The U.S. military in Germany

Why Germany hosts by far the biggest contingent of American troops in Europe.

A lieutenant-general from the Ramstein U.S. Air Base in Spangdahlem
A lieutenant-general from the Ramstein U.S. Air Base in Spangdahlem dpa

Since the end of the Second World War, members of the U.S. forces have been stationed at various locations in Germany. Having numbered 246,875 soldiers in total in 1985 (in other words six years before the end of the Cold War), by December 2018 the figure had fallen to 35,220. Alongside the active servicemen and women, there are now also 440 members of the reserves and the National Guard, as well as 11,096 civilian employees of the U.S. Army in the country. Germany therefore hosts by far the biggest contingent of American troops in Europe.

After the end of the Second World War their presence was underpinned by the law of occupation, but now the legal basis is the so-called Convention on the Presence of Foreign Forces in the Federal Republic of Germany, which was concluded in October 1954 between Germany and eight other signatories. The soldiers’ rights and obligations, which include numerous privileges and immunities, among other things, are set out in the NATO Status of Forces Agreement of 1951, as well as the Supplementary Agreement of 1959.

The current contingent of American troops in Germany is distributed across 11 main and a plethora of smaller locations, the majority of which are located in Rhineland Palatinate. While the smaller bases are responsible primarily for logistical tasks and training, the main locations are important bases for current combat missions involving U.S. forces. Ramstein Air Base, for example, functions as a logistics hub for virtually all the American Army’s deployments in the Middle East, and as a signal relay station it also plays an important role for data exchange with unmanned aircraft. In Weilerbach nr. Kaiserslautern the biggest U.S. military hospital outside of the United States is currently under construction, due to be finished in 2022. The U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart also includes the headquarters of AFRICOM, which coordinates all American operations in Africa.

The future U.S. military hospital in Weilerbach
The future U.S. military hospital in Weilerbach HOK/HWP Architekten/dpa

Due to its geographic location, Germany is of particular strategic importance for the American Armed Forces. Despite this, the number of U.S. troops in Germany has been falling over the past few years and several bases have been closed. One reason for this is the shift in the United States’ security policy, which is increasingly focussing on the Asia-Pacific region. Nevertheless, in September 2018 the U.S. headquarters in Wiesbaden announced that around 1,500 additional soldiers would be relocated from the USA to Germany by 2020. An investment of 570 million US dollars is also earmarked for expansion of the military bases in Rhineland Palatinate in 2019.

The presence of U.S. military personnel has a positive effect on the economy in the various regions: Soldiers and their families rent and purchase homes, make use of local leisure facilities and buy consumer goods. What’s more, the facilities also create jobs for non-Americans: In 2014, 6,154 German civilians were employed by the U.S. Army. On the other hand, the German government also invests in the military facilities. For example, it contributed 151 million euros to the planning costs for construction of the military hospital in Weilerbach.