The commander of U.S. forces in Europe said Wednesday that he opposes President Bush's decision to reduce U.S. troop strength there to 225,000 on grounds that more soldiers are needed to carry out the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's established defense strategy.
Army Gen. John R. Galvin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was consulted about the Bush troop proposal only "a few days" before the President announced it during last week's State of the Union address. He said he recommended that fewer troops be withdrawn.
Galvin said he was overruled but, like a good military man, he now supports the President's policy. He insists, however, that 225,000 is the "absolute bottom line," beneath which the United States should contemplate no further reductions.
"It's like the (football) coach who gets down to the last five minutes of the game and starts pulling his people out because he's ahead 21-14," Galvin told the Senate panel. "We ought to play right up to the end of the game."
There are currently 305,000 U.S. troops and about 565,000 Soviet troops stationed in Europe. Under Bush's latest proposal, both sides would cut to 195,000 in the "Central Zone" of Europe, while the United States would be allowed to keep an additional 30,000 forces outside of the Central Zone. The zone is defined as the two Germanys, Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
The four-star general recommended strongly against further cuts regardless of what the Soviets do.
Sen. J. James Exon (D-Neb.), expressing the skepticism about the Bush proposal felt by many congressional Democrats who would like deeper cuts and greater fiscal savings from the lessened tensions in Europe, told Galvin, "That's a pretty high minimum number, but we appreciate your advice."
Galvin said the proposed U.S. reductions would involve the closing of about 50 U.S. bases in Europe, out of a total of 1,300 Army and Air Force installations. The 1,300 figure is misleading, Galvin said, because it includes everything from one-room offices to major troop headquarters.
He also endorsed continued work on a short-range nuclear missile to replace the aging Lance system, even though virtually no one in Europe wants to see it deployed and sentiment in Congress is running strongly against funding it.
He acknowledged that large U.S. and Soviet troop withdrawals would permit a reduction in stockpiles of nuclear artillery shells and other battlefield nuclear weapons.
"I don't believe we will need, when the reductions are made, as much tactical nuclear capability because the targets in effect will have gone away," Galvin said.
Meanwhile, across Capitol Hill, a leading House Democrat predicted that Congress will chop at least $4 billion and possibly more than $7 billion from Bush's proposed military outlays for fiscal 1991, which begins Oct. 1.
House Budget Committee Chairman Leon E. Panetta (D-Monterey) tossed the forecast at Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, charging at a hearing that the Administration's budget inadequately reflects a dramatically diminished Soviet threat.
Panetta asked Cheney how the Pentagon would absorb such reductions.
Cuts of that magnitude would "create havoc at the Pentagon," Cheney asserted, because in the short run they would mostly require reductions in manpower, not in weapon systems.
"The folks that get hurt are in uniform," he said.
Republican Rep. John R. Kasich of Ohio pressed the matter, asking Cheney to identify weapons programs that could be sacrificed to avoid the deep personnel cuts that the secretary said he feared.
Cheney, however, responded that it was not his duty to "assume that you guys are going to do something goofy and, therefore, here's something else to put on the chopping block."
Bush proposed spending $303.3 billion on military programs run by the Defense and Energy departments in fiscal 1991. That represents a $3.2-billion reduction in purchasing power from 1990, after adjustments for inflation.
In predicting deeper cuts, Panetta said Bush's proposed reduction merely extended a slightly declining path set by Congress over the last several years--a path that was charted before the upheaval in Europe.
Without suggesting specific cuts, Panetta complained that Bush's budget "does not propose the elimination of one major weapon system in its early stages" except for the V-22 Osprey, a hybrid, troop-carrying plane that flies like both a helicopter and a winged aircraft.