President Obama is pushing the Pentagon to look toward Asia, but some worry that US attention could overbalance away from Europe, which remains the home of many core allies.
As the Pentagon sets its strategic sights on the Asia-Pacific region – warning of the rise of China and the growing importance of naval power – some US military commanders are concerned about the fate of America’s relationships with its traditional allies in Europe.
“He asked me specifically, ‘Hey, how’s the Ukranian Army doing?” General Hertling said at a talk at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies last month. “I said, ‘Well, Mr. Secretary, they still have some challenges with corruption, and they still have some problems with training, and their leadership is still a little bit more geared towards the former Soviet states than a new transformative government.’ "
“He said, ‘So why the heck are we training with them?’ And I said, ‘Well, because they’d be whole lot worse if we weren’t.’ ”
The point, US military commanders say, is that Europe – both “old” and “new” – are vital to US national security. In a world were multilateral action is increasingly important, military cooperation with European powers can pave the way to peace. And relations with former Soviet states have proven useful.
Yet the number of US troops in Europe continues to diminish, from nearly a quarter of a million in 1975 at the height of the Cold War to an expected 30,000 in 2015. “Thirty thousand soldiers can do a lot of things,” Hertling said. “If they’re positioned to do the right kinds of things.”