In Pentagon's 'pivot' toward Asia, has Europe been forgotten?
President Obama is pushing the Pentagon to look toward Asia, but some worry that US attention could overbalance away from Europe, which remains the home of many core allies.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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“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.”
Hertling cites the need for increasing engagement in the “new” Europe. Bases in the middle of Romania, for example, have been key to the Northern Distribution Network, a supply line that is vital for US forces when Pakistan crossings shut down, as they frequently do.
Though US relations with Russia remain frosty at times, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has sought advice from his counterpart, the Russian chief of defense, on Afghanistan that “we have found useful,” Hertling added.
And Estonia has created a NATO Center of Excellence for Cybersecurity. “We call them kiddingly, in US Army Europe, E-stonia,” Hertling joked. “And we have actually sent some of our signaleers and intelligence folks to that center of excellence.”
What’s more, because of the open borders between European nations, “You could get a potential extremist with a plot starting in Turkey that can move throughout Europe without being checked once and get all the way to Rotterdam [Netherlands] and potentially the United States,” Hertling said.
Yet keeping many bases open in Europe is a tough prospect, he acknowledges, because of budget concerns and because there are no US citizens or congressmen to oppose the closure of European bases. “We have no constituency,” he said. “I mean, I can’t go to our congressman and say, ‘Hey, you really need to protect this base because it’s important to us.’ ”