How will the axe fall on Germany's US bases?

1st March 2004, Comments 0 comments

It is no secret that Washington is considering another round of troop reductions in Germany. What is not clear is which military bases will be closed down or scaled back. Tatjana Bojic looks at the impact the further withdrawal of the US army might have on the local economy that has been built up around the bases in Germany.

At the end of Cold War, the United States had 250,000 personnel serving in Germany: 15 years later the number is down to 70,000 and Washington makes little secret that it would like to pare the number lower still.

It is believed many units will move east to the "New Europe"

So far there is remarkably little information available about what bases are earmarked for closure in 2005. Military policymakers in Washington are still finalising the official criteria for the base realignment and closure (BRAC) process.

One widespread assumption is that many units will vacate their 60- year-old bases in Germany and relocate eastwards to the "New Europe": Poland, the Czech Republic or Hungary.

While "Yankee Go Home" demonstrations come and go, there is a strong attachment in local communities in Germany to the Americans, if only because of the large inflow of funds to local economies.

Heavy lobbying has already begun to keep bases open, and some financially strapped municipalities fear a mortal blow if the Americans leave.

*quote1*The Berlin Information Centre on Trans-Atlantic Security (BITS) says 14,900 Germans are employed on US bases. In addition, the bases are a major source of income for builders, merchants and landlords.

Militarily, German is no longer a strategic area as it was during the Cold War. However Washington would likely find it too expensive to leave altogether. One option in BRAC is to concentrate scattered bases at single sites, which would mean expansion at some places.

That is why the US Congress appropriated USD 88 million in November last year to expand Grafenwoehr, a sprawling training facility. There have been unconfirmed reports that the Pentagon may concentrate special forces there.

Other reports suggest 140 personnel may be transferred in 2005 from Britain to the existing US base on the fringe of Stuttgart Airport in south-western Germany.

The Americans say they need better site protection and will also train anti-terrorism specialists in Stuttgart.

*quote2*Newspaper reports indicate there are no plans to remove EUCOM, the nearby US Army command facility in Stuttgart, since the cost of relocating that international headquarters would be enormous.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the 1st Armoured Division, based in Wiesbaden and currently deployed in Iraq, has been earmarked to move.

US liaison officer Reinhard Schumann played this down, saying, "The division will return by May and will be staying here for the time being."

The 1st Infantry Division, based in Wuerzburg, is currently being deployed to Iraq. Its media spokeswoman, Major Debra Stewart, also said the soldiers would return. "We're all coming back. Our families are here."

However, a closure of Rhein-Main Airbase, on the fringe of Frankfurt International Airport, is already certain and a taste of things to come. The facilities will be relocated by 2005 to the two other US Air Force sites in Germany, Ramstein and Spangdahlem.

Rhein-Main currently employs 2,000 military and civilian personnel. The international airport needs the base space to expand. Building programmes are continuing at Ramstein and Spangdahlem, suggesting there are no plans for their closure.


February 2004

Subject: Life in Germany, US military bases

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