Courtesy Reuters

New Battle Stations?

BASE FIDDLING

The Pentagon is now contemplating dramatic changes in where and how U.S. armed forces are based overseas. As Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, described the process, "everything is going to move everywhere. ... There is not going to be a place in the world where it's going to be the same as it used to be." Changes being considered include moving forces away from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in South Korea and shifting large numbers of forces out of Germany. American defense planners want to create a global network of bare-boned facilities that could be expanded to meet crises as they arise. Taken together, the adjustments now under consideration -- in where bases are located, in the arrangements Washington makes with host countries, in troop and ship deployments, and in theaters of operation -- will constitute the most sweeping changes in the U.S. military posture abroad in half a century, greater even than the adjustments made after Vietnam and at the end of the Cold War.

Such an enormous transformation is necessary, American officials argue, because the way U.S. military assets overseas are currently configured does not address the nation's evolving security challenges. American forces should be moved closer to where threats are likely to arise. The military's flexibility and agility should also be improved, these officials say, by diversifying access points to crises and stationing troops in nations more likely to agree with U.S. policies. Such changes would have the side effect of reducing the friction caused by the large U.S. deployments in places such as Okinawa, Japan; Seoul, South Korea; and Germany.

If the planners get their way, the United States will shift people and assets from safe, secure, and comfortable rear-echelon facilities to jumping-off points closer to the flame, with all the attendant advantages and disadvantages such forward positions would imply. The shifts would have a compelling military logic. But they would also carry significant human, financial, and diplomatic costs.

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