Secretary Panetta unveiled our new defense strategy last week and, anticipating Europe’s sensitivity that it would get short shrift, he emphasized that “we are committed to sustaining a presence [in Europe] that will meet our Article 5 commitments, deter aggression.” But, when asked to explain that presence, Panetta was studiously vague:
With regards to Europe, you know, we will maintain our commitments with Europe… And one of the things that we've made clear with them is not -- you know, not only are we going to continue our commitments there, but we are going to develop the kind of innovative presence that we think will make clear to Europe and to those that have been our strong allies over the past that we remain committed to protecting them.
What, then, is “innovative presence”? Panetta helpfully defined “innovative methods to sustain U.S. presence” elsewhere in his remarks:
Maintaining key military- to-military relations and pursuing new security partnerships as needed. Wherever possible, we will develop low-cost and small- footprint approaches to achieving our security objectives, emphasizing rotational deployments, emphasizing exercises, military exercises with these nations and doing other innovative approaches to maintain a presence throughout the rest of the world.
Strip out the filler words and Panetta has used four to define “innovative presence”: relations, partnerships, rotations, and exercises. Notable for their absence are three others that embody actual physical presence: bases, personnel, and hardware stationing. It sounds a lot like someone trying to strike a balance between strategic reassurance and fiscal restraint, doesn’t it?
So now we cut back to Phillip Hammond, the U.K.’s Defense Secretary, who has a more pointed read on all of this. “My understanding is that there will remain two [of four] brigades…but in addition to that, there will be some rotating presence,” he told Bloomberg.
Like Hammond, we look forward to seeing whether US “presence” in Europe is “sustained” while ground forces and bases in the region are trimmed in service of lower defense spending.