Rethinking our defense strategy
By Morgan Griffith
National defense ranks among the highest priorities of the federal government. If you recall the words of the Constitution’s preamble, you will know that providing for the common defense is identified as one of the document’s purposes.
When considering this subject, it is important that decisions be based on our long-term national interests, the resources we possess, and a clear assessment of the other actors on the world stage.
The United States has military assets deployed around the world to protect our interests and those of our allies. It is important that we reassess these deployments from time to time to guarantee that they are doing the most good.
In 2012, I joined a bipartisan group of representatives in proposing to withdraw four Brigade Combat Teams permanently stationed in Europe. These reductions would have saved money without harming our national security.
The large-scale deployment of American forces in Europe, and primarily Germany, reflects our Cold War goal of deterring the Soviet Union from launching an invasion of Western Europe. Considering that the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, I believed in 2012 that a change in our posture was appropriate. Ultimately, two Brigade Combat Teams were recalled, but a substantial American military footprint remains.
It was also true then, and remains so now, that European nations generally do not spend a fair share in their own defense.
The size of Europe’s economy rivals our own. Nevertheless, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has struggled to get its members to fund their militaries at a minimum of two percent of their gross domestic products (GDP). In 2019, only nine of NATO’S 29 member countries, including the United States, met this threshold, and that number actually marked an improvement over recent years.
In the wake of World War II, the decision by the United States to bear a larger burden in protecting Europe’s devastated countries from Soviet aggression made sense. Today, these countries can afford to shoulder more of the load.
The world of today is not the world of 1991, and our defense posture should be adjusted accordingly. The Cold War is over, and the United States and our allies won. Russia in our time is no friend, but it does not possess the power the Soviet Union once did, which led President Reagan to call it the “Evil Empire” and generations of Western policymakers to strategize with the Soviet threat foremost in mind.
Further, despite its pretensions, Russia does not dominate Eastern Europe as the Soviets did during the Cold War. Those countries are no longer behind the Iron Curtain, and many of them seek stronger ties with the West in general and the United States in particular.
One such country is Poland, which shares a border with Russia and has suffered grievously at its hands, with Russia taking parts of its land as early as 1772. Poland’s leadership wants to expand on the political, economic, and military ties between our two countries.
The Trump Administration currently is considering a shift of our troop presence within Europe, reducing the number permanently stationed in Germany from 34,500 to 25,000. One option on the table would move some of these forces to Poland.
Reducing troop numbers in Germany is unlikely to embolden Russia if 25,000 will still remain, and placing some of the difference in Poland would better protect an allied country more immediately endangered by Russian expansionism.
Poland is also one of the few countries in NATO to spend two percent of its GDP on defense, showing a commitment to collective security.
Basing some U.S. forces in Poland would better serve our national security interests than maintaining the current numbers in Germany. The front with Russia has moved east, and so should our troops.
I encourage the Trump Administration to continue thinking in this direction. Our national interests in Europe endure, but the way we deploy our military assets deserves fresh thinking and a recognition of today’s international threats and opportunities.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.