New rifts in US relations with allies

Saturday, 2020-06-20 16:40:36
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FILE PHOTO - US soldier are pictured during an exercise of the US Army's Global Swift Response 17 Media Day near Hohenfels, Germany, October 9, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – US relations with Germany and NATO members have seen new rifts after President Donald Trump made public his plan to withdraw a portion of US troops stationed in Germany.

As confirmed by the White House, this strategic adjustment is not derived from the difficulties of the world’s no. 1 economy, but rather a US message of “punishment” to its allies in Europe, regarding disagreements over trade and the sharing of common responsibilities.

Just days after the intention was revealed by the US media, dismaying European allies, President Trump officially confirmed the news. Accordingly, the Pentagon and relevant agencies were instructed to make a detailed plan to pull 9,500 soldiers out of Germany, bringing the number of US troops in Germany down to 25,000. President Trump did not directly link the US-Germany disagreements to the withdrawal plan, but White House officials said that this is a message sent to Berlin, as Washington was not satisfied with the fact that trade balance between the two countries is detrimental to the US, as well as with Germany’s failure to meet NATO spending commitments on defence.

Indeed, Germany is one of the largest overseas bases of US forces. Along with about 34,500 US soldiers and 17,000 US civilian employees, there are also 12,000 German personnel serving at dozens of bases scattered throughout Germany. Among these facilities are the United States European Command (EUCOM), the central command point of US forces in more than 50 countries; an air base conducting operations in the Middle East and Africa; and the largest NATO training centre in Europe. These forces are determined to play a very important role in both maintaining a “security umbrella” for Germany and Europe and protecting US strategic interests.

Therefore, President Trump’s intention to downplay the role of these important forces in Europe was not only opposed by Germany and NATO allies but was even strongly criticised by US politicians and public too. However, the message of “punishment” mentioned by the White House gave an explanation to what lies behind the controversial plan of the US leader.

For a long time, President Trump has criticised Germany and European allies for their defence spending “well below NATO standards”, stating that Washington could not continue to “overspend” by sharing a bigger part for NATO’s “defence bills”. The US was even more dissatisfied when Germany spent a large sum on gas cooperation projects with Russia, including the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Meanwhile, the trade surplus in favour of Germany is one of the key points causing disagreements. Washington always criticised Berlin for enjoying benefits in an unfair manner. According to the White House, US support and international obligations are no longer systematic, but on a principle of reciprocity. The reduction of troops is a message to remind Germany of the fairness demanded by the US.

However, analysts said it is not yet certain that the “punishment” plan will help President Trump accomplish the goal of pressuring allies, but may in fact damage the transatlantic relationship that has already been in trouble for a long time. Actually, the majority of German people do not appreciate the presence of US forces, as US bases in Germany primarily serve NATO operations and the Pentagon’s main strategic missions, especially in its “deterrent” mission to rivals. The NATO Secretary-General affirmed that the US garrison was not only a bilateral issue between the US and Germany, but also an issue regarding NATO as a whole. In the context of an emerging idea to ​​form a separate defence force in Europe, President Trump’s plan has given further impetus to the “old continent” to reduce its dependence on the “security umbrella” of its ally across the Atlantic Ocean.

It is not clear what the White House’s next steps will be, and moreover, the plan to pull a portion of troops out of Germany also needs approval from the US Congress. However, the US making its intention public has further expanded disagreements between Washington and Berlin, driving the transatlantic alliance to become even more ruptured.