US President Donald Trump’s troop reduction in Germany is being criticized for its abruptness and lack of specifics. German officials are upset that Trump announced this without advanced notification and analysts claim this weakens NATO or makes allies unsure of American investment in Europe. These complains miss misses several key points and hallmarks of Trump’s presidency that can actually enhance European security.
Making the Best of Trump’s Decision
The withdrawal covers only about 10,000 soldiers which still leaves a significant garrison of 25,000 soldiers and additional personnel. These extra soldiers could be redeployed with stronger allies like Poland and make them even better as defenders against Russia. Poland has long requested a US base as a way to better deter Russia. Currently, over-optimistic training scenarios would have the US move a single division from Poland to the Baltic States to stop a Russian invasion. Yet they are supposed to do this in the face of intense Russian firepower, while also holding a key terrain feature — the Sulwaki Gap — against nearby Russian allies and intensely-militarized Kaliningrad pocket. The US currently doesn’t have heavy forces, artillery, and air assets stationed close enough to the area of conflict to provide the US with proper deterrence, or with the assets needed in the case of active attacks.
But this can change with a base in Poland that provides the needed heavy divisions to counter what Russia could muster in the case of a quick seizure of land. The US has already added several thousand soldiers in a joint NATO deployment to the Baltics. The base in Poland would be hundreds of miles farther from Russian territory than these deployments. Moreover, the biggest concern for these troops is that they would be more of a speed bump than a proper deterrence. The base and added soldiers in Poland would be an important step in making sure these soldiers are not needlessly hung out to dry and that they have the assets like an armored division to properly deter and resist a Russian invasion.
Trump is Serious About EU Raising Military Spending
The sudden announcement is also Trump’s trademark signature. He announces a policy suddenly, such as when he declared there would be a troop withdrawal from Syria. He is criticized for being too sudden, but it sets a bold tone for negotiation and later events that turn out to enhance the interests of America and its allies. In this case, it signals that Trump means business about raising military spending. Germany’s military is withering away from lack of funding and policy makers from both countries will scramble to find a solution suitable to American interests.
Analysts report that Germany has 93 Tornado fighter jets that need “immediate” and “extensive” upgrades. The planes lack NATO identification and have communications equipment that could be intercepted. That means they can’t participate in NATO missions. Germany only has five transport planes that are deployable, but they can’t operate at night because their cockpit lights are too bright. In a 2015 Syria mission, German officials said only 29 combat planes were ready.
Germany’s Abominable Lack of Military Readiness
The problems extend beyond complex aircraft. The Defense Minister reported that German soldiers did not have enough protective vests, winter clothing, or tents to adequately take part in a major NATO mission. During a training exercise, German soldiers resorted to painting broomsticks black to give them the appearance of machine guns. Soldiers then attached them to tanks and other armored vehicles. The country only has 95 combat-ready combat tanks to face a reported 20,000 Russian tanks. In recent anti-terror operations in Mali, half the tanks deployed reportedly broke down.
At the end of 2017, no submarines were available for deployment. The Germans’ new F125 frigates suffer from design flaws that have continually delayed their commission. Even if they are launched, they lack sonar and torpedo tubes making them vulnerable to submarines, at the very time that Russia is increasing its submarine activities. To fix these concerns Prime Minister Angela Merkel promised that Germany will meet a goal of 2% military funding by … 2031!
Results Matter, Big-League
It’s true that Trump has a grating style that can press on allies, and his insistence that allies spend more can come across as bullying. Yet, under Trump’s insistence NATO has increased spending and his allies closest to Russia appreciate his actions. Poland is lobbying to receive some of the soldiers Trump is withdrawing from Germany and claim it will enhance the security of Europe.
I often contrast Donald Trump with Teresa May. This was the Prime Minister of England who endured endless negotiations while always sounding sincere and kind. But she couldn’t deliver Brexit over the course of 4 years and had to resign. Unlike May, Trump doesn’t strike all the right notes that please the press, elites, and literati. But also unlike May, his tough and sometimes aggressive or grating rhetoric produces results. German officials might not like Trump’s stunning announcement of a Trump drawdown in Germany. But they will end up spending more on the military and be a more active partner in the defense of Europe. The only people who remain upset will be those who like endless palavering and state dinners but don’t seem to care as much about actual results.