British troops could be withdrawn from Germany for good, nearly 70 years after the end of the Second World War, if the Conservatives win the general election, it was revealed today.
Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox said it was "no longer necessary" to maintain the presence of more than 20,000 military personnel.
Ending the commitment would free up forces to carry out vital Nato operations outside of Europe, he insisted.
Generations of squaddies and their families have passed through Germany, although the size has been scaled down over the years. The presence is now centred on Herford near Hanover, where the 1st Armoured Division is based.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Dr Fox signalled his determination to conduct a "wholesale recasting of our foreign and defence policy".
He wants new Nato member states from eastern and central Europe, particularly Poland, to take over Britain's commitments in Germany and free British troops to be deployed elsewhere.
A final decision will depend on negotiations with Nato allies, in particular France, and on the Ministry of Defence's ability to handle the return of so many soldiers for whom there is no accommodation in the UK.
Dr Fox insisted: "If other countries are willing to take up roles in continental defence that leaves Britain and France able to take on expeditionary roles.
"Finding a more creative diplomatic solution in Nato will be a priority for an incoming Conservative government.
"Much as people regard it as a great political sport to be constantly berating our allies on what they do and don't do in Afghanistan, it's more important that we have more effective burden sharing so we can be freed up from some responsibilities.
"What is not possible is for Britain to try to do everything. It's clear that things as they are cannot continue. We need some change."
He added: "We need to be clear that there are constitutional and political reasons why some Nato countries will not be able to do the same amount when it comes to expeditionary warfare.
"We can either hammer on about burden sharing, or we can start looking at what countries will be able to do within their political, constitutional and military constraints. Far better in Nato that countries have roles which they are 100% willing to carry out."
Dr Fox said he had told civil servants to prepare plans for cutting the department's administrative costs by 25% - some £3bn - by 2012.
The Tories are also looking at fast-tracking younger commanders with combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan to senior posts.
He confirmed that General Sir Richard Dannatt, the former head of the Army who fell out with Gordon Brown over the Afghanistan campaign, would not be a minister in a Conservative administration - although he has been offered a peerage.
Dr Fox also delivered a stark warning about the "dangerous" media clamour for a unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"If in a UN sanctioned mission, carried out by Nato, Britain were unilaterally to pull out, where does that leave Britain as a strategic partner in the future?" he said.
"Where does that leave us? If you want to be in the third division, that's the way to go about it."