Mil­i­tary eyes its forces in Europe

U.S. WEIGHS COST OF EX­IT­ING GER­MANY Trump has called on NATO to do more


The Pen­tagon is an­a­lyz­ing the cost and im­pact of a large-scale with­drawal or trans­fer of Amer­i­can troops sta­tioned in Ger­many, amid grow­ing ten­sions be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the work.

The ef­fort fol­lows Trump’s ex­pres­sion of in­ter­est in re­mov­ing the troops, made dur­ing a meet­ing ear­lier this year with White House and mil­i­tary aides, U.S. of­fi­cials said. Trump was said to have been taken aback by the size of the U.S. pres­ence, which in­cludes about 35,000 ac­tive-duty troops, and com­plained that other coun­tries were not con­tribut­ing fairly to joint se­cu­rity or pay­ing enough to NATO.

Word of the as­sess­ment has alarmed Euro­pean of­fi­cials, who are scram­bling to de­ter­mine whether Trump ac­tu­ally in­tends to re­po­si­tion U.S. forces or whether it is merely a ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tic ahead of a NATO sum­mit in Brus­sels, where Trump is again likely to crit­i­cize U.S. al­lies for what he deems in­suf­fi­cient de-

fense spend­ing.

U.S. of­fi­cials, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to com­ment on the un­pub­li­cized ef­fort, em­pha­sized that the ex­er­cise is lim­ited to an in­ter­nal ex­plo­ration of op­tions. The top mil­i­tary brass are not in­volved as yet, and the Pen­tagon has not been tasked with fig­ur­ing out how to ex­e­cute any op­tion.

A spokesman for the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil at the White House said in a state­ment that the NSC had not re­quested a De­fense De­part­ment anal­y­sis of repo­si­tion­ing troops in Ger­many. But “the Pen­tagon con­tin­u­ously eval­u­ates U.S. troop de­ploy­ments,” the state­ment said, and such “anal­y­sis ex­er­cises” are “not out of the norm.”

Sev­eral of­fi­cials sug­gested that Pen­tagon pol­i­cy­mak­ers may have moved ahead with the as­sess­ment to prove the worth of the cur­rent bas­ing ar­range­ment and dis­suade Trump from car­ry­ing the thought of with­drawal any fur­ther.

Pen­tagon spokesman Eric Pa­hon dis­missed any sug­ges­tion of a full or par­tial with­drawal from Ger­many and de­scribed such anal­y­sis as rou­tine.

“The Pen­tagon reg­u­larly re­views force pos­ture and per­forms cost-ben­e­fit analy­ses,” he said in a state­ment. “This is noth­ing new. Ger­many is host to the largest U.S. force pres­ence in Europe — we re­main deeply rooted in the com­mon val­ues and strong re­la­tion­ships be­tween our coun­tries. We re­main fully com­mit­ted to our NATO ally and the NATO al­liance.”

Since the end of World War II, the U.S. troop pres­ence in Ger­many has been viewed as a bul­wark against a po­ten­tial Rus­sian in­va­sion of Europe and a stag­ing ground for U.S. op­er­a­tions in Africa and the Mid­dle East.

De­fense of­fi­cials said a cost anal­y­sis of op­tions for chang­ing that was be­ing con­ducted at a staff level to in­form a wider dis­cus­sion about the U.S. troop pres­ence in Europe. As part of the reg­u­lar anal­y­sis of the cost and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for its troops around the world, the United States has dra­mat­i­cally re­duced the size of its force in Ger­many from Cold War lev­els.

But per­sis­tent doubts in Europe about Trump’s com­mit­ment to the al­liance have made even the pos­si­bil­ity of rou­tine changes to Amer­i­can force pos­ture in Europe far more charged.

The re­de­ploy­ment sce­nar­ios un­der study in­clude a large-scale re­turn of U.S. troops sta­tioned in Ger­many to the United States and a full or par­tial move of U.S. troops in Ger­many to Poland — a NATO ally that has met the al­liance’s de­fense spend­ing tar­gets and whose lead­er­ship is more in tune with Trump.

In re­cent months, Poland has pro­posed spend­ing at least $2 bil­lion to ob­tain a per­ma­nent U.S. base. The U.S. mil­i­tary al­ready fields a ro­tat­ing force in Poland, with other al­liance mem­bers do­ing the same in the Baltic states, as part of a NATO ef­fort to de­ter in­creas­ing Rus­sian ag­gres­sion along the al­liance’s east­ern flank.

Euro­pean of­fi­cials are hop­ing to em­pha­size Western unity at the NATO sum­mit July 11 and 12. But Trump re­mains dis­pleased that many NATO coun­tries fail to spend at least 2 per­cent of their gross do­mes­tic prod­uct on de­fense, a tar­get al­liance mem­bers agreed to reach by 2024. The United States spends about 3.58 per­cent of its GDP on de­fense.

Al­though sev­eral U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions have called on Europe to spend more, Trump is par­tic­u­larly fo­cused on the bal­ance sheet. He has been es­pe­cially crit­i­cal of Merkel, on de­fense and a range of other is­sues.

Last week, White House frus­tra­tion was on dis­play in a con­tentious meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton be­tween Trump’s na­tional secu- ad­viser, John Bolton, and Ger­man De­fense Min­is­ter Ur­sula von der Leyen. Von der Leyen said Ger­man bud­get pro­jec­tions called for in­creas­ing de­fense spend­ing to 1.5 per­cent of the coun­try’s GDP by 2024. The White House was dis­ap­pointed with Ger­many’s ef­forts, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials.

A se­nior NATO of­fi­cial said that nei­ther the al­liance head­quar­ters nor in­di­vid­ual mem­ber gov­ern­ments had been no­ti­fied of any Trump plans to raise the is­sue of with­draw­ing or repo­si­tion­ing Amer­i­can troops in Europe at the sum­mit, al­though all are aware of Pol­ish lob­by­ing to place at least some com­po­nents there. The of­fi­cial spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss a mem­ber govern­ment in ad­vance of the sum­mit.

The of­fi­cial said Poland’s of­fer was “peanuts by com­par­i­son” to U.S. mil­i­tary in­vest­ment in Ger­many, in­clud­ing “the value of 60 years of sunk costs in fa­cil­i­ties” such as the Land­stuhl mil­i­tary health com­plex and Ram­stein Air Base.

The NATO of­fi­cial and oth­ers sug­gested that the cost anal­y­sis of the U.S. pres­ence in Ger­many and a pullout op­tion was rem­i­nis­cent of Trump’s leaked re­quest last win­ter for mil­i­tary op­tions to go to war with North Korea, de­signed “to scare the liv­ing day­lights out of ev­ery­one and get [North Korea] to the ta­ble.” In this case, the of­fi­cial sug­gested, the goal may be to “pile more trou­ble” on Merkel, while rat­tling the al­liance in gen­eral and po­si­tion­ing him­self as a sum­mit spoiler.

U.S. al­lies host­ing per­ma­nent Amer­i­can mil­i­tary foot­prints pay for a cer­tain por­tion of the costs in var­i­ous ways. Ja­pan and South Korea, for ex­am­ple, make cash con­tri­bu­tions, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 study the Rand Corp. pre­pared for the U.S. de­fense sec­re­tary’s of­fice, while Ger­many sup­ports the U.S. troop pres­ence through in-kind con­tri­bu­tions such as land, in­fra­struc­ture and con­struc­tion, in ad­di­tion to fore­gone cus­toms du­ties and taxes.

Bas­ing its sta­tis­tics on data from 2002, the study es­ti­mated that Ger­many off­set about 33 per­cent of the costs of U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel sta­tioned there. It is un­clear how much would be saved by bring­ing them all home, be­cause the United States would still be re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing them, in ad­di­tion to hous­ing and other per­son­nel ex­penses. At the same time, a large por­tion of the Amer­i­can troops in Ger­many are en­gaged in the U.S. mil­i­tary’s ef­forts out­side Europe and sim­ply base op­er­a­tions in the na­tion.

The U.S. mil­i­tary had been draw­ing down its pres­ence in Europe for years be­fore Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea from neigh­bor­ing Ukraine in early 2014 prompted a change in pos­ture, with Wash­ing­ton seek­ing to de­ter Moscow from fur­ther en­croach­ments. U.S. and al­lied forces be­gan ro­tat­ing brigades through the east­ern mem­bers, and the U.S. started re­turn­ing equip­ment such as tanks and he­li­copters to the the­ater.

Trump’s dis­dain for the al­liance — which he de­clared “ob­so­lete” dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­rity paign — has clearly been fo­cused on Ger­many, and on Merkel in par­tic­u­lar, in­clud­ing re­cent tweets say­ing she was los­ing her grip on power at home.

Bolton’s meet­ing with von der Leyen, and his em­pha­sis on the bot­tom line, came more than a year af­ter Trump tweeted in March 2017 that Ger­many owes “vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the pow­er­ful, and very ex­pen­sive, de­fense it pro­vides to Ger­many!”

Trump’s am­bas­sador to Ger­many, Richard Grenell, has also ruf­fled feath­ers, telling a con­ser­va­tive news out­let this month he wants to “em­power” the Euro­pean right — a re­mark that some Euro­pean gov­ern­ments view as threat­en­ing.

Se­nior House Democrats en­dorsed a let­ter this week penned by Rep. Seth Moul­ton (D-Mass.) calling on Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo to fire Grenell. A State De­part­ment of­fi­cial con­firmed re­ceipt of the let­ter but did not com­ment on its con­tents.

As Trump has railed against NATO — de­scrib­ing it at this month’s Group of 7 sum­mit in Canada as “worse than NAFTA,” the tri­lat­eral trade agree­ment he has also de­nounced — al­lies have been com­forted by sup­port from De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis and to some ex­tent from Pom­peo.

In a Senate hear­ing on the State De­part­ment bud­get Wed­nes­day, Pom­peo spoke of “strong, united At­lantic unity,” even as “we have pushed them to in­crease their will­ing­ness to sup­port NATO forces.”

Adding to the con­fu­sion of the over­all U.S. mes­sage at a time when Trump is pro­mot­ing bet­ter re­la­tions with Rus­sia, Pom­peo said the ad­min­is­tra­tion was pres­sur­ing the Euro­peans to main­tain sanc­tions against Moscow, im­posed over the Crimea an­nex­a­tion.

“It is time for them to care as much about push­ing back against Rus­sia as we do” and to “con­vince them that the sanc­tion regime is im­por­tant to achiev­ing out­comes that are in the best in­ter­est of Europe,” Pom­peo said.

While Trump has mused about why the al­liance con­tin­ues to os­tra­cize Rus­sia over Crimea and floated the sug­ges­tion that Rus­sia be read­mit­ted into the G-7, Pom­peo re­it­er­ated that “we re­ject” Rus­sian oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea and Ge­or­gia and that the ad­min­is­tra­tion rec­og­nizes the threat Moscow poses to East­ern Europe.

The United States un­der Trump, he noted, had in­creased its fund­ing for NATO forces ro­tat­ing in the Baltic states and Poland. “I think this ad­min­is­tra­tion has been un­am­bigu­ously tough on Rus­sia,” Pom­peo said. “I think that is in­dis­putable.” Missy Ryan and Greg Jaffe con­trib­uted to this re­port.


Ger­man De­fense Min­is­ter Ur­sula von der Leyen with Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo at the State De­part­ment last week.

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