Cover: U.S. Soldiers with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment move equipment during exercise Saber Junction near Fuchsstein, Germany, Oct. 14, 2012. The multinational training exercise hosted by U.S. Army Europe is designed to promote interoperability with partner nations.
Das Troops: Last week, President Trump directed the Pentagon to remove thousands of American troops from Germany by September, according to the Wall Street Journal. “The removal order would reduce the U.S. troop presence in Germany by 9,500 from the 34,500 service members who are permanently assigned there. It would also cap at 25,000 the number of American troops in Germany at any one time. Under current practice, overall troop levels can rise to as high as 52,000 as units rotate in and out or take part in training exercises.” Quite frankly, opinions are all over the map on this decision and don’t fall along the normal partisan lines. Here is a sample of the responses:
On the Left: Mira Rapp-Hooper of The Washington Post writes that “withdrawing troops from Germany will be costly [since] the United States will also have to pay the bill for repatriating or relocating them to other countries, as well as shuttering facilities in Germany… Depending on where the troops are sent, the withdrawal in Germany could reduce NATO’s readiness, making conditions more favorable for a Russian advance — but also aids Russia’s national strategy to erode NATO cohesion.” Moreover, “the move isn’t likely to boost German defense spending [because] German Chancellor Angela Merkel is popular at home.” Lastly, “the draw down may have implications for other alliances,” such as those in South Korea and Japan, where the Trump Administration has also threatened to draw down U.S. troops.
On the Right: Christian Whiton on Fox News says Trump is absolutely right to withdraw troops. Stated plainly, Whiton argues that “Germany, the European Union and NATO are freeloaders that are at best irrelevant, and more often liabilities.” More specifically, “Europe is simply irrelevant or adversarial to America’s efforts on today’s key foreign challenges, which stem from China and Iran… For example, Germany actively works against the United States on Iran, joined by France and Great Britain.” Moreover, Whiton says “Germany also refuses to ban Huawei equipment in its 5G telecommunications network, placing Germany on China’s side.” Lastly, “Berlin has been working hard to realize Moscow’s plan for the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. The project would leave Europe more dependent on Russian energy and subject to Russian political pressure.”
Flag This: With Christian Whiton’s final point about Europe becoming more dependent on Russia in mind, the Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee actually warned Trump against withdrawing U.S. troops from Germany on Tuesday—illustrating how this debate doesn’t fall clearly along partisan lines. They believe a reduction of troops could undermine the NATO alliance and spur aggression by Russia. In addition, the Republicans’ letter lists similar concerns that Mira Rapp-Hooper wrote about in The Washington Post. Zooming out, most Democrats view Trump’s decision as a blow to longstanding US alliances and the GOP hawks think it would impede military training and logistics necessary to counter Russian aggression. It’s also important to understand why Trump is considering removing troops. In a nutshell, it comes down to costs. As The Wall Street Journal notes in the original article, “the Trump administration [has] long [been] frustrated with German policy, especially the nation’s level of military spending and its insistence on completing the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will channel Russian gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea.” In an effort to find common ground, we’re willing to bet that most Americans can actually get on board with the following thoughts: First, Germany needs to pull their weight. Would you pay for the ADT home security technology on your neighbor’s house just so you could borrow some eggs from time to time? That’s an oversimplified analogy of what’s currently happening but illustrative of the Trump administration’s perspective of the situation. At the same time, the move will undoubtedly make Russian President Vladimir Putin happy. It’s the same reason China will never allow North Korea to fall: they don’t want US troops on their doorstep. More broadly, the US-Germany fracture represents another crack in the idea of a “Western” alliance and the US as its leader and guarantor. Back to the ADT comparison, while you may not want to pay for your direct neighbor’s home security, you may be willing to pay more HOA dues for a neighborhood watch to keep the peace of the entire area. Call it what it is, the troop withdrawal is a multifaceted issue and there are valid claims on each side. Is this a head fake from the Trump administration to spur more action from the Germans? It worked with NATO so that just might be the case.