This week, the Ministry of Defense (DoD) announced a new plan for our troops in Europe that will advance the implementation of our National Defense Strategy (NDS). NDS guides our efforts in the era of great power competition to build more deadly forces, strengthen our alliances and attract new partners, and reform for greater performance – including optimizing our operational footprint throughout the world. With our new plan, the United States will reposition around 11,900 military personnel from Germany – from around 36,000 to 24,000 – in ways that increase Russian deterrence, strengthen NATO, and fulfill several related priorities.
This plan is part of the mission review and the task of our Combat Command (COCOM) to ensure the time, money and manpower of the Department of Defense are directed to our highest priorities. This process also implements an enhanced Direct Response Force, Contingency Response Force, and Work Readiness Concept, and moves us towards the use of greater rotational forces than the United States, which supports our strategic flexibility and operational uncertainty.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Trump campaign cancels the purchase of advertisements to review messaging strategies: report Nunes refused to answer if he received information from Ukrainian lawmakers who were intended to damage Biden Poll: Plurality of ‘Gen Z’ voters says they see more political advertising from Trump than Biden MOREThe decision to reduce our footprint in Germany accelerated the review of the US European Command (EUCOM), stepping up ongoing efforts to position troops in Europe to become a better place for large force competition. As a result, EUCOM has submitted a strong plan that reaches the direction of the president while adhering to my five guiding principles for this effort: improving the United States and preventing NATO against Russia; strengthen NATO; convince allies; increase the strategic flexibility of the United States and the operational flexibility of EUCOM; and, look after our service members and their families throughout the process.
Of the 11,900 reposition service members from Germany, nearly 5,600 will be repositioned in NATO countries, and around 6,400 will return to the United States, although many of these units or similar will quickly begin to spread rotations back to Europe. As part of this change, various US headquarters will be consolidated in Europe outside Germany, including, in some cases, in the same location as their NATO counterparts in Belgium and Italy. This will strengthen NATO and improve operational efficiency and readiness of more than 2,000 US service members at this headquarters.
In addition, nearly 4,500 members of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment will return to the United States, as other Stryker units begin continuous rotation further east in the Black Sea region, giving us a more durable presence to increase prevention and reassure allies along the sides southeast of NATO. 2,500 pilots based in Mildenhall, United Kingdom, who are responsible for air refueling and special operations – and who have been scheduled to return to Germany – will remain in the UK, ensuring uninterrupted readiness and responsiveness of these units . Squadrons of fighters and wing wing elements will be repositioned to Italy, moving them closer to the Black Sea region and better able to do dynamic force work and the spread of rotation to the southeast side of NATO.
In addition to these steps and the rotational forces announced by President Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda in 2019, we also plan to rotate forward the main elements of the V Corps headquarters that the newly established US Army to Poland, after Warsaw signed the Defense Cooperation Agreement and load sharing agreement, as promised before. There are – or may be – other opportunities also to move additional troops to Poland and the Baltic.
DoD intends to implement this movement as quickly as possible, with some scheduled to start in a few weeks, while other steps will take longer. Our actions at every step will be consistent with the five principles mentioned above, and with special attention paid to the welfare of our most important resource: our service members and their families. Importantly, we will ensure throughout this process that no movement occurs without thorough communication with our personnel and allies. We have – and will continue to – consult with Congress, NATO and allies directly affected when we implement the changes.
Allies and partners of the United States have stood with us for decades to maintain an international rule-based order and strengthen our collective security. In addition, the size, composition, and disposition of US forces in Europe have changed many times throughout history; we are now at another point of change in the history of alliances. The realignment of US forces in Europe is a major strategic and positive change – which is fully consistent with the NDS, and which will further strengthen our ties with NATO, while increasing Russian deterrence and increasing our strategic and operational flexibility. Our message to the world is clear: the United States military supports our allies and partners in protecting a free and open international order, and, working together, we are ready and able to prevent and defeat any threat.
Mark T. Esper is Defense Secretary.