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Three Perspectives On Withdrawing U.S. Troops

This article is more than 8 years old.
Harvard University Professor Stephen Walt talks about the U.S. global military footprint during hour one June 20, 2011. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)
Harvard University Professor Stephen Walt talks about the U.S. global military footprint during hour one June 20, 2011. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Mayors from across the country are asking Congress to bring American troops home and divert war spending to domestic projects. But what does shrinking the military footprint really mean?

We asked three of the nation’s top national security thinkers.

Fewer troops, safer nation?

The Cato Institute's Christopher Preble argued that a smaller military budget and fewer overseas commitments could paradoxically make us a safer nation, by nudging our allies to improve their own defense capabilities.

"I just don't think it makes sense for Americans to subsidize the defense of Europeans who are more than capable of defending themselves," he said. "In many ways, the U.S. presence in those countries [Japan and South Korea] has discouraged them from doing so."

Closing foreign bases doesn’t save money

But re-deployments alone are no panacea. Harvard's Stephen Walt said that anyone looking to save money by shuttering bases is in for a surprise.

"You can't save money by slogans like 'bring the troops home,'" he said. "Fighting wars is expensive. But just having troops deployed overseas in places, like Japan, is not all that expensive. We would be paying those troops the same amount if they were stationed in Kansas."

Shrinking the size of the standing military force is the only way to save money, Walt said.

Cut strategically

But Rachel Kleinfeld, the co-founder of the Truman Security Project, which advocates for a strong national defense towards achieving progressive goals, warned that taking a heavy axe to the DOD budget could have unintended consequences.

"There's a real need for some of our security spending," she argued. "We're deployed in an awful lot of countries where there is room to cut...But if we cut some of our 50,000 troops in Germany, we lose base hospitals. So that affects how many soldiers we can deploy in Afghanistan."

"You don't want to cut too much," Kleinfeld said, pointing to British embarrassment after budget cuts there meant that their military unable to conduct operations in Libya without major U.S. assistance. "There's a balance that needs to be struck," she said.

This program aired on June 20, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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