This isn’t your granddad’s Cold War anymore.
Long gone are the days when the U.S. and its NATO allies woke up each morning to see hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops massed on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall. Instead, we now see threats large and small all around the globe. And so, one might reasonably ask, Why do we still have 36,000 troops stationed in Germany?
The Trump administration appears to have asked the same question and found the answer unpersuasive. Or perhaps President Donald Trump, having lost patience with Deadbeat Deutschland’s failure to live up to its NATO commitments and its support for the Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline, is playing hardball with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Or perhaps both. As The Wall Street Journal reports, “Amid souring relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Trump in June ordered thousands of U.S. troops withdrawn from the country. On Wednesday Secretary of Defense Mark Esper sketched out the plan. He said the U.S. will cut its troop presence in Germany to 24,000 from 36,000, with some 5,600 moved elsewhere in Europe, including Belgium and Italy, and 6,400 stationed back in the U.S.”
To those like Democr… er, Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who apparently think Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have been just itching to jointly invade Germany, this is “a grave error” and a “slap in the face at a friend and ally when we should instead be drawing closer in our mutual commitment to deter Russian and Chinese aggression.”
But to the rest of us, it might just make sense. And it might just be that President Trump is again shaking things up while at the same being true to his reputation for driving hard bargains and demanding good reason for the deployment of our troops.
“Those who oppose this decision are mainly motivated by a reflex to maintain the status quo in Europe,” writes Defense Priorities fellow Daniel DePetris. “But there is no good reason why Washington needs tens of thousands of American troops positioned on the continent at a time when the geopolitical game has moved away from Europe and toward Asia, where another near-peer competitor (China) is capitalizing on the last two decades of exponential growth to press its own interests.”
Wait, what? China poses a greater threat to us than Russia? Who knew?