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The Enduring Need for an Effective U.S. Landpower Presence in Europe

February 14, 2011

The United States’ modern global power rests on several enduring strategic principles that transcend a constantly shifting geopolitical landscape. U.S. landpower embodies these principles, as well as several new additions for the contemporary era. Collective defense, ally reassurance, crisis response, partnership building and freedom of action are among the fundamental strategic pillars that have made the United States the world’s leading power. Moving forward in the 21st century, U.S. landpower continues to underwrite these strategic values even as its roles and missions evolve. Thus America’s role in the world remains critical to regional stability, global economic growth and the expansion of democratic principles. In the current political-economic environment, issues such as budgetary pressures, burden-sharing and global force realignment have cast an ominous shadow over U.S. land forces in Europe. However, it is important to recognize the long-standing contributions and value of Europe-based landpower to the United States’ strategic superiority. More important, it is imperative to understand the current and future value of U.S. Army presence in Europe within the context of an evolving security and strategic framework throughout the world. U.S. landpower in Europe represents the U.S. commitment not just to its own security but also to the world’s stability and prosperity. Landpower is essential for shaping the international environment, sustaining partnerships and influence, deploying forces quickly during a crisis and resolving conflicts in a manner that serves U.S. values and interests. Whether the mission calls for compelling or deterring an adversary or for reassuring or supporting an ally, there is no more convincing sign of American commitment than the presence of U.S. Soldiers. Despite dramatic advances in technology in recent years, “boots on the ground” still matter.

The European landmass has been a major influence in protecting national security interests of the United States throughout the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. From the expeditionary Army of General John J. Pershing in World War I and its impact on the defeat of Germany to the continuing deployment of Army units from Europe into the Southwest and Central Asia theater, U.S. landpower presence in Europe has signaled U.S. commitment and strategic intent. For example, from 1945 to 1991, the European theater of operations was at the heart of the United States’ struggle to contain the Soviet Union and ancillary threats to U.S. vital interests. More recently, recognizing the changed strategic landscape during the past two decades, the United States has significantly altered the focus of its operations in Europe from a narrow, continental approach to a broader, global perspective—a strategic platform.

On the continent, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) remains the single most important security organization and alliance through which the United States can operate with other nations in defense of common interests. It is through the physical presence of U.S. forces and their commanders and staff that the United States 2 gives meaning and substance to its commitment. Any degradation to that commitment risks loss of U.S. influence and a degradation of NATO capability and resolve. Past reductions in resources aligned with U.S. landpower in Europe are historically understandable given the changes in the strategic landscape. However, continuing the trend of significant force reductions is going too far in that direction; it places at risk effective U.S. presence on the European continent and ultimately may jeopardize the ability to sustain U.S. global interests. To protect and support U.S. national and strategic interests in the near future, it remains essential for the United States to maintain a robust landpower presence of conventional Army and special operations units deployed in Europe, along with an appropriate operational command and control headquarters for response to contingencies with land forces and a land force theater commander of sufficient authority to ensure the protection of U.S. interests within a coalition environment.