President Trump has announced that he will reduce by 9,500 the number of American troops in Germany, leaving approximately 25,000. The announcement should have come as a surprise to no one. After all, President Trump has been talking about reducing U.S. forces overseas since he took office in 2017. Laura Valkovic, in her Liberty Nation article, NATO Reacts: Shock and Horror to Trumps Demands, reported on the president’s dissatisfaction with NATO members not paying their fair share of the organization’s budget. If removing U.S. forces from Germany means redeploying those troops somewhere else in Europe, having a U.S. presence in countries closer to the action with Russia might be a plus.
Each member-state agreed to spend 2.0% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense, presumably, to support NATO. As James Knuckey explains in the online news service, Forces.net: of the 30 NATO countries, only nine have hit the 2.0% goal. The U.S., the United Kingdom, Poland, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have all met their defense spending obligation, but notably absent from that list is Germany, Europe’s wealthiest country.
As a real and tangible expression of his frustration over NATO nations not paying their fair share, and specifically singling out Germany, the president is making good on his threat to remove American fighting forces from Germany. Trump has been telling the NATO nations and Europe in general that he would disengage troops from Germany. In the American Thinker article, US to Remove 9,500 troops from Germany, the author Peter Skurkiss reminds us:
“Ever since he came into office, President Trump has been critical of our NATO allies, Germany in particular, for not carrying their proper share of the burden for their own defense. Some NATO allies increased their defense expenditures, but not wealthy Germany, whose outlay for NATO is a mere 1.2 percent of its GDP. “
Cold War-Era Thinking
The truth is that with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the probability is low of Russian hordes flowing through the Fulda Gap into Germany. Nonetheless, critics of the proposed U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany got their panties in a bunch, claiming that American soldiers and airmen in Germany are a demonstration of commitment to Europe and defense against Russia. Twenty-two Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee wrote a letter to President Trump, urging him to “rethink” the withdrawal. The concern, as reported in Market Watch, was explained by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX): “The threats posed by Russia have not lessened, and we believe that signs of a weakened US commitment to NATO will encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism.”
There is a misleading conflation of U.S. commitment to NATO and the number of troops in Germany. Supporting NATO and maintaining 34,500 troops in Germany is not an identity. It is a cold war – it is old-think.
Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky, in an article published in Stars and Stripes, argues that a more effective bulwark against Russia would be a U.S. military presence in Poland. Bershidsky points out:
“[T]he theoretical front line in a conflict between Russia and NATO no longer runs through Germany, which today is buffered from Russia by a number of countries, including the Baltic states and Poland. Germans feel safe, and they’re among the least inclined to defend a NATO ally against a Russian attack.”
A much more vulnerable portal for the Russians to move into Northern Europe is the Suwalki Gap, the thin strip of real estate separating the Russian states of Kaliningrad and Belarus that borders both Poland and Lithuania. Permanently stationing U.S. forces in Poland would present the first line of defense for the Baltic allies and Poland.
Redeployment of Forces
When talking about taking troops out of Germany, President Trump left open the option to redeploy those forces in other places in Europe. Aamer Madhani, of the Associated Press, reported in the Military Times that when President Trump meets with Poland’s President Andrzej Duda at the White House this week, U.S. military troops garrisoned in Poland will be a subject of their discussion. A portion of the redeploying forces out of Germany are going to Poland based on current planning. The move seems to be a win-win for both the U.S. and Poland. Based on Bershidsky’s reporting, “Poland is willing to spend $1.5 billion to $2 billion to entice the US to build a permanent base there.”
President Trump’s primary rationale for moving troops out of Germany is Germany’s failure to pay its 2% of GDP for defense. The more compelling argument, though, is that a U.S. troop presence in Germany is not the military requirement that it was following World War II and during the Cold-War. Moving forces out of Germany is not the end of the defense of NATO and Europe as we know it. Other options for an American military presence in Europe may be more effective. If U.S. troops do not have a real and likely mission of defending Germany and Europe, then the deployment in Germany is mostly symbolic. The question is, how much should the American taxpayer be willing to pay for symbolism?
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
Read more from Dave Patterson.
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