The Pentagon’s announcement that it is reducing its ground forces to their lowest levels since before the beginning of World War II is not sensational in and of itself. The Army is just one component of America’s armed forces, which also include the Marines, Navy and Air Force. If we add it all up, in 1940 the U.S. had 458,000 people in arms, and presently there are 1,369,000. Thus, America still has tremendous military might; the overall Pentagon budget last year was greater than the total of all armaments expenditures for the next 13 countries, more than five times higher than that of the second in rank, China.
In the context of China, the information on the U.S. military forces’ transformation is even more interesting, confirming trends which concern European space as well, and which, moreover, are not limited to the military sphere. The Pentagon wants to invest more money — at the expense of land forces — in lighter specialized units that can be swiftly utilized against terrorists. It is also markedly strengthening cybersecurity, in addition to which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel explicitly emphasized that the Americans also need warships that are more modern — as a counterweight, he added, to increasingly serious challenges in Asia and the Pacific. Here, we are obviously not talking about Japan, but namely about China, whose growing military power is one of the fundamental reasons the U.S. is redirecting its priorities — in terms of strategy as well as security — toward Asia.
At the same time, this redeployment means that the U.S. is moving out of somewhere else. It has reduced the number of American troops in Europe by 70 percent since the end of the Cold War. It is supposed to be reduced by a further one-fifth by 2017, and at the same time, the troop drawdown is one of the manifestations of a more general reduction in America’s strategic priorities in Europe.
A quarter century after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and following the steady expansion of the democratic space of the EU, that seems logical. But another question is whether Europe is prepared to take on the responsibility — not just for itself, but above all for the concerns in its neighborhood. The crisis in Ukraine may be, in this sense, a fundamental test, a secondary-school exit exam on whether the present-day EU is capable of solving something other than its internal problems, and at the same time, whether the American departure hasn’t been premature.