President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Germany “lacks strategic rationale" and will prove beneficial for an assertive Russia, a leading German defence expert has said.
Germany's defence establishment feels that Mr Trump is acting on a misunderstanding that US deployments are a “reward” for the alliance, not a vital pillar for American interests.
Mr Trump was also accused of running a “protection racket” by using the security provided by US troops in Germany as leverage over the country, said Bastian Giegerich of the International Institute for Security Studies (IISS).
His words come after the White House announced it was withdrawing 9,500 troops stationed in Germany, leaving behind a garrison of 25,000 soldiers and airmen. Berlin was given little warning of the decision.
Mr Trump has argued that American taxpayers are spending far too much money on defending Europe when the majority of Nato countries fail to spend the agreed two per cent of GDP on their defence budgets.
But his precipitate move last week has been roundly condemned as a strategic error by Mr Giegerich, formerly of the German Ministry of Defence.
“This is the US’s most strategic advantage in the age of great powers competition with China and Russia. If the US runs alliances as a protection racket then really that advantage will erode over time only strengthening Beijing’s and Moscow’s hand.”
But the US ambassador to Berlin said earlier this week that Americans were "paying too much" for other countries' security. "American taxpayers no longer feel like paying too much for the defence of other countries," Richard Grenell told German newspaper Bild. He added that further US troops would be withdrawn from South Korea and Japan and that the numbers had been discussed at a Nato summit last December. At the height of the Cold War America had 277,000 troops based in Germany in 1962.
A worldwide US scaling down is seen as a worrying development for Western powers with China increasingly dominant and other countries such as Russia and Iran growing in strength.
Mr Giegerich said the withdrawal could also be seen as “punishment” for Germany’s use of Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Russia and for not spending enough on defence – even though German defence spending in Nato has increased.
“US troops in Germany are not deployed there as some sort of reward for good German behaviour but because it is in the US interest to have them there,” Dr Giegerich told a media webinar. “Not only for the deterrence posture of Nato but also for the US force projection further afield and into other theatres and regions. Withdrawing those means limiting US options more than anything else."
The precipitate withdrawal also showed the US “decision-making process is broken” because bureaucrats had thought they could circumvent Mr Trump’s policy announcements made on Twitter.
The Director of Defence and Military Analysis at IISS then warned: “I would say that the withdraw undermines US efforts over the years, to reassure European allies and to strengthen the deterrence posture of Nato in the face of assertive Russia.”
He concluded that the decision will “add fuel” to the debate over greater European defence autonomy with less reliance on America.