The US Defense Department is exploring the option of withdrawal or transfer of US forces from Germany to Poland. The Washington Post (WP) reported that the costs and implications are being analyzed. On July 5, the White House said it had no such plans but there is no smoke without fire, otherwise why should Poland make an offer to pay $2 billion for an American base on its soil and do it now? The US Air Force began flying unarmed MQ-9 Reaper drones from Miroslawiec Air Base, Poland, in May.
"My statement on NATO being obsolete and disproportionately too expensive (and unfair) for the U.S. are now, finally, receiving plaudits," Trump tweeted during his 2016 presidential campaign. He frequently expressed his frustration over the allies’ failure to abide by the unanimously agreed 2%-of-GDP defense-spending level. The WP report says President Donald Trump reportedly mulled the idea of full or partial withdrawal from Germany in early 2017.
The president has recently sounded very critical of the German chancellor. He is frustrated with her position on a range of issues, including contribution into the NATO collective defense.
Higher military spending is unpopular with German voters. The recent meeting of National Security Adviser John Bolton with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen was quite disappointing for the United States as it was made clear that no substantial increase of German defense expenditure is in sight. German budget projections called for increasing it to 1.5 percent of the country’s GDP only by 2024. Actually Germany refuses to abide by NATO commitment to spend at least 2% on its military.
Saving money? Germany pays a fair share of the costs related to the stationing of US troops and the bases are used by Americans for operations conducted outside Europe. For instance, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. Providing an impetus to US defense industry? Hardly so, Europe has a powerful military-industrial complex of its own.
And the idea of moving the forces comes at the time the Europe is balancing on the verge of break-up. The West has never been so divided since WWII. The European political and military landscape is being reshaped. This is the right moment to take advantage of Europe’s weaknesses. Security dependence on the US can be used as leverage to force concessions in other areas, such as trade.
Being part of the collective West is not what President Trump strives for. As an isolationist, he believes in independence and the way to achieve it is to promote the interests of national state, not a group of countries united into an alliance. American national sovereignty is achievable through a united West’s break-up to make it reshaped into a new alliance led by the United States government instead of a supranational body where America enjoys a strong position but not absolute control. President Trump wants Europe to be economically dependent on America while the US would be paddling its own canoe with no international obligations to shoulder.
The US does not need a strong Europe able to challenge it. Brexit, migrants, the controversial Polish judiciary reforms and a range of other problems dividing the Old Continent to make it weaker meet America’s interests. President Trump offered President Macron what he thought was a better trade deal if France leaves the EU. That’s why Germany, Europe’s economic locomotive, is under constant pressure, be it the Nord Stream-2 gas project with Russia or its reluctance to end trade with Iran. If Germany responds to the challenge, it’ll have to assume responsibility for its own security as well as the security of those who will remain faithful to the idea of European integration. Before the upcoming NATO summit, the chancellor came out in support of President Macron’s initiative to create a European expeditionary force. This is a first step on the way.
Then Europe will have to reconsider its relations with Russia. It’ll need to make it part of a European security project. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the current German President, launched a European arms control initiative in 2016 when he was foreign minister. He proposed to set differences aside and buckle down on achieving a new security treaty to make Europe a safer place. With the US out, a new agreement becomes quite possible. Then the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Germany-led group of European states could launch a joint project on fending off the terrorist threat together. Great Britain could join as a member of the recently agreed on new European Intervention Initiative (EII). After all, Russia and the EU have experience of joint peacekeeping operation in Chad and naval patrols to fight Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.
Going separate ways is not always a bad thing. The US will get rid of free riders. Europeans will be sovereign enough to decide how much they have to spend on defense and other things. They will have a chance to address the real threats to their security, such as the migrants’ problem, and not the ones Washington tells them to focus on. Russia will not be needed to be a bogey keeping together the “Western unity” bursting at the seams. A Germany-led European alliance and Russia could launch a new détente. There will be no losers and everyone will win. The only thing that’s certain is that a new security pattern is emerging in the world and the process is unstoppable.