Logistics: Rebuilding The Threat To Russia

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July 29, 2016: One reason Russian military experts were so alarmed at the United States building new logistics and support bases in East Europe is because that would replace the huge military supply and support infrastructure the United States had in Germany when the Cold War ended in 1991. Over the next fifteen years the United States sold off, abandoned or otherwise gutted that support complex. This was done because the Cold War was over and the taxpayers were expecting a peace dividend. Russian military planners benefitted from this because the dissolution of the Soviet Union meant some 80 percent of the Soviet armed forces disappeared by the end of the 1990s. With that huge American logistics complex gone, so was the threat of the longer feared (but non-existent) threat of an American invasion from the west.

What the Americans had built in West Germany after World War II was impressive, at least to military logistics experts. The public and the media was less well informed. All this served, for over half a century, to support the largest overseas peacetime concentration of American military forces. Most of the troops, and support facilities, were in West Germany. By 2003 there were still some 500 American bases and facilities in Germany but most of them were quite small. The larger ones were already gone and the smaller ones were slowly being disposed of. At that point some 80 percent of the American troops still stationed in Europe were in Germany. This shutdown process had already been going on for over a decade. In the early 1990s over a third of the U.S. troops in Europe were withdrawn and as many bases were eliminated.

After September 11, 2001 the United States began to depend more on new bases farther east, like Graf Ignatievo airbase in Bulgaria, and other airbases and ports in the Persian Gulf. Diego Garcia also become a major air base, even though it is a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. By the late 1990s the new, billion dollar, Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo had become a key location from which to monitor Islamic radical activity in the Balkans. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were eager to host American troops. And the United States was eager to leave bases in Germany for less expensive (to build and operate) ones in the east. The growing anti-American sentiment in Germany was less of a factor that the problems encountered because the German bases were often in densely populated areas, where there were many restrictions on troops training. In East Europe, they have more space, fewer restrictions and a lot of enthusiasm for having American troops around. The reason for this; to insure that ancient invaders like Germany and Russia stay out, is widely admitted, but rarely discussed too loudly. It is also thought that the presence of U.S. soldiers will make it less likely that wars will break out with neighbors over ancient territorial claims. There are plenty of these in Eastern Europe. The cost of building the new bases farther east would be largely offset by cheaper operating costs. Some bases in Germany would always remain, particularly the military airbase at Ramstein.

Many of the new bases are not, like in the past, home for lots of American troops. Today, it's more likely that equipment and weapons will be stationed overseas, often in ships, but usually in climate controlled warehouses. A small force of Americans supervise local civilians to maintain the equipment. American troops are flown in if there is a crises. Thus air bases are important but not large training areas or lots of housing for troops and dependents. Increasingly, the troops are kept at home. Partly, this is because more than half of them are married. But there's also the cost factor. Keeping troops overseas is expensive, and provides more targets for terrorists or political activists. For over half a century after World War II, hundreds of thousands of American troops stayed overseas. Not anymore.

 


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