Inter Press Network

Monday, September 06, 2004

U.S. Troop Redeployment: Rational Adjustment to an Altered Threat Environment

by Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
on September 01,2004

In August, U.S. President George W. Bush announced an ambitious ten-year plan for the redeployment of U.S. military forces around the world. Presented at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the announcement was clothed in an electoral appeal to veterans' interests, leaving its strategic implications in the background. The responses from the camp of Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry did little to clarify strategic issues and simply affirmed the status quo.

The diversionary discourse about troop redeployment policy does a disservice to its strategic importance. An integral component of the Bush administration's National Security Strategy, troop redeployment is the visible aspect of a strategic repositioning of U.S. power in the world. The heart of the plan is to move 30,000 U.S. troops from Germany and approximately 15,000 from South Korea, and rebase some of them in the United States and others in a network of smaller bases in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Despite the partial withdrawal from South Korea, the number of U.S. forces in Asia would increase.

The redeployment plan is based on a realistic assessment of where emerging threats to U.S. interests are likely to arise in the future.

It is clear that large troop deployments in Europe have not served a security function since the fall of the Soviet Union. The best that Kerry's foreign policy team can say is that withdrawal from Europe will send the "wrong message" to the Europeans that the United States intends to continue on a unilateral course and will ignore its allies. That result is possible, but unlikely, since the Europeans understand that the United States needs to reposition itself to secure its vital interests.

The case of South Korea is more complex. The Democratic claim that withdrawing some troops from South Korea and rebasing others south of Seoul and beyond the range of North Korean artillery will encourage the intransigence of the North Korean regime on its nuclear weapons program is plausible. The Asian redeployment sacrifices leverage with North Korea to gain military advantages in resisting Chinese attempts to assert hegemony over the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits, and their littoral.

The configuration of troop redeployment reveals how the Bush security team understands the vital interests of the United States.

- Oil and Islamism

Troops that remain abroad after the withdrawal from Germany and other parts of Western Europe will be positioned protectively around and within the centers of oil production and distribution in the Middle East, Caspian Sea and Africa. As demand for oil rapidly grows in China, India and other emerging industrialized states, the United States is constrained to gain control over energy supplies so that its domestic and security interests are satisfied. The aim of the United States is to be the protector and, therefore, beneficiary of the world's largest oil supplies. Whether or not it will be successful in surrounding oil production with a military net is uncertain, but the decision has been made that attempting to do so is a top priority.

In addition, U.S. presence in regions that are predominantly Islamic supports local regimes that suppress Islamists and Islamic revolutionaries. It is reasonable for U.S. security elites to reposition power resources where threats are emerging and withdraw from regions where there is no threat and, indeed, there is a consensus on the desirability of a stable global capitalist order.

- Containing China

The second vital interest revealed by the troop redeployment plan is the desire to contain Chinese bids for supremacy in East and Southeast Asia. The Bush administration's National Security Strategy is premised on the plausible expectation that the United States has a window of opportunity of approximately a decade to attempt to achieve lasting military dominance in the world, after which it will be faced by an uncontainable Chinese adversary. An increase of forces in Asia and a freeing of some of them from confronting North Korea is a signal to China that the United States is serious about containing China's regional ambitions. Again, the success of a containment strategy is uncertain, but it is reasonable in terms of U.S. interests to attempt to make it work.

Leaving China unopposed by significant force would give it the opportunity to attempt to achieve predominant influence in its region, damaging U.S. economic interests severely, possibly setting off the development of nuclear weapons by Japan and providing China with the geopolitical, economic and, eventually, military resources to challenge the United States as a superpower. It is also possible that U.S. decision makers believe that a preemptive military attack on North Korea is imprudent, not only because of the consequences of a peninsular war on South Korea, but because China might be drawn into the conflict. The road to Pyongyang -- if there is one -- runs through Beijing.

- Cultivating Dependency

A supplementary rationale for the troop redeployment plan is that it bases U.S. forces in states that are more pliable to Washington's will. Regimes in weak and poor states, particularly those in close proximity to regional powers, are better disposed to an American presence than are mature industrial powers that are integral to the international trading system and have stable governments.

Weak states with unstable regimes welcome U.S. economic aid and military protection. Mature industrial powers do not need the aid and can expect the United States to defend the globalized capitalist system in its own interest. Yet again, the redeployment plan is reasonable in terms of America's strategic position. There is little doubt that the closest approximation to an American "empire" would be the cultivation of dependency on the United States in weak states and regimes.

- Conclusion

That the troop redeployment plan and the strategic thinking on which it is founded are reasonable based on a calculation that America's vital resource interest is control over oil supply and that its vital security interest is containing China, means that the plan will be implemented in some form regardless of whether George W. Bush or John Kerry is elected to the presidency in November. If there is a Kerry presidency and his administration sticks to the status quo, U.S. interests will be harmed, which is good reason to surmise that Democratic opposition to the Bush plan is stop-gap electoral rhetoric.

With its military vulnerabilities revealed by the occupation of Iraq, the United States is faced with the alternatives of rebuilding or retreating. The redeployment plan, which had been in the works for three years, falls mainly into the line of rebuilding.

Little of value is lost from withdrawal from Western Europe, so long as the major European powers remain tied to the globalized economy and do not want to pay the economic price of post-industrial military might. Some leverage is lost with North Korea, but the U.S. trip wire on South Korea's border serves little purpose when North Korean military action is only likely to occur in the unlikely event of an American preemptive strike. U.S. troops are on the border to guarantee an American response to North Korean aggression, not a North Korean response to American aggression. Indeed, withdrawal of U.S. troops to areas south of Seoul makes a preemptive war against North Korea far less costly in lives for the United States.

In light of the consequences of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Bush administration's troop redeployment plan functions to maximize U.S. capability in an international political configuration marked by a drift toward multi-polarity. The United States is pursuing a policy of encircling allied and adversarial regional power centers with necklaces of bases in dependent states. Whether or not the strategy succeeds, it is an intelligible response to America's strategic situation. In this case, the "realists" in the U.S. security establishment are behaving accurately.

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