Get those US troops out of Europe, said the colonel

In May 1980 at a symposium conducted by the University of Southern California in West Germany, I proposed withdrawal of the five American divisions now stationed in Europe.

I had expected opposition, and it came -- but only from elederly veterans of the effort to establish NATO and to keep it afloat through its early years. There was strong support from many young American military officers serving in Europe and, more surprising, from non-American NATO civilian and military attendees.

The support expressed was related to a proposal that the withdrawal from Europe be balanced by a deliberate but far less expensive buildup of United States forces in the North and Western PAcific. More about that proposal later, but it is important to emphasize the linkage.

I had qualms about presenting the European withdrawl proposal until I spent two most pleasant days touring Munich. The contrast between that glittering city and our own troubled cities convinced me that the time has come for Europe to take on the full burden of its own defense. And, again from young US officers, I find that this is a widely shared view up to and including someAmerican generals serving in West Germany and, though even more softly expressed, among some GErman officers. The latter, it seems, think they could do a better job with the fcilities now used by the US divisions than we can, given the tribulations of the volunteer Army.

We now have two more powerful incentives for reducing our forces in Europe than we had last May. First, Mr. Stockman's attempt to rebuild a worldwide defense system out of the US domestic budget is not politically feasible. Whatever the improvements needed in management of the domestic budget, the Us public is giving ample evidence that it is not going to sacrifice its own domestic vital interests to defend those of people who already enjoy a higher standard of living. Second, there is no way to man the 600-ship Navy Mr. Reagan is building except by large transfers from the personnel accounts of the Army. Transfers from the Air Force are ruled out by the parallel emphasis on modernization of that service.

Subsequent to the symposium last May, I was commissioned to write the land forces portion of a forthcoming book on the NATO- Warsaw Pact military balance. I found that my German classmates at the US Army ARmor School in the 1950s have one exactly what I thought they would do -- build an Army that can, if it must, defend Central Europe on its own.

Our secretary of defense has been in Europe recently trying to cajole the Europeans into a greater defense effort. That is simply not in the cards, unless we provide the needed incentive. Nothing less than an announcement that the five divisions will be out by at least 1985 will get our NATO partners off the starting line.

That has nothing to do with building a "Fortress America" or "isolationism." It simply means that we have neither the military power nor the economic means to carry the world on our shoulders.

We can and must continue as full partners in NATO and as the principal counterweight to Soviet power.

The proposal that gained such surprising support last May, and from several military audiences since, is this:

* Withdraw and deactivate the five US divisions now in Europe but leave in place our armoured cavalry regiments along the Iron Curtain, the Berlin brigade, our Pershing and Lance tactical nuclear systems and, for the time being, our Air Force.

* Use the cadre and equipment taken out of Europe to create a viable US land combat reserve.

* Upgrade, also from resources withdrawn from Europe, Marine and Army forces capable of posing a threat to that most vulnerable of all Soviet quadrants -- Eastern Siberia, including the maritime province around Vladivostok. That would translate our relationship with China into a powerful and probably decisive deterrent to Soviet action elsewhere without transfer of military technology, "nonletahl" or otherwise, to the Chinese.

All of these actions can be taken and still free large sums for reduction of the federal eficit or to fund domestic programs.

We have been stumbling into the 1980s with the strategic baggage of 1949. The world has changed.

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