Germans Worried About Potential US Move Eastward

By R. Raghavendra | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Berlin ( - Frosty relations with the United States are raising fears in Germany that Bush administration officials may move military operations eastward -- costing Germans jobs in the process.

Some 40,000 U.S. soldiers have already left Germany for deployment in Kuwait, and thousands more will leave if military action against Iraq goes ahead.

U.S. sources have suggested that once the military action is over, many U.S. soldiers will not return to Germany. The U.S. administration could decide to move its European command to friendlier eastern European nations, several of which already have U.S. contingents deployed on their soil.

Senior U.S. military officials attending the Munich Security Conference earlier this month indicated that an eastward shift was being considered.

The German government's anti-war stance on Iraq has irritated the Pentagon, and local media in Germany fear that the redeployment is almost certain.

At the Spangdahlem airbase in the western German state of Rhineland Palatinate, a deployment of 5,000 U.S. personnel is supported by about 800 locals.

But the economic effect of the base is much broader. A recent study by the University of Kaiserslautern said that the presence of the U.S. military in the region has created a total of about 20,000 jobs.

The United States has nearly 70,000 troops deployed in the country -- a Cold War legacy -- and 12,000 Germans are directly employed by the U.S. military.

However, U.S. sources in Germany said that Pentagon has no concrete plans for re-structuring, and that any eastward move will be made in consultation with German officials.

"There are no changes afoot," a senior U.S. military officer said. "If we plan to make changes, the U.S. administration will consult the German government."

But such assurances haven't reduced the fears of the people who are dependant on the U.S. military for their livelihood.

"I would not say there is a sense of panic over the rumors, but there is a certain sense of uncertainty in the community," said Christoph Holkenbrink, mayor of Wittlichland, where the Spangdahlem base is located. "It would be very bad if the base closes down."

Military cuts

Meanwhile, Germany itself is making efforts to cut down its military spending. Defense minister Peter Struck has chalked out plans to save $230 million a year. The German defense budget is already fixed at $26.3 billion a year until 2006.

Although the details of the plan are not yet public, indications are that the military will get rid of stockpiles of battle tanks by selling them to NATO partners in Eastern Europe.

Also, the military plans to reduce the number of its personnel, putting further stress on communities near bases. At the time of reunification, the West German armed forces had a strength of 480,000. Over the past 12 years, total German forces have been reduced to 340,000.

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