There was silence at first. A lot of silence. Just six weeks ago, the federal government only knew that US President Donald Trump wanted to withdraw about 9,500 of the 34,500 American soldiers in Germany. Not more. “Specific withdrawal plans are not on the table,” Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) reported in mid-June.
After all, communication across the Atlantic has improved. This week there will be “a coordinated publicity statement from both the Americans and our agencies,” a spokeswoman for the minister has now announced.
Which garrison cities of the US troops are affected?
The tension grows. Because there are decisions of enormous importance. For the defense strategy in Europe and especially deterrence towards Russia. For the soldiers and also for the garrison towns in Germany. According to what has been heard so far, several federal states will be affected by the withdrawal.
The prime ministers of Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse and Bavaria had recently written a letter to 13 members of the US Congress to prevent the withdrawal. The fundamental decision is evident, however, as the Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry of Defense, Thomas Silberhorn, affirmed this morning on “Deutschlandfunk”. It was a personal request of the US President, he emphasized. The CSU politician is currently traveling to the USA.
Trump’s plan – like a punitive action
Donald Trump had always portrayed the plan as a kind of punitive action. Because Germany spends too little on defense in its view, US soldiers should withdraw. The previous ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, had recently appeared in this cause like Trump’s personal executioner.
It remains to be seen whether the climate will improve with his designated successor, the retired Colonel Douglas Macgregor. Critical quotations on German defense expenditure have also been handed down from him. For example this: “Thanks to us, the Germans do not feel obliged to defend themselves. And the president just said, “Look, why should American taxpayers defend you when you are not willing to defend yourself?” Said Macgregor on Fox News two years ago.
Kramp-Karrenbauer in contact with US colleagues
Defense Secretary Kramp-Karrenbauer is said to have a good relationship with her colleague in the United States, Mark Esper. She only spoke to him last Friday. The close connection has made things a little easier in the last few weeks. The minister had always stressed that the whole of NATO was at stake. With a view to the large US facilities in Landstuhl, Ramstein or Grafenwoehr, she had emphasized that all of this also affects American security interests.
The federal government wants to inform the parliament first of all about the plans and only then inform the public.
Even Obama was upset
The US side is planning – according to experienced defense politicians – a mix of real withdrawal from Europe and transfer to other European countries. From government circles it only says: “We have to be patient a bit longer until we get the bike on.” The decision has a signal effect in any case. If, for example, larger groups were to be relocated to the Indo-Pacific region, this would be a further indication of a changed strategy of the United States. This is how the Minister explained it a few days ago.
For years there has been anger in the United States about Berlin’s defense spending. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, has repeatedly called for improvements. The linchpin: At a meeting in Wales in 2014, the NATO partners had agreed to increase their defense spending by 2024 “towards two percent” of gross domestic product (GDP).
Germany has promised 1.5 percent for the time being until 2024. Kramp-Karrenbauer has been fighting hard and tough for an increase since taking office last year. Only – among other things – does the acceptance in the population set limits. The SPD is also braking.
Rethink the NATO quota?
A glance at the current economic development alone shows that there are factually obvious reasons to question the meaning of today’s NATO quota. If Germany’s gross domestic product declines dramatically due to the corona crisis, reaching the two percent mark will virtually become a sure-fire success. Because then a higher percentage is achieved even with constant defense expenditure. Kramp-Karrenbauer recently brought another benchmark into play when visiting the Visegrad countries. Germany could contribute ten percent of NATO’s capabilities, the CDU politician suggested. It would then have to be clarified exactly how they should be measured. So far, it is only a first impetus for the Minister.
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