Ike Was Right

The preceding article argued that there is an ominous imbalance between America’s real economic power and its military obligations. This article makes the case for reducing one of those obligations—the deployment of our troops in Europe


NOT LONG AFTER HE LEFT THE PRESIDENCY, Dwight D. Eisenhower declared, “For eight years in the White House I believed and have announced to my associates that a reduction of American strength in Europe should be initiated as soon as European economies were restored. . . . I believe the time has now come [for] withdrawing some of those troops.” More than three decades later the troops—some 350,000 of them— are still there. But now NATO Europe, including France and Spain, is the second most powerful economic grouping in the world—at a time when America strains under the twin burdens of huge fiscal and trade deficits. NATO Europe’s population—373 million—is greater than that of the United States or the Soviet Union. The Europeans have more than 3.1 million men under arms, the United States 2.1 million, the Soviet Union roughly 4 million. (Other members of the Warsaw Pact have 1.2 million, but these forces would be highly unlikely to participate in any attack on the West.) But according to official estimates that originated in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, European defense spending is $83 billion a year—far less than the $134 billion the United States allocated for the conventional defense of Europe in the defense budget of $314 billion requested for fiscal year 1986. (Defense Department figures for total U.S. spending on the defense of Europe are even higher.) To say that we must wait for European unity before we can withdraw any American forces is to beg the question. Elected West German officials at the highest levels have recently made clear to American officials that they are amenable to the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the next American presidential election, or soon thereafter, as long as the withdrawal is gradual.

Our Asian commitments are far less costly. Asia absorbs $42 billion of the United States defense budget annually. Since 1955, however, Japan has spent only one percent of its gross national product on its own defense (though for fiscal year 1988 the Japanese, with great anguish, decided to increase their spending by four thousandths of a percentage point, to the equivalent of $22 billion). The U.S. trade deficit with Japan rose to $51.5 billion in 1986, by far the largest with any single country. And more than three decades after the end of the Korean War we still station about 43,000 soldiers in South Korea, costing $4.8 billion a year. Our trade deficit with South Korea last year was $7.1 billion.

Under these conditions it is hardly surprising that responsible leaders in the United States Senate have called for significant cuts in the number of American military personnel stationed abroad. In the early 1970s Mike Mansfield, then the majority leader of the Senate, called for unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops from Western Europe. In 1984 Senator Sam Nunn, of Georgia, proposed that 90,000 American soldiers be withdrawn from Europe within five years unless the Europeans increase their conventional forces so as to make it easier for Europe to be defended without the early use of nuclear weapons. Nunn’s bill was defeated, but by a margin of only 55 to 41.

These proposals represent piecemeal approaches to any meaningful restructuring of the alliance. Moreover, talk of troop withdrawal merely threatens the Europeans and aggravates the resentments inherent in any alliance when the protector threatens to withdraw its protection. Too often the United States makes such threats for reasons that have very little to do with the alliance itself. How often, for example, has Washington insisted that the European allies line up with the United States on affairs outside the NATO region, such as the defense of the Persian Gulf or an economic boycott of Iran? Then, when the allies refuse to do so, critics in America call for withdrawing troops as a kind of punishment. In fact the alliance was formed solely to guard against a Soviet invasion of Western Europe or the Eastern Mediterranean. It has no other purpose.

Every time the question of reducing the U.S. troop commitment in Europe is raised, so is the specter of a neutralist Europe, dominated by the Soviet Union. This specter— the so-called Finlandization of Europe—is imaginary. The European states are rich and powerful. They have large and efficient armies; the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies has concluded that the Warsaw Pact would not necessarily see “its numerical advantages as being sufficient to risk an attack.” In an address at Columbia University this spring the former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said of Russian conventional superiority that it “doesn’t really matter.” Schmidt pointed out that “there are 500,000 [West German] soldiers on the spot, and this number can grow quickly to 1.3 million in less than a week.” And a small though effective nuclear strike force already exists in France and Britain.

To surrender sovereignty is a self-destructive act that no European state is likely to commit. As it is, Europe is already independent in its support of American policy initiatives from Afghanistan to Central America. Where European and American interests coincide—along the Iron Curtain—the Europeans have every intention of lining up with their American allies to counter any Soviet military thrust westward. Furthermore, American strategic nuclear weapons can remain in the European theater on submarines and on aircraft, even if medium-range and shortrange missiles—the so-called zero-zero option—are withdrawn from European soil as a result of a ReaganGorbachev arms agreement. Gorbachev has even proposed to “rectify” conventional force imbalances “not through a buildup by the one who lags behind but through reduction by the one who turns out to be ahead.”

Distrustful Europeans often ask, Will the American nuclear guarantee hold? In other words. Will America risk the destruction of Wichita for Hamburg? It is, of course, an unanswerable question, short of nuclear war. Yet the very uncertainty of the answer makes the American deterrent credible. As the British strategist Sir Michael Howard notes: “If there is one chance in a hundred of nuclear weapons being used, the odds would be sufficient to deter an aggressor even if they were not enough to reassure an ally.”

The greatest danger to America’s alliances today does not spring from any diminished American nuclear capability, whatever the outcome of a Reagan-Gorbachev summit. Rather, it comes from American economic weakness, from an unwillingness to take measures to repair our economy, and from an unwillingness to change the structure of alliances in a way that would honestly reflect a mature America’s diminished role in the world.

SHIFTING RESPONSIBILITY TO THE EUROPEANS FOR managing the bulk of their ground defenses could save substantial sums in the U.S. budget. David Calleo, of The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, suggests that by demobilizing six of its ten NATO divisions, about 100,000 soldiers, the United States would realize an annual saving of at least $30 billion. Four U.S. divisions would remain in Europe to cover the part of the Central Front for which the United States has direct responsibility.

If the Europeans were to assume a much larger share of the burden of defense, it would be sensible to let them be in charge. This would mean appointing a European, rather than an American, Supreme Commander of all forces in Western Europe.

The new alliance structure would be immeasurably strengthened by a new European defense system along the lines of the European defense community proposed in the early 1950s. Helmut Schmidt and the former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing have already suggested integrating French, West German, and Benelux forces. But any such West European defense system, as Mr. Schmidt pointed out in his speech at Columbia, is likelier to come about if the United States starts to withdraw its forces.

A new European defense system should logically include new provisions for nuclear defense. At this time the United States still maintains a special relationship with Great Britain, allowing Britain to share American nuclear secrets and use its nuclear technology. Such a relationship inhibits any serious cooperation between Britain and France in the construction of a nuclear force. Nonetheless, according to The New York Times, the two European nuclear powers have recently started talking seriously about coordinating their defense and consulting more closely on it. David Owen, the former British Defense Minister and the leader of the Social Democrats, has argued that Britain must break its dependence on American nuclear weaponry, as the French have done already. Ending the special nuclear relationship between the United States and Great Britain, however, would not guarantee an Anglo-French nuclear force. And the West Germans will rightly insist on some say in any such force if it is to complement the American nuclear deterrent. But with a European commander of NATO and a reduction of U.S. troops, the likelihood of Owen’s proposals being implemented would be far greater than it is at present. In any case, this would have to be a European initiative, and would not so much replace the American deterrent as provide the Europeans with insurance if they distrust the American commitment to use nuclear weapons to defend the continent.

In the Far East the costs of alliance are necessarily smaller, and in any case it is highly inadvisable in the near term for the United States to withdraw any of the U.S. soldiers in South Korea. The internal struggle for democracy there would almost certainly be adversely affected if U.S. troops departed, leaving the army of a repressive government as the sole military force left in South Korea. Nonetheless, Washington might make clear to the Tokyo government the need for Japan to pay more of the cost of maintaining these troops in place, before Congress insists on some measure of reduction. Tokyo would surely prefer to help underwrite some of the costs of the U.S. troops now stationed on the Asian peninsula, rather than to risk withdrawal of American forces.

The role the United States plays in maintaining the balance of power in the Far East may well become more important as China gains in economic and military strength. With the revival of Chinese power America’s security treaty with Japan is more significant than ever before. Japan should not be encouraged to become a nuclear power, for Japan is not anchored within a regional organization the way West Germany, Britain, and France are. Should Japan reassert itself as a military power—even without nuclear weapons—it is likely that China and the Soviet Union would draw together to counter Japanese power. Only the United States has the capability to restrain Japan in a way that both China and the USSR—to say nothing of the smaller Asian powers and Japan itself—can accept. With the rise of China and Japan and the continuing strong military presence of the USSR, the United States has become the determining force for peace in the region.

The costs of an effective foreign policy are real. Although we have come to the end of an era wholly dominated by two superpowers, this need not mean the curtailment of U.S. power. It does, however, require a realignment of power. Unless we move both to replenish our hollow economy and to restructure our antiquated alliances, we risk presiding over the collapse of a world order that has, after all, preserved a rough balance of power for almost half a century.

Should American budgetary, tax, and defense policy remain roughly unchanged, a recession could lead to a shortfall in tax revenues and the growth of the federal deficit to a figure far greater than the current $221 billion. This scenario is very likely to begin with a dramatic fall in the stock market. Such a catastrophe would undermine the economic foundations of the Western world, and with them the very notion of political and military security. By showing a willingness now to redress our economic profligacy at home while changing the terms of our alliances abroad, America can yet restore its power and purpose.