THE plans announced by President Bush on Monday for a re-alignment of US forces around the world are not new, nor will they take effect quickly. They have been under discussion with those countries most directly affected for some months; on Monday the President was simply using a speech to a convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars to outline what is involved and, not unreasonably, to get whatever election bonus he could from changes that will eventually bring perhaps 100'000 US military personnel and their families back home.

If there is any surprise in the President's announcement it is that the re-thinking about where American forces should be deployed in the first decade of the 21st century has taken so long. Their substantial presence today in Germany reflects the needs of the Cold War with the Soviet Union; similarly, the considerable numbers stationed in South Korea are there as a consequence of the Korean War of the early 1950s. Under the projected changes about one-half of the 70'000 troops in Germany would leave and one-third of the 40'000 in South Korea. There are important differences between these two deployments, however. The Cold War is long over and although disagreements with Russia remain they are not such as to threaten peace. North Korea is a different matter, a country apparently bent on making nuclear weapons and still a potential threat to Japan. It might have made better sense for Washington to have used the withdrawal of troops from South Korea as a bargaining chip over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Behind the Pentagon's reforms lies its conviction that future armies must be more flexible and that where they are based is less important than how quickly they can be moved to where they are needed.



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