Rumsfeld hints at changes in U.S. forces around world

SINGAPORE – The United States will make fundamental changes in its troop presence on the Korean Peninsula and in Europe, where U.S. defenses have stood guard against threats that have disappeared or no longer require such a large force, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday.

“It’s time to adjust those locations from static defense to a more agile and a more capable and a more 21st-century posture,” he said.

Rumsfeld spoke with reporters flying with him to Singapore, the island city-state where he is to deliver the keynote address Saturday at an Asian security conference.

He declined to discuss specifics, but his remarks left little doubt that major changes are about to happen. They are coming after months of internal Pentagon calculations about how best to array American forces abroad and after a period of consultations with U.S. European and Asian allies.

Rumsfeld did not mention perhaps the most immediate change – the move of a 2nd Infantry division brigade this summer to Iraq from its traditional post in South Korea. The Pentagon has not said whether that unit would return to South Korea.

During a news conference aboard a modified 747 jumbo jet that serves as a flying command post, Rumsfeld also chided critics who say the lack of stability raises the possibility of the Iraq war’s ultimate failure.

“People who look at it and say, ‘Oh, my goodness it’s untidy and it’s ugly and it’s dangerous,’ ought to look at history. It’s always been untidy and ugly and dangerous” when people who are used to being ruled are given a chance to build a democracy, he said.

Some in Asia have expressed concerns that removing 3,600 U.S. troops from Korea for use in Iraq – and possibly several thousand more at a later time – would be seen by communist North Korea as a sign of American weakness. Rumsfeld said such an interpretation would be mistaken.

“This country will not weaken the deterrent or the defense capabilities that we have, even though numbers and locations may shift and evolve as technologies evolve and as circumstances change,” he said. “We have been for a long time, in effect, where we were when the Cold War ended.”

About 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, about 47,000 in Japan and about 100,000 in Europe.

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