Balkan Strategic Studies

May 2, 2003

The New US and the New Europe:
The US Prepares Move of German-based Forces to Serbia-Montenegro, Bulgaria and Romania

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor. The United States Government is working toward completing plans for the movement of virtually all of its forces based in Germany to new bases in the Balkans: in Serbia-Montenegro, Bulgaria and Romania. The move has profound political, strategic and economic consequences, including formalizing a schism in NATO which will ultimately lead either to its reduction in scope or a redirection of its activities. 

At its core, the move reflects, in overt terms, a US move from what US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called “Old Europe” — or Western Europe — to what he called “New Europe”, mostly the Mitteleuropa largely comprised of former Eastern bloc states which were at the Western and South-Western periphery of the Warsaw Treaty. Strategically, this will make the new strategic alignment — in a sense, a “new NATO” — far more strategically responsive to the Middle East and Caucasus, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Maghreb (North African states).

At the same time, US thinking calls for taking that component of the US Forces Europe responsible for Africa and actually placing them in sub-Saharan Africa in a new command, essentially a “US Forces Africa”.

Significantly, Croatia has specifically indicated that it was not interested in US basing; it anticipates a separate deal with Germany to host German forces on a permanent basis, for the first time since the brief life of the Ustaše (nazi) “Independent State of Croatia” (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska: NDH) (1941-45). The Croatian Government, which identifies with the Catholic Austro-Hungarian/German sphere, has committed its lot to a German-led European Union; the Orthodox Christian states of Bulgaria, Serbia-Montenegro and Romania are more committed to the US as well as to the more broadly-based concept of the EU rather than to a “German-led” version of it. The Czech Republic — which thus far has not figured in any discussions about US basing — remains a key element of US thinking about Europe, however, and was likely to be increasingly the focus of US investment and diplomatic efforts.

But the historic “hub” of South-Eastern Europe remains Belgrade, capital of Serbia-Montenegro. 

Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily on March 20, 2003, was the first source to note the change in US strategic policy when it reported, in a broader paper entitled Fortunes of War:

US Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) told The Washington Post, in an interview published on April 28, 2003, more than a month after the Defense & Foreign Affairs report, that some large installations such as Ramstein Air Base in Germany probably would remain, since they were still useful and moving them would provide little additional benefit. But he said preliminary plans call for setting up new “forward operating bases“ or “forward operating locations” in the east that would complement the big permanent installations. He was quoted by The Washington Post as saying that the new sites would involve relatively modest construction — “bare bones” bases — but enough to support US military units rotating through from time to time for training exercises or for operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

However, the move seems likely to be far more extensive than the tentative steps announced by Gen. Jones. Air and maritime assets would also move: there is little point in moving ground force assets if the air and maritime assets required to lift the Army was not close at hand. To that end, it was understood that (a) the Danube would be a key artery in moving matériel out of Western Europe to Eastern Europe, and (b) it was understood that Bulgaria was negotiating air basing near Varna, at the airfield used by the USAF during initial airlift to the Middle East for the Iraq war. Varna is also home to the Bulgarian Navy’s North Zone Naval HQ and a Naval Air Station.

As well, it was understood from sources that the US Army’s 73rd Bde., which parachuted into the Kurdish region of Iraq during the recent and ongoing conflict, would not return to its base in Italy, but would most likely redeploy to a new base in the Balkans.

The redeployment will have a significant economic impact on Germany as well as on Serbia-Montenegro, Bulgaria and Romania. In any event, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had indicated on March 6, 2003, that the US was looking at reshaping its major force deployments abroad, particularly in the Republic of Korea (RoK) and Europe. This will in some areas mean a force reduction, as new force structures come into being reflecting new doctrine. United States European Command (USEUCOM) — which is also commanded by Gen. James L. Jones, USMC — area of responsibility (AOR) at present covered more than 21-million square miles and included 93 countries and territories. This territory extends from the North Cape of Norway, through the waters of the Baltic and Mediterranean seas, most of Europe, parts of the Middle East, to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Carving off the African portion of that AOR to a separate, new command would be a significant act.

Most of the 65,000 Army troops in USEUCOM have been based in Germany. It is anticipated that as many as 40,000 could be based, in the future, in the Balkans, providing a significant economic injection into the local economies, quite apart from infrastructural development (and the additional impact of Air Force and Naval basing). There would be a commensurate loss to the German economy.

But more significantly, the deployment of US forces in the Balkans would provide a level of US political support and, in a sense, protection to the host states. It would also compensate for the change in Turkey’s relationship with the EU, NATO and the US as a result of the Iraq war. Moving US forces further East would reduce the reliance on Turkey, to some extent, and would likely also significantly reduce US deployment costs, away from the high-priced German economy. 

However, it will be necessary for the US to start rebuilding trust among some residents of the Balkans, who remain shattered by US political and media attacks during the break-up of Yugoslavia, and particularly the 1999 military and political attacks by NATO on Serbia, promoted by then-US Pres. William Clinton and supported by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and (now) EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solano. There are many Serbs, for example, who, having been raised to believe that they were firm allies of the US (and vice-versa), felt betrayed when the US-led media portrayed Serbs as genocidal barbarians. 

Significantly, many US officials — of both the left and right — built their careers around supporting the attacks on Serbs and Serbia, even though subsequent events demonstrated that the “intelligence” on which the attacks were made were virtually entirely fabricated by the Clinton Administration. In the confidence-building which will be necessary between both the Serbs and the US in this new phase, many US officials will be reluctant to admit that they were wrong in their attacks on Serbs, and their defense of the Alija Izetbegovic Administration in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has now been shown to have committed massive atrocities and at the same time hosted — with US aid — the introduction of al-Qaida and other Iranian-related terrorist groups into Europe.

While a number of US Congressmen are now preparing to introduce legislation or motions designed to call for the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague to charge Izetbegovic with war crimes, other US public figures, such as former SACEUR Gen. Wesley K. Clark (who went beyond normal military leadership in the war against Serbia to knowingly attack civilian, non-strategic targets in Serbia), are actively seeking US political office or seeking to safeguard their records. Clark will be expected to defend his “record” in the war on Serbia, and would be supported by others in this, largely because either of their rôles in the war or their ignorance of the Clinton Administration’s deceptions staged in order to conduct it. Clark, who is voraciously ambitious, is currently maintaining his public image by appearing as a consultant to CNN television network. [Sources close to Clark indicate that he is seeking a presidential nomination, but has not yet decided on which party to pursue.]

As a result of the entrenched interests of those who supported the Clinton attacks on Serbs and Serbia, and because of the likelihood that people like Clark will vigorously defend their record, it may be more difficult than would otherwise be the case to build bridges between the US and the broader elements of Serbian society. The Serbian leadership understands the problem and has already agreed to basing and actively seeks a closer strategic relationship with the US. But the US cannot avoid the reality that the hub of South-Eastern Europe, as defined by the regional states themselves, continues to be Belgrade, so rebuilding a strong economic, political and social relationship with the Serbs remains essential to the US.

In a sense, Europe, which was artificially divided into two main zones from 1945 — the Eastern bloc and the West — is reverting to its 19th and early 20th Century “natural” alignments, brought about by ethnic, religious and geographic factors. At the very least, it moves from a two-bloc situation to three zones (Western Europe, Mitteleuropa and Eastern Europe), but the Balkan or South-Eastern European zone is another dimension bridging Mitteleuropa and Eastern Europe/Asia. To grasp the post-Cold War, post-9/11 realities, as well, the US will need to come to grips with the fact that its former “allies”, the Bosnian Izetbegovic Muslim camp and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA/UCK) camp and others, remain, in fact, the major sponsors of narco-trafficking and organized crime in Europe, and that these activities directly fund terrorist operations against the West.

Substantial and irrefutable evidence is increasingly becoming available to US intelligence and political agencies as to the extent of the connection between al-Qaida terrorist groups, narco-trafficking and the Kosovo Albanian leadership within Serbia. This was highlighted extensively in the 1995 book by Yossef Bodansky, Offensive in the Balkans: The Potential for a Wider War as a Result of Foreign Intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina, published by the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA), and the 1996 book by Yossef Bodansky, Some Call it Peace: Waiting for War in the Balkans, also published by ISSA. [ISSA is the non-profit organization associated with Defense & Foreign Affairs and the Global Information System.]

Among the new material being circulated in Washington, DC, is a study compiled by the Documentation Center of the Republica Srpska Bureau of Relations with the International Tribunal for War Crimes in The Hague. The study, entitled Islamic Fundamentalists’ Global Network-Modus Operandi: Model Bosnia, offers extensive new material detailing the linkages between al-Qaida and, for example, Bosnian Government officials, and how the al-Qaida cells operate in the area.

The US, however, must, in order to achieve its strategic realignment, cope with this complex reality and begin to shape policies to confine the attitudes of the Clinton era into the past so that it can build new relationships with the Balkans. This will become increasingly important as Germany and France attempt to build a new “European Force” which is intended to give the EU — or at least the Franco-German aspect of it — sufficient gravitas to compete with the US on the world stage. Significantly, there are probably some 30-million+ Orthodox Christians in the US, who have never before been courted as a political bloc. They will almost certainly be mobilized to support the new US strategic projection into largely Orthodox countries.

The ramifications for the US relationship with Greece and Cyprus — both Orthodox Christian countries — in the wake of changing realities between the US and Turkey may be significant. Similarly, this may ultimately extend to a new view of the Horn of Africa, where Orthodox Ethiopia and Eritrea have not before been seen as having cultural alignments with the US; now they may be seen in this light.

But from any perspective, the post-Cold War era has now moved into a new phase, looking forward, rather than its immediate past. And the future sees patterns far more reminiscent of pre-World War I alignments than those of the Cold War. The next question will be: Where do Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, as well as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, fit into the picture? Iran, too, will begin to appear more central to the strategic equation, not just because of the geographic shift of US focus, but because, after the clerics’ rule ends there, Iran will return to its true “center”, which is Indo-European in culture and essentially European-looking, something which had been re-emerging under the late Shah until his collapse in 1979. Some 25 years of Iran under the clerics disguised this reality.