed the importance of filling the alliance's agreement to create a NATO Rapid Reaction Force, an integrated air, land and sea force that would be able to respond to a military mission within five days.

And with NATO about to add seven members in Eastern Europe, Jones said the U.S. forces are looking at closing some of their bases most of which are in England, Belgium, Germany and Italy and using facilities in the newly allied countries.

He told Reuters that a potential role for NATO in postwar Iraq was a "hot topic" among alliance members but no consensus had been reached about what, if any, form it would take.