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He has threatened it many times. But now Donald Trump seems to be serious: On Monday, the US President in Washington officially confirmed in front of press representatives to massively reduce the largest US contingent of soldiers in Europe, which is stationed in Germany. He cited the Federal Government’s refusal to meet NATO’s self-imposed goal of spending two percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. This goal should be achieved by 2024. The federal government has significantly increased the military budget. In 2019, however, the proportion was only 1.38 percent of GDP.
Trump also accuses Chancellor Angela Merkel’s (CDU) government of discriminating against the United States in trade. The German-Russian gas pipeline project “Nord Stream 2”, whose relocation through the Baltic Sea is nearing completion, is a thorn in his side.
Criticism from Germany and from the NATO Secretary General
The announcement that the US troops in Germany will be reduced from 34,500 soldiers to 25,000 has met with harsh criticism in Germany. SPD leader Norbert Walter-Borjans even questions the two percent target, left-wing boss Dietmar Bartsch simply speaks of “extortion”, which is “an absolute no-go” among NATO partners. And NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wants to discuss “the issue relevant to the entire alliance” with the defense ministers of the Allies in the next two days.
But how can the Chancellor react to Trump’s threat without being blackmailed and at the same time not endangering German economic and security interests?
USA expert Jäger: “This situation is extremely dangerous”
USA expert Thomas Jäger from the University of Cologne is concerned about this recent escalation. “This situation is extremely dangerous,” warns the political scientist in an interview with VIP News. And that is mainly due to “lack of alternatives”, which Merkel remained in response to Trump’s push, as well as to Trump himself, who wants to be re-elected as president in November. “Trump lacks an internal corrective and critical people in his government who can save him from serious mistakes.”
In addition, pressure on the incumbent has increased significantly over the past two weeks, not only because of his fiercely criticized corona policy, but also because of his provocative actions after the two fatal cases of police violence against African-Americans.
Federal government’s response options “extremely low”
Jäger estimates the federal government’s scope to react to Trump’s threat as “extremely low”. The USA expert states this at three points.
- Defense spending. These expenses cannot simply be increased drastically overnight, says Jäger. Germany also has less financial flexibility because of the necessary expenses in the corona crisis. “In addition, there is no will in the government factions for a significant increase anyway,” he says.
- Nord Stream 2: The dispute over this gas pipeline “escalates,” says Jäger. The federal government is “pretty much alone” in this project, even within the EU. But since the pipeline is almost finished and the Federal Republic is bound by contracts, an exit seems unthinkable. “The pressure will increase because the US government has already announced that it will extend the pipeline sanctions to all states that are involved in any form of construction.”
- Economic cooperation burdens: Economic cooperation with the USA is particularly difficult in these times. This is mainly due to the sanctions that Trump has imposed on the pipeline construction. Defense Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s attempt to at least militarily accommodate the United States shows how difficult it is. For her proposal to replace old German Tornado fighter jets with American F-34s, she received strong headwinds from her own government.
Trump immune to harsh criticism from senior US military officials
How important the presence of US troops in Germany is, Kramp-Karrenbauer had pointed out in an interview with FOCUS Online on Monday. This presence is also about “the US’s own security interests”. Kramp-Karrenbauer recalled that the Russian cruise missiles SSC-8 “threatened almost all of Europe” and that Russia also “massively upgraded” them. The main problem, however, was and remains that the US President “doesn’t care about European security interests,” says Jäger. “He doesn’t care, and he doesn’t understand either.”
This does not change the fact that Trump repeatedly receives massive criticism from senior military officials. So the Ben points Hodges, the former commander of US troops in Europe, pointed out that the number of troops in Europe had already been greatly reduced in recent years. The remaining approximately 34,500 US soldiers were not primarily used to protect Germany, but were needed “to support American units on the way to Africa or the Middle East,” said Hodges to the editorial network in Germany. “It only hurts us,” added Hodges.
The relationship between the president and the military has not only never been particularly good, but is now classified as broken. That’s why expert hunter doubts whether Trump will listen to these warnings.
What remains is a “certain hope” that Trump will not implement the withdrawal
Hunters still see a “certain hope” that the US President will not actually implement the troop withdrawal. “But even if his military does not like it, the US president is not only head of state, but also commander-in-chief of the armed forces.”