Troop Pullout from Germany is a Timely Readjustment

President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw 9500 troops from Germany brought out the usual apocalyptic predictions of unacceptable harm to NATO security and breakdown of the transatlantic bridge. This is reminiscent of a similar kind of hand-wringing we saw when, in 2016, candidate Trump criticized NATO allies for not spending enough on their own defense. Suddenly, criticism of shirking the agreed upon 2 percent of GDP for defense budgets became the doom of the Western alliance.

A closer examination of Trump’s campaign statements revealed his clear-eyed business approach to the issue. He simply objected to the United States carrying a disproportionate share of the NATO burden, particularly in a situation when we could not afford it and had to borrow funds from China to pay for the defense of wealthy European countries. He repeatedly praised Poland and several others for meeting the 2 percent budget threshold as well as Poland’s contribution to NATO in other ways, such as providing troops for missions in Afghanistan and Iraq and hosting NATO institutions. 

In a meeting with Polish-American leaders in Chicago in September 2016, PresidentTrump said that he “is committed to a strong Poland and a strong Eastern Europe as a bulwark of security and liberty.” He pledged that “the Trump Administration will be a true friend of Poland and to all Polish-Americans.”  

It is the same situation now: despite the proposed troop reduction in Germany, the United States continues to give priority to the transatlantic relationship and to NATO as the cornerstone of its security. The relationship with Germany remains largely unaltered. What’s changed is that there are multiple reasons to move some U.S. troops out of Germany because the strategic environment in Europe evolved in significant ways. There is no longer a need to keep all of them in Germany. The demarcation line of conflict and defense moved to the east and that is where U.S. troops are needed. Further, Poland is very pro-American, while Germany is increasingly anti-American.

President Trump understands it well. During his term in office, he has carried out his promise to support a strong Eastern Europe. He strengthened the eastern flank of NATO: Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states. He established a permanent rotation of U.S. troops in these countries. He led a buildup of military infrastructure and improvements in logistics. He created new NATO institutions there which are the base for future cooperation. He also gave significant arms to Ukraine to fight Russian separatists, not only nonlethal aid.

In addition to the security component, President Trump is a strong supporter of the energy independence of Eastern Europe from the monopoly of Russian supplies. He opened the 2017 conference of the Three Seas Initiative, designed to create a port and pipeline infrastructure to import energy from outside the region, including the United States as well as complementary transport and communications. The Department of Energy contributed financial resources to this project and remains an interested observer. 

In contrast, Germany is building the Nord Stream II gas pipeline from Russia to Germany that will increase Europe’s dependence on Russian supplies and provide them with a steady stream of billions in new income. This project does not have an economic justification and seems politically inspired. Germany is doggedly pursuing it regardless of opposition from the United States and its East European neighbors. This is a major breach of alliance solidarity.

Financial considerations are a significant component of President Trump’s approach. In this respect, Germany, one of the richest countries in the world, spends only 1.3 percent of its GDP for its defense and plans only very gradual increases in the future. Press reports indicate a significant breakdown in the functioning of the German Army. 

Thus, the U.S. withdrawal of 9500 troops from Germany is not a significant retreat or a setback for NATO. It is the opposite. It is a timely readjustment on a strategic, tactical and financial level that is long overdue. It is expected that some or all of these troops will be reallocated to Eastern Europe, especially Poland where they are urgently needed. President Duda is coming to the White House to sign an agreement on the transfer of U.S, troops to Poland on June 24. 

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About Lucja Cannon

Dr. Lucja Cannon is a strategist, author and expert on Eastern Europe, Russia and US-East European relations.

Photo: Patrik Stollarz/AFP via Getty Images

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