Putting a partnership to the test

US President Trump plans to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany. We present the key facts about the plans, the reasons for them, and the criticism they have sparked.

U.S. Army Europe Best Warrior Competition 2019 in Grafenwöhr.
U.S. Army Europe Best Warrior Competition 2019 in Grafenwöhr. dpa

US President Donald Trump announced some time ago that troops stationed in Germany would be withdrawn – but now the actual figures are significantly higher than initially assumed. Around 12,000 soldiers are to leave Germany, with 6,400 returning to the USA and 5,600 being transferred to other NATO countries. The plans have caused considerable uproar, as well as triggering much discussion in Germany and the USA. We provide answers to the most important questions.

How many US soldiers are currently stationed in Germany?

Around 47,000 members of the US armed forces and civilian employees are currently stationed in the states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate; roughly 36,000 of them are active soldiers. Outside the USA, only Japan has more American military personnel stationed on its soil.

Which bases will be particularly affected by the withdrawal plans?

Eucom, the European headquarters for US armed forces, is to move from Stuttgart to the Belgian town of Mons, which is also home to NATO’s headquarters. One of the bases that will be affected in Bavaria is Grafenwöhr in the Upper Palatinate region, which has one of Europe’s largest and most modern military training areas, while the famous 2nd Cavalry Regiment is to return to the USA from its base in the nearby town of Vilseck. In addition, Air Force planes and personnel are to be relocated from Spangdahlem in Rhineland-Palatinate to Italy.

Why are so many troops to leave Germany?

The primary argument cited by US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is the strengthening of NATO. President Trump had repeatedly linked the withdrawal plans to criticism of Germany’s defence expenditure. Though Germany has increased its spending considerably of late, at around 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product this still falls short of the jointly agreed NATO target of 2 percent that the member states are to aim for by 2024. That said, the 2 percent target is not uncontroversial: Germany’s Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has suggested for example that Germany assumes 10 percent of NATO’s capabilities. This would equate to a fixed proportion of the defence alliance’s capacity, regardless of economic fluctuations. Gross domestic product is in any case not a reliable basis for calculation, especially during the corona crisis, which has seen the GDP of many countries decline.

Why is there so much criticism of the US withdrawal plans?

A number of German politicians have highlighted the considerable economic and personal ties between the German population and the US armed forces stationed in the country. The strategic reasons for the withdrawal are not convincing, either: “From the viewpoint of the USA and NATO, Germany was the perfect location. There is no military reason for the withdrawal”, says Bavarian Premier Markus Söder, for instance. There is considerable criticism in the USA, too: Senator and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney describes the withdrawal plans as a “slap in the face of a friend and ally”. Ben Sasse, Republican senator from Nebraska, accuses President Trump of “a lack of strategic understanding”, adding that in contrast to the withdrawal plans the current situation is “cheaper for our taxpayers and safer for our troops”.

What is the timetable?

No concrete timetable was announced by Defense Secretary Esper at the end of July. Even beforehand, cross-party resistance to the withdrawal plans had already emerged in the US Congress. A group of Republican and Democrat senators has laid down a criterion for the defence budget, specifying that financial resources can only be used for the withdrawal of troops from Germany if the Secretary of Defense – after consultation with US allies – assures Congress that the reduction of troops will not weaken either the USA or its European partners or NATO. Apart from the upcoming US presidential elections, this condition is currently regarded as the greatest obstacle to the withdrawal plans.

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