A press report, which has so far not been officially confirmed or denied, about alleged US troop withdrawal plans from Germany has sparked a new debate in Brussels about the future shape of the transatlantic relationship.
However, a constructive basis for this will only be available after the November presidential election in the United States – if at all.
Trump’s fight for re-election knows no bounds
There is an election campaign in America at the moment, and US President Donald Trump is leading it by all means. An analysis by the Washington office of the FDP-affiliated Friedrich Naumann Foundation concludes: “Trump’s appetite for conflict has increased in recent months, which also shows his determination to pave the way for a second term at all costs. “
Every volte from Washington is officially cautiously commented on, especially in NATO, which is largely dependent on the United States, with the well-known appeasements: common interests, loyalty to the alliance and community of values.
But even German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer had to admit this week at the “Brussels Forum” of the German Marshall Fund (GMF): “One can say that the transatlantic relationship is currently stressed.” The head of the German Social Democrats in the European Parliament, Jens Geier, becomes even clearer: “If the next US president is not Trump, you can take a deep breath through the bodies of the European Union.”
But that this hope could come true is far from certain. The EU and NATO contingency plans must take into account that Trump could shake the foundations of the western alliance for another four years, observed with approval from Moscow and Beijing. The list of his solo efforts is already long, including the doubts he expressed about NATO’s right to exist, troops withdrawn from Syria and Afghanistan, and a nuclear dispute with Iran.
Kramp-Karrenbauer disturbed by pictures from Washington
The man who has to hold the NATO alliance, his Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, insists that neither Europe nor the US alone should shoulder the challenges of the next decade.
Also at the “Brussels Forum” of the GMF, he resisted the impression that the United States is withdrawing its protective hand from Europe: “Over the past few years we have seen an increase in the US presence in Europe.” Stoltenberg led one as proof additional U.S. brigade and regularly rotating American troops in Eastern Europe.
But uncertainty remains about the course and inner state of the old partner on the other side of the Atlantic. Kramp-Karrenbauer rated the images of the presence of the security forces in Washington during the recent anti-racism protests as “disturbing”.
The security policy expert of the CDU in the European Parliament, Michael Gahler, takes refuge in sarcasm when assessing the art of government of Donald Trump: “Occasionally he can also be persuaded by his experts.”
They could perhaps make it clear to the United States commander-in-chief that there are not many of his combat troops in Germany anyway. But a lot of logistical staff that is decisive for the global ability to intervene in the United States, on air force bases, in the field service and in command structures.
Gahler therefore advises serenity, especially since experience has shown that Trump does not make all of his announcements true. And should the Americans actually pull troops out of Germany, but deploy them elsewhere in Europe, the overall effect would be “harmless”.
The New World will no longer rush to the aid of the Old World
But Russia should see it differently. If there were to be a permanent transfer of US troops from Germany to the east, for example to Poland, where they would be welcomed, this would violate previous assurances of NATO’s military self-restraint near the Russian borders. Trump is the only one, according to the Brussels EU information service “Politico”, to make a withdrawal of troops look like an act of aggression.
73 years after the USA supported the Marshall Plan with a generous reconstruction concept for post-war Europe and thus also its own interests, an American president knows only one interest: his.
The experts at the German Marshall Fund, who guard the legacy of the far-sighted former US Secretary of State George Marshall and thus the transatlantic bridge construction, come to a shocking conclusion when they compare the new beginning at that time with the new start of Europe today and with Corona.
The reconstruction of European economies under pandemic conditions, they conclude in one of their analyzes, will prove to be more difficult than the economic recovery after the Second World War.
“The economic recovery plan that EU leaders are debating these days – a European plan for European countries – reflects the depressing current circumstances of a weak transatlantic relationship and an ever-increasing tendency of the United States towards isolationism. There is no new Marshall Plan for this crisis; the New World, in all its strength and power, does not rush to help the Old World. “
American and European interests are not automatically identical
She prefers to put her legs on it, like in the punitive tariff war with the EU instigated by the White House. “The Trump administration’s approach to EU-US trade relations is completely different from that of previous governments,” warned the European Parliamentary Research Service.
But despite the “harsh words” from the White House, the economic output of the United States and the EU combined still accounts for almost half of the world’s gross domestic product, the Americans being the largest investors in the EU and the Europeans being the largest investors on the other side of the Atlantic. The involvement of German companies in the U.S. alone accounted for almost half a trillion US dollars in 2018, according to the Federal Association of German Industry (BDI), and contributed to securing more than 770,000 U.S. jobs in 2017.
The need for cooperation also makes sense based on these facts. The CDU security expert Gahler therefore emphasizes the need for a free trade agreement with the USA. A first attempt failed, also due to resistance in Europe. “American interests are not automatically the same as European ones,” says Gahler.
Of course, this was already the case before Trump. And the Europeans have to be accused of not having contributed enough to the expenses for NATO and thus their own security in the past decades.
Upgrading promised despite Corona costs
Kramp-Karrenbauer has promised that, despite the enormous corona costs, the Federal Republic will continue to increase armaments expenditure in order to meet NATO commitments. According to them, each member country of the alliance should spend two percent of its economic output on the alliance contribution from 2024. At the moment, German engagement is just under 1.6 percent.
Trump is not the only one who should insist on fulfilling the promise if he stays in office. His potential successor Joe Biden will also show little interest in deferring deferred Europeans. Otherwise, however, the SPD politician Jens Geier, a member of the European Parliament delegation for relations with the United States and married to an American woman, hopes that a new White House resident could “pick up where Obama left off”. . In other words: work up four lost years.