United States to withdraw 9,500 troops from Germany

-- some may be destined for Poland; no prior discussion within NATO

7 June 2020

US President Donald Trump has approved a plan to withdraw 9,500 US troops from bases in Germany by September, US media say. The move would reduce US troop numbers in Germany to 25,000, compared with the 34,500 currently there, a senior US official said. In addition, about 17,000 US civilian employees support US troops in Germany. A second senior administration official said the 9,500 troops would be sent elsewhere: some to Poland, some to other allied countries, and the rest would return home.

The German foreign ministry has not commented, but two senior members of the ruling Christian Democratic Union party expressed concern at the news. MP Andreas Nick said the fact that the Pentagon had made no public comment, instead directing inquiries to the White House, indicated "that the decision is purely politically motivated".

Johann Wadephul said the plan showed "once again that the Trump administration is disregarding an elementary task of leadership: the involvement of allies in the decision-making process". Wadephul also spoke of a "further wake-up call" to Europeans to position themselves better in terms of security policy.

The US military presence in Germany is a legacy of the post-World War Two allied occupation of the country. Germany currently hosts by far the largest number of US forces in Europe, followed by Italy, the UK and Spain. Some US personnel based in Europe support non-NATO operations and US military numbers fluctuate as forces are rotated in and out of Europe.

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki invited the US president to reassign troops to his country instead. Speaking to a Polish radio station Morawiecki said: "I deeply hope that as a result of the many talks that we had part of the troops based today in Germany which are being removed by the United States will indeed come to Poland. The decision is now on the US side". There are nearly 5,000 US soldiers currently stationing in Poland, but "we hope that this contingent will continue to increase," he also said.

The US troops withdrawal is the latest twist in relations between Berlin and Washington, which have often been strained during President Trump's presidency. In May, the then US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, accused Berlin of undermining NATO's nuclear deterrent, criticising Merkel's junior coalition partners after some of their leaders called for nuclear disarmament (see NATO Watch Observatory No. 53).

President Trump has pressed Germany to raise defence spending and has accused Berlin of being a "captive" of Russia due to its energy reliance. He has been particularly critical of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between the two countries. On 4 June, a group of US senators submitted a bill that would expand the US sanctions to targeted countries involved in the project.