After the announced partial withdrawal of about 12,000 US soldiers from Germany, the German-American relationship is heading for a new low. SPD parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich advocates that Berlin should now take its own consequences and put arms projects with the United States to the test. President Donald Trump pursued a policy of “arbitrariness and pressure” that “could not be the basis for partnership-based cooperation,” said Mützenich der Süddeutsche Zeitung. “Against this background, arms cooperation will also have to be assessed in a new light.”
The government has so far only “noted” the announcement of troop withdrawal. Chancellor Angela Merkel, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (both CDU) and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) are on vacation.
Currently, there are two main procurement projects in which the US industry is to receive several billion euros each. Defense Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) wants to replace half of the aging Tornado fighter jet fleet with 45 F-18 aircraft from the US manufacturer Boeing. The project is also highly controversial in the SPD because part of these jets are supposed to be technically able to carry US nuclear bombs stationed in the event of war in Germany. So far, Germany has fulfilled this obligation from the concept of so-called nuclear participation with the tornadoes.
Preliminary talks with the USA are currently underway. The deal could have a volume of at least about eight billion euros, according to a recent estimate by Greenpeace. However, the business should not be ready for decision until 2022 at the earliest.
Billions more for new helicopters – from the United States?
The procurement of new, heavy transport helicopters as a replacement for the CH-53 transport helicopters of the Bundeswehr, which also came to the end of their lives, is much more advanced. Two US manufacturers are currently applying with German partner companies for this major order, for which Parliament has budgeted 5.6 billion euros. The decision on the purchase should be made in 2021.
However, Mützenich hardly sees any basis for such cooperation with Washington. Trump had justified the partial withdrawal of the US troops, which he had announced in June, with what he considered to be insufficient defense expenditure in Germany and, among other things, led NATO’s two percent target. It provides for all allies to move closer to spending at least two percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024.
Germany has now moved closer, defense spending has increased continuously, sometimes significantly, in recent years – but is still significantly below target at 1.38 percent. Mützenich now said: “The withdrawal of troops and their reasons are further evidence of the irritation and increasing alienation between the United States and Germany. While the President comments on the whole thing in the understanding of a debt collector, the Secretary of Defense postpones strategic considerations.” Mützenich concludes from this: “No matter what you want to accept: arbitrariness and pressure cannot form the basis for a partnership-based cooperation.”
“Trump Tries To Make Field Policy Gains”
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced on Wednesday that the United States wanted to withdraw about a third of the soldiers previously stationed in Germany as quickly as possible. Over half of the approximately 12,000 soldiers affected are to be brought back to the United States, and another 5,600 will be transferred to other NATO countries. In addition, two command centers are to be relocated.
Union and FDP foreign and security politicians expressed the hope that Trump’s withdrawal plans were due to the presidential election campaign and might not ultimately be implemented in this form. “Trump is trying to achieve domestic political field gains for the upcoming US election in less than 100 days. He is accepting the weakening of the West,” said CDU MP Roderich Kiesewetter SZ. Berlin has stopped the Bundeswehr’s “chronic underfunding” since 2014, but Trump does not recognize this. Now he even gives Russia a “disarmament gift” with the withdrawal of troops. With regard to opposition in the congress, a “revision of the decision still seems to be possible”.
The FDP foreign politician Alexander Graf Lambsdorff said the SZ: “It remains to be seen whether the measures that require enormous logistical and time expenditure can be implemented before the election.” In his view, Trump challenger Joe Biden could make a difference if elected in the fall. “Biden knows Germany well, he might revise the decision in the event of an election victory, but he, too, would push massively for more commitment and a more responsible security policy by the federal government.”
Lambsdorff sees Berlin, and above all the SPD, as jointly responsible for the latest decisions from Washington. “Although criticizing Donald Trump is popular and partially correct, you have to know that the very popular Barack Obama has already demanded more German involvement in NATO,” he said. For example, the withdrawal of troops “is also the receipt for the Federal Government’s long-standing refusal to present a coherent security policy concept”. Germany “gives a picture of misery in terms of security policy” and, unlike its predecessors, Trump no longer takes “diplomatic consideration”.