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US Forces in Europe: How Many? Doing What?
Distinguished Senators ask, "What should we tell our constituents when they ask why we should keep American troops in Europe 30 years after the end of World War II?"
The answer remains what it has been throughout that period: because it is in our best interest to keep them there. A free and independent Western Europe, aligned with the United States, is vital for our national security and well-being. The U.S.S.R. and its Warsaw Pact allies have large and effective land and air forces in Eastern Europe. If our allies are to be able to preserve their independence, NATO must have in-place forces of equal size and effectiveness, and be able to match the Pact in a mobilization. If the NATO alliance does not provide such forces, a major imbalance in military power will be an intimidating factor that cannot help but influence our allies' freedom and political alignment over the years.
American forces are necessary because they help maintain the balance, and also because they demonstrate the seriousness of our commitment. Some say, "Let the Europeans provide for their own defense." Our NATO allies do pay most of the cost of that defense. European NATO members have about 3.3 million military personnel on active duty. The United States maintains about 320,000 military personnel in Europe, about ten percent of the European total. However, our allies would not provide themselves an effective defense without a substantial U.S. contribution. They do not have the necessary leadership and unity. Although Europe has aspirations toward autonomy and cohesion, these hopes have not been realized and may never be. By far the most important unifying factor is that each is an ally of the United States. American leadership is the glue that holds the alliance together.
However, while NATO outspends the Pact by roughly a third, and has almost 20 percent more military personnel on active duty, we are not achieving the military effectiveness we need and that we could achieve with the resources we are devoting to the purpose. Making NATO's conventional forces fully effective within existing budgets and manpower ought to be the major goal of the alliance. An important part of this effort, I believe, should be a reassessment of the tactical nuclear weapons now deployed in Europe, leading to an early and sharp reduction in their numbers.