Troop Reduction Debate

19.06.2020 - GERMAN-FOREIGN-POLICY.com

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Troop Reduction Debate

German government advisors: Washington could close US bases in Europe to more offensively engage against China.

Independently of the Trump administration’s recent move in that direction, German government advisors are hinting of possible US troop reductions in Germany. In a current analysis of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), the author notes that, given the Corona crisis is inducing a drastic slump in the US economy and the national debt is likely to skyrocket to over 100 percent, it can be expected that Washington will have to set certain priorities in its military policy. The USA would focus more than before on the power struggle with China and possibly reduce its presence in Europe. The Trump administration’s relevant plans have been met with strong criticism in Washington and Berlin. If implemented it would be “a gift for Putin,” according to US politicians and German military officials. It would certainly not be easy for the USA to make major reductions in Germany, where its military installations are playing a key role in US wars.

War Hub Germany

The Trump administration’s plans to significantly reduce US troops stationed in Germany are being met with strong resistance not only within the United States but in Germany, as well. Resentment in Washington is based on the fact that the US military infrastructure in Germany plays a key role in the US forces’ global operations. The United States European Command (EUCOM) as well as United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) are based in Stuttgart. The largest US Air Force base and military hospital outside the USA are in Ramstein and nearby Landstuhl. Airlifting US troops to their deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq are mainly affected over Ramstein; soldiers wounded in those countries are often being treated in Landstuhl. US drone attacks are also being operated via Ramstein.[1] Wiesbaden-Erbenheim is the home of US Army Europe Headquarters, which, according to reports, is also housing “important intelligence installations.”[2] In addition, there are several large military depots (“Army Prepositioned Stock”, APS); the Army Depot in Miesau is considered the largest US ammunition depot outside the USA.[3]

Against Russia

The presence of US troops in Germany is also playing an important role in the power struggle with Russia. Since its escalation in 2014, Washington has intensified US military activities in Europe, not only generally, but particularly those in Germany.[4] This includes equipping the APS depots with military hardware for an eventual war with Russia in eastern or southeastern Europe as well as for maneuver activities. The most recent example is the large Defender Europe 20 maneuver, exercising the redeployment of around 20,000 US soldiers, along with a huge amount of military hardware across the Atlantic and their further transport in the direction of the Russian border. Although the maneuvers had to be interrupted, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they will, however, be continued, at least in a somewhat reduced form under the name, Defender 20-plus. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[5]) From this perspective, it is interesting to note that more US soldiers are stationed in Germany, than in any other country except Japan. Alongside the official 34,500 US soldiers stationed in the Federal Republic of Germany, there are another 11,000 civilian employees. Japan accommodates on a permanent basis more than 55,000 US troops; whereas, in South Korea, their levels have recently been reduced by 2,000 to 26,000.

“A Gift for Putin”

Particular apprehension was provoked both in Washington and in Berlin over the fact that the planned US troop reduction is apt to weaken military pressure on Moscow. That pertains not only to the redeployment of a portion of the permanently stationed units in Germany, but also to the fact that the Trump administration is additionally planning a ceiling on the number of US troops that may be on German soil at the same time – even if some had arrived to engage in short-term maneuvers. The ceiling is supposed to be set at 25,000. Should this be the case, combat exercises, such as Defender Europe 20, where thousands of supplementary US soldiers are to be flown in, are only possible with considerable constraints. Therefore, senior US military officials are in favor of the troop reduction plans not being implemented. This is a “gift for Moscow,” was the exemplary judgment of ret. Lt. Gen. Frederick Ben Hodges, who had served as the Commander of US Army Europe from late 2014 to the end of 2017. Democrat Senator Jack Reed declared that this is doing “Putin a favor.”[6] In Berlin, Vice Chair of the CDU/CSU parliamentary caucus, Johann Wadephul, was quoted saying that “only Russia and China” stood to gain from western discord, such as recent US troop reduction plans.[7] Ret. Gen. Hans-Lothar Domröse also said that the Trump administration’s plans are a “big present to Putin.”

“It’s Complicated”

Berlin’s government politicians are generally showing resentment. Yesterday, Monday, the German government’s Coordinator for Transatlantic Relations, Peter Beyer, was quoted saying “the West is weakening itself.”[8] Although “it is not yet a divorce, the relationship, however, has certainly a poorer quality than we used to have.” Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer reiterated that Berlin had still not been officially informed of Washington’s plans: “We only have the information that was in the press.”[9] Already on the weekend, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas declared that principle importance is attached to US troop presence. “We appreciate the cooperation with the US Armed Forces that has grown over decades. It is in the interests of both of our countries.”[10] Yet, Maas also showed his ire: “We are close partners in the transatlantic alliance. But, it’s complicated.”

“Even More in the Direction of China”

Already prior to the beginning of the current debate, government advisors in Berlin had concluded that the possibility of a US troop reduction in the Federal Republic of Germany should be anticipated. This is based on the fact that the corona crisis is inducing a drastic slump in the US economy, and that the US national debts will skyrocket. As a recent analysis in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) points out, the US debt level, which last year was at 79.2% of its GDP, will rise to 108.0% of the GDP next year. Although it is unexpected that Washington will affect significant cuts in its military budget, “the realization” could ripen “that the USA can no longer accomplish everything in its security and defense policy, and therefore must set priorities.”[11] In general, “the American focus” will “shift even more in the direction of China and the Indo-Pacific” – with the consequences that there will be cut backs elsewhere. “It is highly possible that Washington, due to the economic consequences of the pandemic, will reduce the amount of permanently stationed troops, and close individual bases, if necessary.”

[1] See also Drohnenmorde vor Gericht.

[2] Das Geraune geht weiter. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 08.06.2020.

[3] See also Vom Frontstaat zur Transitzone (II).

[4] See also Der Zwei-Prozent-Konflikt.

[5] See also Kriegsübung trotz Pandemie.

[6] Michael R. Gordon, Gordon Lubold: Trump to Pull Thousands of U.S. Troops From Germany. wsj.com 05.06.2020.

[7] Möglicher US-Truppenabzug aus Deutschland – ein Weckruf für Europa. cducsu.de 06.06.2020.

[8] Berlin schweigt zu US-Abzugsspekulationen – Koalition verärgert. de.reuters.com 08.06.2020.

[9] Matthias Koch: Kramp-Karrenbauer: Wissen von möglichem US-Truppenabzug “aus der Presse”. rnd.de 08.06.2020.

[10] “Es ist kompliziert”. tagesschau.de 07.06.2020.

[11] Marco Overhaus: Das Virus und die Weltmacht. SWP-Aktuell Nr. 44. Juni 2020.

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