American Forces No Longer in Europe to Defend Europe

A robust troop presence in Europe allows America to respond rapidly to threats on the continent’s periphery.

An American EC-130H communications jamming aircraft lands at Sembach Air Base, Germany, June 7, 1989
An EC-130H communications jamming aircraft lands at Sembach Air Base, Germany, June 7, 1989 (US Air Force/Master Sergeant Dave Casey)

The conservative Heritage Foundation’s Luke Coffey cautioned the United States on Monday against significantly reducing their military presence in Europe. “The commonly held belief that US forces are in Europe to protect European allies from a threat that no longer exists is wrong,” he said

According to Coffey, who is the thinktank’s NATO and transatlantic relations expert, the deployment of American troops in Europe remains critical, if for different reasons than during the Cold War.

President Barack Obama, seeking to reverse steep increases in defense spending that occurred under his Republican predecessor’s administration and facing calls to withdraw from Europe altogether when Russia no longer poses a major threat to NATO allies, recently sanctioned the withdrawal of twenty A-10 ground attack aircraft and the last remaining battle tanks from Germany. Up to 10,000 American soldiers are also to be called back.

Speaking at the Baltic Defense College in Tartu, Estonia, a former Soviet satellite state that joined NATO in 2004, Coffey criticized these reductions, pointing out that the Air Force alone has reduced its presence in Europe by 75 percent since the end of the Cold War. He also argued that the “bases in Europe provide American leaders with flexibility, resilience and options in a dangerous multipolar world.”

“To the south of Europe,” he said, “is an arc of instability” while to the north, the Arctic “is becoming more contested than ever before.” A robust American military presence in Europe enables the country to react rapidly to threats that emanate from both regions.

The deactivation of the 81st Fighter Squadron, which operates the aforementioned A-10s out of Spangdahlem Air Base near the Luxembourg border, is particularly misguided, according to Coffey, when its participation in combat operations in Europe’s vicinity — from the 1991 Gulf War to the 2011 intervention in Libya — as well as its backyard — the unit played a key role in operations in Balkans in the 1990s — proved the usefulness of keeping military assets and personnel stationed in Europe.

The number of American soldiers in Europe is down 85 percent since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Less than 40,000 Army troops remain and an equivalent number of personnel from the other services. Two of the four Army brigades stationed in Germany and Italy are slated to be withdrawn.

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