Donald Trump, the US Army and Germany: What is really going on?

Matthew Lynes
Donald Trump, the US Army and Germany: What is really going on?
United States President Donald J. Trump and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany conduct a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Friday, March 17, 2017. ©RS/CNP/MPI/Capital Pictures

The USA continues to declare itself as a global superpower as well as the leader and protector of the free world. As the biggest economic power and a country committed to keeping its interests safe globally, why are they planning to withdraw troops from Germany, and also, why are US troops there in the first place?

The USA boasts having military personnel worldwide in their long-term mission to defend and spread democracy. In the case of Germany, the latest Defense Manpower Data Center figures tell us that there are 34,674 U.S. service members present.

This number is second only to Japan, where the US hosts 55,165. These are huge numbers for two of the biggest democracies in the world, but why are the troops even there?

Since the end of World War Two in 1945, the USA have had a military presence in Germany. In the 10-years following the end of the war, the US armed forces were part of an allied occupation of the country, helping to rebuild the country in the aftermath of the war and install some form of stability following the devastation that the country faced.

Since then, troops have dwindled in numbers but have remained ever-present. This is partly due to the establishment of EUCOM, the United States European Command, in 1952, headquartered in Stuttgart. This mark of commitment and strategic importance must not be forgotten when listening to Trump’s withdrawal threats and countless rants about NATO. 

Whilst Trump suggests that the presence of US troops is largely down to protecting Germany as a member of NATO and ensuring stability in Europe, realistically it is of the US’ interests to position troops there. Without their troops in Germany, US force projection would be difficult with depleted staff at EUCOM and across Germany and some operations would be impossible, especially with the USA’s vested interests in the Middle East and suspicions of countries further afield, including China and North Korea to name a few. 

To top it all off, the US presence in Germany even famously once boasted a young Elvis Presley amongst their ranks in 1958, giving a concert to the people at the base of Grafenwoehr: ever the performer for the big stage, much like the incumbent President! 

Donald Trump, the US Army and Germany: What is really going on?
Source: Twitter

President Trump’s announcement that he plans to withdraw 9,500 US troops by September is all based on defence spending amongst the NATO member states and his attempt to influence other countries internal politics.

Trump has long argued that European members of NATO need to spend more money on their defence and that they can’t rely on the US to bail them out in tricky situations or or do their part to escalate conflicts further. In recent days, Trump has labelled Germany as being “delinquent” in its payments to NATO, whilst also being bad trade partners, arguing that: 

“They’ve cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars over the years on trade, so we get hurt on trade and we get hurt on Nato”

Much of this criticism is unfounded, with NATO members agreeing to commit 2% of their GDP on defence spending by 2024, giving Germany and the rest of NATO’s member states four more years, or conveniently until the end of what could be Trump’s second term, to achieve this objective. Germany have though signalled that they hope to reach this target by 2031 and with the COVID-19 crisis this target may even be ambitious for a country priding itself on stability and a strong economy.

Donald Trump, the US Army and Germany: What is really going on?
Infographic showing US military bases in Germany
Source: DW

Utter this quietly but maybe Trump does have a point, although there are far more important issues to face now with the world facing a global recession in light of COVID-19 and the need to keep people in work across the world. Perhaps now is the time for Trump to put a lid on his boiling pot full of anger towards NATO. 

But we have seen these kinds of charades from President Trump before. Since taking office, Trump has threatened to withdraw troops from Japan and South Korea for financial reasons and has consistently moaned about fellow NATO member states. Only time will tell, but with only 15% of Germans believing that the US bases in Germany were very important and his lack of action on previous threats, Trump’s latest power play may not have a great impact at all.

  1. Does Europe need US troops?
  2. Should NATO members increase their defence spending as a matter of commitment to NATO?
  3. Are US troops in Europe more important to the USA than they are for Europe?

Recommended Readings

BBC, Trump confirms plan to cut troops in Germany

BBC, Why Trump’s plan to withdraw US troops has dismayed Germany

DW, How will Europe guarantee its security without the US?

DW, Trump says US cutting troops in Germany over NATO spending

Financial Times, Trump threatens to reduce US troop numbers in Germany

Statista, Trump Plans To Slash U.S. Troop Numbers In Germany

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