President Donald Trump said on Monday that he would cut the number of US troops in Germany to 25,000, claiming the country had failed to meet NATO’s defence spending target and accusing it of taking advantage of the United States on trade.
The reduction of about 9,500 troops would be a remarkable rebuke to one of the US’s closest allies and trading partners and undermine a pillar of post-war European security: that US forces would help defend alliance members against Russian aggression.
It was not clear whether Trump would be able to carry through on his plan, which first emerged in media reports on June 5, given criticism from some of the president’s fellow Republicans in Congress who have argued a cut would be a gift to Russia.
Speaking to reporters, Trump accused Germany of being “delinquent” in its payments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and pledged to stick with the plan unless Berlin changed course.
“So, we’re protecting Germany, and they’re delinquent. That doesn’t make sense. So, I said, ‘we’re going to bring down the count to 25,000 soldiers,'” Trump said, adding that “they treat us very badly on trade” but providing no details.
In 2014, NATO set a target that each of its 30 members should spend 2 percent of GDP on defence. Most, including Germany, do not.
Plan triggers unease
Trump’s remarks were the first official confirmation of the planned troop cut, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal and later confirmed to Reuters by a senior US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
That official said it stemmed from months of work by the US military and had nothing to do with simmering tensions between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who recently declined the president’s invitation for an in-person summit of the G7 nations.
Asked about Trump’s statement, German Ambassador to the United States Emily Haber said US soldiers were in Europe to defend transatlantic security and in an arrangement that also benefitted the United States.
“This is about transatlantic security but also about American security,” she told a virtual think-tank audience, saying US-German security cooperation would remain strong, and that her government had been informed of the decision.
Last week, sources told Reuters that German officials as well a number of US officials at the White House, State Department and Pentagon were surprised by the Wall Street Journal report and they offered explanations ranging from Trump’s pique over the G7 to the influence of Richard Grenell, the former US ambassador to Germany and a Trump loyalist.
“There is sure to be significant bipartisan opposition to this move in Congress, so it is possible any actual moves are significantly delayed or even never implemented,” said Phil Gordon of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.
“This move will further erode allies’ faith in NATO and US defence guarantees,” Gordon added, saying it may also “weaken the deterrence of Russia or anyone else who might threaten a NATO member.”