National Security

Time to Pull Our Troops from Europe

It'll help solve the Eurozone crisis. Seriously.

While traveling this week to Europe, President Barack Obama has an opportunity to begin a bold initiative to realign the transatlantic relationship and advance America's interests in further European integration. The G8 summit began Monday morning with the announcement of a new U.S.-European economic initiative -- the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership -- which could open up a U.S.-EU free trade zone. That is an excellent start. But, as the United States continues to pressure its NATO allies to increase their domestic military capabilities and lessen their reliance on the United States, European allied defense spending remains a serious irritant in transatlantic relations -- and it's the wrong priority.

Impressions of European "free-riding" on the United States for military operations have been deepening in Congress and among the American public for years now. This resentment was foreseen long ago by George Kennan, who warned in 1948 that NATO incentivized European dependence on the United States, writing, "Instead of the ability to divest ourselves gradually from the basic responsibility for the security of Western Europe, we will get a legal perpetuation of that responsibility." Kennan believed, rightly, that "the political will of the U.S. people is not sufficient to enable us to support Western Europe indefinitely as a military appendage." Yet, even since the Cold War ended, the United States has sought an expansive role for NATO while criticizing allies for not spending more on defense -- without realizing its own role in perpetuating European dependency.

NATO has become politically unmanageable, militarily dysfunctional, and now risks strategic irrelevance. Operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya demonstrated serious difficulties in decision-making by consensus and dangerous operational inefficiencies. When America sought to "lead from behind" in Libya, it was, months into the war, still providing the primary enabling forces. In the recent French intervention in Mali, the United States was called on to supply similar, and expensive, capacities to sustain military operations. America's European allies have no incentive to change this burden-sharing problem knowing the United States will fill operational gaps, freeing them to make massive cuts in the name of austerity.

The primary and enduring security problem in Europe is the ongoing Eurozone crisis, which has forced sharp budget cuts across Europe and strained relations in the European Union. Thus, the last thing that Washington should do is ask allies to increase defense spending. America's European allies, collectively, have substantial capabilities; the problem is not how much they spend, but rather how they coordinate. President Obama should change the incentives for America's NATO allies to produce mutual gains across the Atlantic and strengthen the ties that bind America and Europe.

First, he should limit America's NATO role to Article V collective defense, which, in the current environment, means its main contribution to NATO would be ballistic missile defense. Second, given the current threat environment, he should announce further reductions in America's troop presence in Europe, especially U.S. Army forces. By 2015, land forces will be about 30,000 troops -- but these should drop close to zero. Third, the United States should state clearly it will help the allies build and sustain the capacity to fight a Libya-style war and a Balkans-style peace operation without American involvement. Fourth, he should relocate U.S. European Command, Eucom, to the United States -- modeling it after Central Command, which is based in Tampa, Florida.

Eucom has become largely a supporting command; it once had a major role in Persian Gulf security and broader contingencies like Afghanistan, but Centcom now has the lead for operations in the Gulf and South Asia. It has pre-deployed assets in the Gulf that no longer make European deployments essential. The United States could retain its presence in Europe by keeping air command facilities at Ramstein, special forces and partner training centers in Stuttgart, and the U.S. naval command at Naples, while sharing the supreme allied commander position with a European or Canadian based on mission needs. The bulk of U.S. land forces in Europe would be decommissioned, brought home, or allocated to other theaters. Meanwhile, the United States should rotationally exercise with its European allies, but primarily on its own territory.

At its core, the military imbalance in NATO is an economic problem for the United States because it ties up resources and encourages allies to avoid sharing in essential military equipment and major defense reform. It is also a problem for Europe because the existing incentives move individual European nations away from deepening their integration on defense cooperation -- and thus, over time, saving money. A shift in the security burden would create a better foundation on which to advance the broader trade agenda by fast-tracking the U.S.-EU trade agreement now being negotiated. As this negotiation moves forward, however, the temptation to advance "buy American" in defense capabilities could become an obstacle -- as Americans have often viewed interoperability as meaning "based on American platforms." If Congress sees real action being taken to balance the security burden-sharing arrangement across the Atlantic, this could be an essential step towards removing potential obstacles in the broader trade deal.

Advancing this important trade agreement will show American confidence in the transatlantic relationship, which is vital to the global economy at a key moment, given the continuing threat of the Eurozone crisis. This week and in the weeks to come, the president should engage America's closest allies and friends -- particularly Britain, France, and Germany -- on this matter. Presidential leadership can also help to break the legacy of decades of bureaucratic resistance in Washington to rebalancing the transatlantic relationship. It is time for the United States to make clear to its European friends that it is their moment to assume lead responsibility for their security -- and that the United States will help them. If there is any place in the world where the United States can hand over lead responsibility for security matters, it is in Europe -- and the time is now.

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Argument

Light Up the West Bank

Want to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process? Start with 3G.

When international businessmen cross into the West Bank, they take out their passports, turn off their now-lifeless smartphones, and change their mindset from investment to assistance. The only parts of the Palestinian territories with reliable mobile coverage are in major cities or Israeli settlements; high-speed mobile Internet is all but nonexistent. So here's an idea: Light up the West Bank with long-denied 3G wireless Internet connectivity and create an exception in the Arab League boycott of Israeli products for those that have Palestinian-controlled companies in their supply chains.

Without 3G -- and the economic opportunities that come with it -- the territories will likely continue their slide toward militancy. Last November, I visited the West Bank city of Hebron, where I encountered a joint Hamas-Fatah procession. Hundreds of Palestinian men paraded down the city's main thoroughfare arm in arm, waiving Fatah's flag alongside the trademark pennant of Hamas. This was an alarming development. The warming of historically hostile relations between Hamas and Fatah signals the increased militarization of Palestinian politics. Fatah is now a mainstream political party. Hamas, in contrast, remains a terrorist organization, regardless of its popularity and increasing reach into the political mainstream. It continues to conduct indiscriminate attacks, including mortar and rocket assaults against Israeli civilian targets.

While in the West Bank, I spoke at the Palestine Polytechnic University (PPU), which educates more than 5,000 Palestinian students every year in engineering, information technology, and computer science. After the requisite 20 minutes of listening to complaints about America's recent vote against granting Palestine nonmember observer-state status -- and implicit sovereignty -- at the United Nations, the discussion turned to what could be done outside the realm of politics to make life better in the West Bank. At one point, a young woman raised her hand and said, "We must have a better economy to have better lives, and we must have 3G to have better a better economy." The auditorium erupted in loud applause. She had hit on one of the most pressing problems faced by Palestinians, day in and day out.

Third-generation (3G) mobile communications technology might seem like a frivolous luxury to some, but it is foundational for economic development. The Palestinian territories will not be able to compete and succeed in today's technology-rich, knowledge-based economy without the basic infrastructure for participation -- and that means access to mobile broadband. In low- and middle-income countries like the Palestinian territories, the World Bank has found that a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration translates into a 1.38 percent bump in the GDP growth. Access to 3G would have a very positive impact for the Palestinian information and communications technology sector, generating an additional $60 million annually in addition to the $150 million in new revenues for the Palestinian Authority.

There is also a security upside to wiring the West Bank with 3G. Among the root causes of terrorism, according to research from the International Center for Counter-Terrorism, are relative depravation and marginalization -- both of which are fueled by stalled growth and unemployment. Take an example from the campus of PPU: In March 2003, a 20-year-old computer science student named Mahmoud Kawasme blew himself up on a bus in Haifa, Israel, killing 17 civilians and injuring another 53. Each year, 2,000 Palestinians graduate from local universities in technical subjects, but only about 30 percent of them find work in their fields. Radicalization and engineering skills are a nasty combination, so let's help these young people find jobs.

Today, there are mobile companies ready to make 3G a reality in the Palestinian territories, but Israel has so far refused access to the necessary frequencies and imported equipment. Although some believe that Israel restricts access for security reasons, others argue that it wants to protect Israeli telecommunications companies or restrict the avenues through which Palestinians can share their narratives with the wider world. Still others believe that the Israeli government fears the empowerment that would come to Palestinian youth by virtue of their newfound connectedness. In other words, the holdup is political, not economic or technological. Restricting access not only costs the Palestinian Authority some $150 million annually in lost tax revenue, but it also stunts the growth of the Palestinian high-tech sector. Currently, the high-tech industry in the territories is forced to focus on low-end tasks like IT outsourcing. Without access to 3G, Palestinian start-ups cannot specialize in higher-value functions, such as software development.

But confidence-building measures should move in both directions. If Israel allows for 3G access in the Palestinian territories, then Arab states should relax their boycott of Israeli goods and make an exception for those that have Palestinian-controlled companies in their supply chains. Arab states should also allow their citizens to provide labor and services to those companies. If they need to slap a "Made in Palestine" sticker on the products, so be it.

Israeli entrepreneurs have succeeded despite their lack of access to neighboring markets and workforces, but there are no other examples of this level of economic success being achieved under similar conditions. The supply capacity developed through regional integration prepares countries to enter the global economy with strength. And lest the Arab states think they would be handing Israel an outsized concession, they should remember that their own workforces would benefit from access to the supply chains of high-end Israeli tech firms. The simple fact is that Arab countries are not producing high-value technology products and services on a scale that even remotely rivals Israel's success. Arab countries need the jobs, and they could stand to learn a thing or two about technology-driven entrepreneurship from Israel, whether they want to admit it or not.

Providing 3G access to the Palestinian territories is just one example of the type of concrete actions that Israelis, Palestinians, and third-party actors should be promoting. To overcome the region's hardened cynicism, Israelis and Palestinians need to see real progress that makes their day-to-day lives better -- even if only incrementally. The simple things that can be done today may do more than anything else to help achieve the lofty goals of tomorrow.

ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images