Establishment foreign policy experts are bemoaning President Trump’s decision to withdraw 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany. In this latest contrived “crisis,” they are calling it dangerous, sudden, vindictive, damaging to the NATO alliance, and a gift to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
In fact, it is none of the above.
It is simply Trump’s final attempt to get Germany’s squishy leader, Angela Merkel, to meet the minimum and lowly NATO requirement of 2% for defense spending and play a greater role in deterring Russia. The president has stated that he will remove the personnel until Germany pays its required share of the NATO defense burden — rightfully calling Germany “delinquent.”
Germany is currently spending less than 1.4% of GDP on defense, with even less expected in the next few years. Germany also fails to meet the mandated 20% of defense spending on military equipment. This is insulting.
Trump has finally had enough, saying, as reported by BBC: “So we’re protecting Germany and they’re delinquent. That doesn’t make sense. So I said, we’re going to bring down the count to 25,000 soldiers.” The total troop cut is about 9,500 troops, mostly staff, rather than combat troops.
Trump is not the first U.S. president to complain about Germany’s anemic defense over many years, but he is the only one to ramp up the complaints and act. In 2019, U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell warned that if Merkel did not meet the 2% NATO spending mandate, the U.S. would be forced to redeploy U.S. forces forward to Poland, which does meet the requirement.
“It is offensive to assume that the U.S. taxpayers continue to pay for more than 50,000 Americans [troops and civilians] in Germany but the Germans get to spend their (budget) surplus on domestic programs,” Grenell told the dpa news agency, according to Business Insider.
While the U.S. troop presence in Germany does serve valuable transatlantic security needs, Germany simply isn’t pulling its weight in NATO, and it’s not just with defense spending. As noted by Tom Rogan in The Examiner:
Not only does Chancellor Angela Merkel refuse to invest in the armed forces, but she rarely allows the military to deter the alliance’s primary threat actor, Russia. While a German warship is currently involved in a NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea, that’s a rare exception to the rule. From the Barents Sea to the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, it is often America and Britain alone leading NATO’s defense. That solitary expression of the alliance’s security interests is incompatible with Russia’s rising threat to NATO’s southern flank.
Rogan adds, “This is largely down to Germany’s willful energy dependence on Moscow — a dynamic that reflects the extraordinary shortsightedness of successive German governments, empowering Russian President Vladimir Putin’s energy blackmail of the European periphery.”
However, for Trump to not undermine NATO defense, and at the same time reward NATO members who are meeting their NATO requirements, the US should redeploy some of these troops forward from Germany to Poland.
Though far less wealthy than Germany, Poland has been meeting both NATO defense spending mandates. It has also been pleading to get a permanent American military presence, offering to pay much of the costs involved in creating a new US base in Poland.
As Rogan correctly explains, “Warsaw has also shown repeated willingness to deploy its forces on combat operations alongside American units. Deeply pro-American and resolute in the face of Russian intimidation, Poland is an ally to celebrate.”
Rogan added, “Trump can now offer that presence with some of the forces being pulled from Germany. Doing so would put American forces in a better position to defend the Baltics and Poland in the event of a Russian invasion. But it would also show that America values friends that are willing to stand alongside us rather than behind us.”
To make his move to draw down U.S. troops in Germany truly strategic and not appear to undermine NATO, or appease Putin, Trump needs to redeploy some of those troops to Poland. He should also establish a permanent U.S. military presence there.
These actions would send a strong signal to Putin and the rest of NATO — the U.S. is firmly committed to defending its NATO allies, especially those who are true allies and pulling their own weight.