Why the US is Threatening to Move Troops Out of Germany

The Trump administration has renewed its calls for NATO allies to spend more of their GDP on the military alliance. US President Donald Trump has often bashed its allies for what he believes is a situation that amounts to them taking advantage of American military protection. In exchange for the alliance which treats an attack on one member state as an attack on all, each member state contributes to the overall budget which goes towards defence capabilities. 

Giving Less

Some countries, however, contribute less than others due to the arrangement of the budget. By 2024, all member states should meet a goal of spending two percent of their GDP on the alliance. Currently, not all nations are meeting that goal, which is still years away. Germany has come under fire by US Ambassadors to both Germany and Poland, which could take in US troops if Trump carries out a threat to move them from Germany. 

“It is offensive to assume that the US taxpayers continue to pay for more than 50,000 Americans in Germany, but the Germans get to spend their (budget) surplus on domestic programmes,” said Richard Grenell, US Ambassador to Germany. 

Germany’s current budget outlook shows that it will not meet the 2024 target and will even miss the 1.5-percent goal that Chancellor Angela Merkel set last year. It has earmarked 1.37-percent of its GDP for NATO next year, but that will slide back down to 1.24-percent in 2023, a year before the two percent goal which countries pledged to meet. 

In April, NATO leaders met in Washington for the 70th anniversary of the alliance. In what many had hoped would be a celebratory affair, in many ways it ended up being an opportunity for critics to harp on Germany for its alleged shirking of financial responsibilities. Of NATO member states, Germany boasts the second-largest economy behind the US, the latter of which comprises two-thirds of all NATO spending equal to $686 billion. While Germany spends less of a percentage of its GDP than several other members, it is still the fourth-largest contributor in terms of dollar amount, behind only the US, United Kingdom, and France. 

“I’ll be talking about Germany, I always talk about Germany,” Trump said prior to the NATO convention. “Germany, to be honest, is not paying their fair share. 

While Trump did not attend the NATO meeting – heads of state were not invited, with the organization instead opting to invite foreign ministers – he certainly had opportunities to make his opinion on the matter known and his administration put full pressure where it could. Vice-president Mike Pence met with a small NATO delegation where he also called on Germany to do more, whereby “more” clearly meant “spend more.” 

“More allies are now meeting their commitments, but too many others are falling short as we acknowledge, Germany is chief among them,” Pence said. 

Other Means 

Heiko Mass, German foreign minister, responded to the criticism directed at his country by pointing out that Germany’s defence spending has risen 40 percent over the past five years. 

“Burden-sharing is more than defense expenditure. Anyone asking about burden-sharing must look at the entire spectrum of resources, capabilities, contribution to NATO operations and alliance defense,” Mass said. “NATO may be a security alliance but above all it’s an alliance of values.”

By reducing the sum of a state’s NATO contribution to a single percentage amount, it could be argued that other factors are thereby ignored. In Germany’s case, it is one of the top-spenders and also leads several military aspects of NATO, including the war in Afghanistan. Ignoring these tenants of the alliance, although not as easily-calculated as the budgetary contributions, does a disservice to nations that help NATO in other ways. 

Furthermore, there is a question of how resources are used. The Trump administration threatened to move its troops to Poland if Germany fails to meet the 2-percent goal, but how exactly would that impact either country? Are US troops stationed in Germany there for its benefit or for the purpose of extending America’s power across the globe. NATO was primarily designed to be a selfless defense mechanism by which all member states agree to protect one another, but the US often uses its overseas military installations to fight its own battles. 

Asking member states to do do their fair share is not unreasonable, but to ignore other ways aside from an arbitrary spending level makes the Trump administration’s argument solely about the bottom line. Furthermore, it assumes that other nations have defense-led budgets like the US whereby military spending is constantly rising and seldom questioned. The reality is that states like Germany have other matters which the consider of equal importance to defence, such as higher education and healthcare. Trump’s criticism of Germany is simply a reason for him to attack NATO as a whole, an institution which he has never been fond of.