General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and head of U.S. European Command (EUCOM), has acknowledged that his funding will shrink by 20 percent due to cuts to the Department of Defense (DOD). This comes on the heels of the Obama Administration removing two Army Brigade Combat Teams from the continent, the latest signal that it does not value Europe as an important region when it comes to U.S. security.
General Breedlove is now working to reconcile fewer resources with growing U.S. responsibilities in the region. These include navigating the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, dealing with the complex and increasingly violent Syrian conflict, finding a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear quest, and coping with resurgent sectarian violence in North Africa.
Maintaining a sizable footprint in Europe is essential for the U.S. to effectively deal with these myriad challenges. One way the U.S. can retain its credibility and flexibility in Europe is through permanent forward-operating military bases.
The DOD can take measures to improve efficiency, but removing these forces from Europe would only reduce the DOD budget by less than 1 percent. The Heritage Foundation has offered its plan to achieve a balanced budget by cutting spending while protecting U.S. military capabilities.
Staging bases in Europe also protects U.S. national interests and gives policymakers the ability to respond quickly to a crisis. A recent example occurred when a quick-reaction force of 550 Marines were moved from a U.S. base in Spain to one in Italy last summer to be closer to the events unfolding in Egypt. Another example came as the crisis in Syria was escalating and several U.S. naval ships stationed in the Mediterranean were put on alert.
General Breedlove announced that EUCOM has already cut roughly 75 percent of its infrastructure since the end of the Cold War, so there is little left to reduce regarding force structure. “We are down now to the point where I believe we are at the right size for the mission that we are being asked to do currently in Europe,” Breedlove said. “If we come down too much more [in] Army structure, that will give us some challenges on the connections that we have to our European partners.”
America’s ability to address the rapidly changing security environments in Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe depend heavily on the flexibility of its forward-based capabilities in allied European nations. U.S. security and strong European alliances rely on these forces just as much now as they ever have.
Clark Irvine is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.