America is considering a defense pivot in Europe, which President Donald Trump claims to be in accordance to Russian threats and Germany’s failures to meet their NATO financial obligations. In January, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said America will begin this shift by withdrawing about twelve thousand of the thirty-six thousand American troops from Germany.
Under the plan, about 5,600 of these troops will be relocated to different NATO countries, with a particular emphasis on Poland as Russia has a large military presence in neighboring Kaliningrad. In addition, plans to shift American airmen from the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall to Germany have been canceled.
Currently, America rotates about 4,500 military personnel throughout Poland on a monthly basis as a part of Operation Atlantic Resolve which was issued to deter Russian hostility after Russia’s 2014 military intervention in Ukraine. But Secretary Esper added that once Warsaw signs a defense cooperation and burden-sharing agreement with America, there may be “other opportunities as well to move additional forces into Poland and the Baltics.”
The shift is raising considerable security concerns in Europe as the region may become vulnerable to Russian interference by breaking important NATO solidarity. This is “a gift to Russia,” according to Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), who attempted to block the reallocation of resources and personnel through legislation.
America started placing troops in Germany to deter Soviet forces because of Germany’s relatively close proximity to the region. But today, much of the former Soviet Union has joined NATO, which has shifted America’s focus from Germany further east to Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and the Baltics.
On top of this, there are numerous stimuli influencing the change in posture, yet there is no general consensus among American politicians in favor of the withdrawal whether this is a strategic move or a punishment. President Trump claims this is an effort to penalize Germany for their failure to meet their NATO financial obligations. “We don’t want to be the suckers anymore,” the president announced, “so we’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills.”
In contrast, Esper is calling this a calculated strategy by US military forces that will benefit America and its NATO allies at a relatively minimal cost. While opinions remain divided, most arguments in favor of this shift still recognize Germany as an important ally in Europe.
Though important, advocates of the move are saying that Germany is no longer a frontline country, and attention must shift further east to the Baltics in order to more thoroughly confront Russia. At the same time, the withdrawal of troops allows for a pivot of resources and manpower towards other, more pressing geopolitical threats, such as China.
However, those opposing this move are calling it myopic. For one, it is predicted to cost billions of dollars for what may turn out to be a less-than credible military alliance: having rotational troops in Europe, as this plan lays out, as opposed to permanently stationed troops decreases America’s credibility and commitment to secure their European allies. In addition, Romney is calling this a “grave error” affecting our German allies as it’s increasing Russia’s abilities to cause disruptions in the region at a critical time when America has just realized Russia’s support of the Taliban.
As America’s perceptions of this move remain disjointed, the German public too appears to be polarized at America’s extraction of forces from the region.