The Pentagon announced Wednesday the withdrawal of 40,000 U.S. troops from Europe over the next 12 months--the first major step toward dismantling America's Cold War force and the largest U.S. troop cut in Europe since 1948.
"Nobody seriously believes today that the Warsaw Pact any longer constitutes a military threat to the West," said Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who ordered the move in anticipation of a new U.S.-Soviet agreement on conventional forces on the Continent.
President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev have said that they expect to sign the pact, a landmark in the twilight of the Cold War, this year.
Reversing earlier statements by senior U.S. officials, Cheney said that troops cuts can be made in advance of the treaty's signing. He cited growing budget pressures and the prospect that the United States and Western Europe would have years of warning time of any planned Soviet attack.
"We have to begin the drawdown now to respond in an orderly way to changing security requirements and declining defense budgets," Cheney said in a statement accompanying the announcement.
In an address to business leaders, Cheney said that if current trends in Europe continue, the United States and its allies would have "years of warning time . . . sufficient time to reconstitute the kind of significant military force that we've deployed for the past 45 years."
The planned cuts would reduce the Army's presence in Europe by 30,000 soldiers and the Air Force's presence by 10,000. The United States currently has about 330,000 military personnel in Western Europe and surrounding waters.
Capt. Sam Grizzle, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the withdrawals are not related to the current crisis in the Persian Gulf. But he added that it is possible that some of the troops withdrawn from Europe could be sent to replace or reinforce troops in Saudi Arabia.
The European units affected by Wednesday's order are to be deactivated after Jan. 1, 1991.
The announcement of the planned withdrawals comes just a week after the Pentagon announced the closure of 150 installations overseas, including 111 in Western Europe. Those reductions will begin this year and continue for two to three years.
It also comes as the House and Senate draft bills likely to make deeper cuts in the U.S. troop presence in Europe. The Senate version of the fiscal 1991 defense authorization bill called for a cut of 100,000 in worldwide U.S. forces, including 50,000 in Europe. The House version calls for a cut of 129,500, but does not specify where.
Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been touting the Pentagon's plan reducing the emphasis on large troop deployments in Europe and increasing the ability of U.S. forces to deploy quickly from bases in the United States.
As part of that strategy, Cheney has proposed to cut U.S. forces by 25% over the next five to six years, shrinking the Army's current 18 active-duty divisions to as few as 12. The Navy's fleet, which peaked at 600 ships in the late-1980s, would shrink to about 450.
But Cheney said that, while U.S. forces will shrink, they must stay "actively engaged all over the world."