Trump Needs to Tone it Down, Germany Needs to Step up

The looming US troop removal from Germany is the result of Trump’s lack of geopolitical aptitude. Nonetheless, this culmination of a dramatic alienation between Washington and Berlin is not merely one-sided.

Details of the Troop Drawdown

US troops stationed in Germany are to be reduced by 9,500, President Trump reaffirmed this earlier this week in an attempt to penalize Germany. According to Trump, Germany has been in arrears for years on its defense spending commitment and thus owes NATO billions of dollars for not satisfying NATO’s defense spending of two percent of GDP.

The consensus across party lines is that Trump’s actions are downright foolish decision —  classically Trumpian, in other words. It is a conclusion one can easily sign onto. Trump has proven time and time again that he knows about as much about geopolitical issues as he does about being faithful during marriage, honesty and decency. Accordingly, the ratio for his decision is preposterous, if not stupendous.

The Reality of Germany’s Military Spending

Germany does not actually owe NATO or the United States money, as Trump has claimed for years. Germany, like all other members, contributes to the administrative costs of the alliance in accordance with their share.

Trump, however, despite having been in office for almost four years now, still does not comprehend that the issue of budgeting NATO —  which is a fair point —  is based on Germany’s national defense spending as a whole, which is far below the promised two percent, but does not mean that Berlin owes any payments to NATO per se.

Trump is Acting Against American Interests

Moreover, as even Republicans have pointed out by now, Trump is acting against the geostrategic interests of the United States. US bases and troops in Germany not only contained Russia but projected power in the Middle East and Africa. And let us not forget: Germany remains one of America’s most important allies in Europe, as its de facto leader.

Trump’s animosity against Germany is not something he developed during his time in office. If anything, the presidency has exacerbated his already-held views. One of the decade-long constants in Trump’s thinking has been the notion that America is being ripped off by its allies, both in Asia and in Europe. As early as the 1980s, Trump paid a page-high advertisement in the New York Times, accusing Western allies of economically overpowering America while benefiting from expensive American military protection.

It is a one-sided view of the world that ignores the fact that America’s role in the world has grown out of the experiences of two world wars and that the United States itself also benefits from the regulatory framework that it provides and created in Pax Americana.

Trump’s Deceptive Narrative

Nonetheless, the narrative already served Trump in the election campaign and served widespread fatigue among US citizens who believe that their country is overstretched globally and involved in too many costly wars.

It is often overlooked that NATO was by no means created out of the goodness of the heart of the USA, but rather that the alliance was meant to provide a counterbalance for communism, and thus secure capitalism in Europe – which has benefited the United States tremendously.

However, the German economy is geared towards exports like no other and the United States has amassed a considerable trade deficit with the European powers. No country economically benefits so much from the geopolitical framework that America provides as Germany does. Accordingly, the United States ought to expect more from Germany than the current measly percentages it currently chips in to maintain this framework and help the Americans shoulder their heavy burdens.

Germany’s Share of the Blame for Rising Tension

In a way, the troop withdrawal is the catharsis of a long escalation loop in German-American relations since Trump took office. Berlin has never managed to take itself out of the line of fire by finally becoming geopolitically involved in other ways than warm words and instead exacerbated the issue via projects such as Nord Stream 2. European countries even objected the latter, but Berlin moved on, nonetheless.

As a result, Berlin is now facing a non-partisan majority in Congress for sanctions against the pipeline project. All at a time when increasing Russian aggressiveness and doubts about America’s leadership have forced other NATO partners to spend more on defense. Germany, meanwhile, remains passive, seemingly inclined to sit out the Trump era.

The strategic consequences of the partial withdrawal of US troops from Germany for the security of Europe will depend primarily on whether the soldiers return to the USA or are at least partially stationed in Eastern Europe, particularly Poland. Politically, however, this process is an expression of speechlessness and alienation in the German-American relationship —  which, however, is not only the fault of Washington but a result of Germany’s unwillingness to accept its power and responsibilities besides fruitless diplomacy. Germany needs to step up from the minor leagues of geopolitics into the national leagues. Part of doing this will be to increase its national defense budget to a degree that is worthy of Germany’s economic and political status in the world.