The Pentagon on Wednesday laid out a plan to shift nearly 12,000 service members out of Germany after President Donald Trump repeatedly said the country was “delinquent” on defense spending.
Top defense leaders said the plan, which would bring 6,400 service members home and reposition nearly 5,600 to other countries in Europe, is part of the Pentagon’s broader effort to redistribute U.S. forces across the world to better compete with new threats from Russia and China. The move will leave 24,000 troops in Germany, where the United States has stationed a significant number of forces since the end of the Cold War.
Yet during a news conference, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was repeatedly asked how that rationale squared with Trump’s pronouncements that the troops were being moved to punish Germany.
Esper noted that the review of European Command was accelerated by the president’s June decision to withdraw forces from Germany, which blindsided allies both at home and abroad and was seen as a rebuke of German leaders and beneficial to Russia. Trump has tied the reduction to Berlin’s failure to meet the non-binding NATO goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense.
“They’re there to protect Europe. They’re there to protect Germany, right? And Germany is supposed to pay for it. Germany’s not paying for it. We don’t want to be the suckers anymore,” Trump told reporters Wednesday morning. “So we’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills. It’s very simple, they’re delinquent.”
Esper stressed that the plan will enhance NATO’s ability to deter Russian aggression and strengthen U.S. alliances in Europe, yet also reiterated the president’s criticism of Germany.
“Let’s be clear: I think Germany is the wealthiest country in Europe, Germany can and should pay more to its defense, It should certainly meet the 2 percent standard and I would argue go above and beyond that,” Esper said, noting that the plan has already received “very positive feedback” from several European countries.
The move will cost in the “single-digit” billions of dollars, Esper said, and will begin in the coming weeks.
German officials immediately trashed the plan. Norbert Röttgen, chair of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, noted in a statement to POLITICO that the move would weaken the NATO alliance and reduce the effectiveness of the U.S. military against Russia and in the Middle East.
“I stand by my view: The US troop reduction is not in the security interests of Germany or NATO — and makes no geopolitical sense for the US,” said Peter Beyer, the German government’s coordinator for transatlantic relations, on Twitter. “We need more cooperation to master the future.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) condemned the plan as a “grave error,” and noted that he had offered an amendment to the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill aimed at preventing such a withdrawal. The amendment did not receive consideration on the Senate floor.
The plan “is 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. And it is a gift to Russia coming at a time when we just have learned of its support for the Taliban and reports of bounties on killing American troops,” Romney said. “The move may temporarily play well in domestic politics, but its consequences will be lasting and harmful to American interests.“