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February 10, 2003
A Proposal to Reduce U.S. Troops in Germany
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 - The new supreme commander for American forces in Europe, Gen. James L. Jones, is considering a plan to scale back the presence of American troops in Germany in favor of lighter, more mobile units that could jump from country to country on a moment's notice, according to Congressional officials who were briefed on the proposal.
The plan, which appears to be in the early phases of development and has not been formally presented to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, grows out of General Jones's experience as commandant of the Marine Corps, where he championed the idea of having bare-boned "lily pad" bases scattered around the world, rather than having American forces tied down to a few sprawling bases. But the idea is sure to be contentious for two reasons. First, Germany's relations with the United States have been deeply strained by the opposition of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to the use of military force to disarm Iraq. Any talk of pulling American forces out of Germany, no matter how preliminary, is sure to heighten the impression that the two countries are pulling further apart.
Second, General Jones's idea would impose a major cultural change on the Army, effectively asking it to behave more like the Marine Corps. Any such proposal would be sure to engender resentment within the Army, which is already feeling embattled by Pentagon planners who think it is too hidebound.
Members of Congress and their aides who were briefed about the concept last Friday before a NATO meeting, said General Jones had only presented the plan as something he was thinking about, and did not suggest that Mr. Rumsfeld was pressing for its adoption.
"My impression was that this was not yet a plan, but some preliminary thinking that, when completed, he would present for further consideration," said one Senate aide.
But there is little doubt among the members of Congress that Mr. Rumsfeld is playing a significant role in pushing the proposal forward. The secretary has been an advocate of making American forces lighter and more mobile. Some of his closest advisers have argued that American bases overseas will become more and more vulnerable, and should be replaced by forces that can move quickly across long distances from more secure redoubts.
Furthermore, General Jones was Mr. Rumsfeld's selection for supreme commander of American forces in Europe, and it is likely Mr. Rumsfeld would have encouraged the general to develop his ideas. While General Jones's proposal might appear to grow out of recent German-American tensions, Pentagon planners have been searching for ways to restructure American forces in Europe, and particularly Germany, since the cold war ended.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
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