“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.”
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.”