The Washington Post

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.

 ?? CHIP SOMODEVILL­A/GETTY IMAGES ?? German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department last week.
CHIP SOMODEVILL­A/GETTY IMAGES German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department last week.

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