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In our opinion: Where’s the argument for withdrawing troops from Germany?

SHARE In our opinion: Where’s the argument for withdrawing troops from Germany?
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In this Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the NATO summit at The Grove in Watford, England. Trump has publicly berated European allies and Canada in the past for not spending enough on defense budgets.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

U.S. defense strategy ought to hinge on carefully considered actions within broad foreign policy objectives, and with an overall eye toward national security.

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s decision this week to pull nearly 12,000 troops out of Germany, where they have served as a deterrent to aggression from Russia and other belligerent nations since the end of World War II, seems to reflect very little in terms of geopolitical strategy.

Moving some of these troops to other parts of Europe, perhaps even Poland, might appear to be an enhancement of deterrence aimed at Russian aggression, but no such strategy has been articulated in any detail.

Instead, President Trump has spoken about money. He wants Germany to spend at least 2% of its gross domestic product on defense. “We don’t want to be suckers anymore,” the president said. “So we’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills. It’s very simple, they’re delinquent.”

Poland, on the other hand, is meeting its financial obligations.

Is this a strategy or simple vindictiveness?

Certainly, post WWII obligations do not have to remain in stasis forever. Conditions change and obligations evolve. A case might be made for coaxing Germany into taking more direct responsibility for its own defense, especially given its wealth relative to other European countries. Indeed, U.S. troop levels today are roughly half what they were a little more than a decade ago, showing that a drawdown already is in progress.

But the angry rhetoric and the strained relations between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel may serve to drive a wedge into an important and long-standing relationship. A negotiated withdrawal, with an emphasis on friendship and mutual respect, would make more sense.

Germany, in the heart of Europe and as the dominant member of the European Union, is a vital and strategic ally. This is why the U.S. European Command, or EUCOM, is headquartered in Stuttgart. Its mission is to deter the types of conflict that ultimately would threaten U.S. national security, as well as the security of the world’s greatest allies of freedom and democracy. 

EUCOM is where the movements of U.S. military forces in 51 mostly European nations are coordinated.

The Defense Department website says EUCOM may move to Belgium as part of this repositioning. Again, it’s not clear what this would accomplish.

Since the end of the war, Germany has been a key strategic and ideological ally in a Europe that has been under near constant attack, in one form or another, by tyrannical forces, either domestic or from abroad. With both Russia and China showing signs of wanting to expand their influence, those threats remain as strong as ever.

Some are suggesting that a large withdrawal from Germany would be a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While NATO would remain in effect and U.S. defense obligations would not change, it may be instructive to imagine how American leaders would feel if Russia signaled it was reducing its involvement in Syria or Iran.

Earlier in his administration, President Trump did the right thing by severing an ineffective nuclear agreement with Iran. That was a strategic decision that could be argued effectively.

Right now, we have yet to hear an effective argument for withdrawing troops from Germany, nor are we clear on where else in Europe some of them might be positioned, or why.

The U.S. and Europe have a lot to lose by signaling that their long-cherished relationship is being weakened because of a spat over money. Freedom can’t afford to seem weak. This announced troop withdrawal needs to be rethought.