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.”
The problem is that it’s easy to forget the region is in the midst of a presidential election in which Europe was mentioned only once during the debates – and that was in the context of the need for the Pentagon to “pivot” its focus from Europe to the Pacific.
When Hertling heard President Obama use that word “pivot” in discussing European policy, “it was disconcerting,” he said at a talk at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies last month.
“If we're talking about a ‘rebalancing,’ getting it right in all areas, I'm OK,” Hertling added. “If you're talking about completely taking away from one and giving to another, than I'm concerned about that from a military perspective.”
The Obama administration has generally stopped using the word “pivot,” since “it didn’t accurately describe what they wanted to do,” says Mark Jacobson, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, who previously served as NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan.
“The Europeans took the initial pronouncement to mean that the US was going to consider its relationship with European allies secondary to other concerns.”
The South China Sea and the growing economies of southeast Asia important, Herling said, but Europe remains strategically vital. “The economic ties between the US and Europe are still preeminent.”
Even more important, he adds, are “the shared cultural values between the Western democracies, which is the first step towards being able to solve complex problems multilaterally,” Jacobson adds. “Since the problems in the world today are not such that can be solved by any one nation.”