News of US President Donald Trump’s intention to pull 9,500 troops from Germany is starting to hit home, triggering a spate of responses.
Voicing his regret over the planned withdrawal, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in an interviewf or Bild am Sonntag that his country’s relationship with the United States was "complicated".
“Should it come to the withdrawal of part of the US troops, we take note of this. We appreciate the cooperation with the US forces that has developed over decades. It is in the interests of both our countries," said Maas.
The minister acknowledged problems plaguing Germany's relationship with the United States, saying:
"We are close partners in the transatlantic alliance. But: It is complicated."
Senior lawmakers from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling conservative bloc were more critical of the move, which would slash US forces in Germany by slightly more than a quarter.
“These plans demonstrate once again that the Trump administration neglects a central element of leadership: the involvement of alliance partners in the decision-making process,” Johann Wadephul, deputy head of Merkel’s parliamentary caucus, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying in an emailed statement.
Tobias Lindner, a Green party lawmaker, was cited as recalling Donald Trump’s appearances at NATO summits, where he in numerous instances called out US allies, including Berlin, for inadequate defence spending, slamming Germany as “a captive to Russia” for adhering to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.
“Somebody who acts in this way can’t show up in Brussels with the attitude of reminding alliance partners of their duties,” said Lindner.
Edgar Knobloch, mayor of the town of Grafenwoehr, located near the former East German border, was quoted by the outlet as voicing disappointment at the reported US move. The town has roughly 11,000 US troops based at NATO’s biggest training area in Europe.
Other major US installations in Germany include Ramstein Air Base, a NATO central base for units and training as well as the headquarters for United States Air force operation in Europe, Spangdahlem Air Base, home to the 52nd Fighter Wing, USAG Ansbach - a German co-base run by the United States in the northern part of Bavaria, and the Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre hospital.
About half of US troops are stationed in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, which borders France, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Reports that Trump was considering further cuts and a possible troop relocation to Poland have circulated for at least two years, while US troop strength in Germany has shrunk to about 34,500 from a high of 274,000 during the 1960s.
“Such a pullout would be regrettable in every way. I can’t see any rational reason for the withdrawal,” Norbert Roettgen, who heads the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said in an interview with Funke Media Group.
Underscoring that as with earlier troop cuts, there would be economic fallout for German regions affected by the decision, Peter Beyer, the government’s coordinator for trans-Atlantic relations, told the DPA newswire:
“This affects not only 9,500 troops, but also their families, which means about 20,000 Americans in total.
US President Donald Trump was reported to have directed the Department of Defence to pull 9,500 US troops out of Germany by September, wrote The Wall Street Journal on 5 June, citing US government officials. Currently, there are 34,500 US troops permanently assigned in Germany.
A US official had been cited by The New York Times as suggesting the troop pullout was the result of months of efforts by top US military officer General Mark Milley, and had no connection to recently heightened tensions between Donald Trump and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had declined the American President’s invitation to travel to the US to take part in an in-person G7 summit.
The way reports of Trump’s decision reached Germany, and due to the lack of any official word from Washington regarding the news by mid-day Saturday, was perceived by analysts as a sign of chilly relations between Germany and the US Commander-in-Chief, as US troops stationed in Germany have been dubbed the “glue binding the two NATO allies”, writes Bloomberg.
Chilly German-US Relations
Relations between Germany and the US sank to an all-time post-war low in 2019, fuelled by disagreements on a range of issues, such as trade disputes, conflicting positions on Iran, and US demands that Berlin increase its military spending.
Both the US President and senior American diplomats had repeatedly floated the idea of redeploying part of the US forces stationed in Germany to Poland last August.
Angela Merkel at the time urged Washington to rethink the proposals, underscoring that Germany had “invested a lot” in regions where US troops are deployed, and that there were “good reasons” for them to stay.
Since the end of the Second World War, US troops have been stationed in Germany ostensibly to defend against a Soviet invasion, and remained there nearly three decades after the Warsaw Pact was dissolved and the USSR collapsed in 1991.
Meanwhile, according to a poll published by Pew Research and the Koerber Foundation in November, while 85 percent of Americans view US military bases in Germany as important for American national security, only 52 percent of Germans say that the bases are important for their country’s national security.