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[ 86 ] May 22, 2012 |

Atrios asks a good question: Why do we still have 50,000 troops stationed in Germany? Is this a good use of resources?


Comments (86)

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  1. Barry Freed says:

    But Fulda Gap!

  2. cpinva says:

    because removing them would cause a nasty hit to the german economy. the areas the troops are stationed in have become dependent on them, and would suffer dramatically, were they to disappear. the same reason we have the B-1 bomber.

    • DocAmazing says:

      I think I speak for people all over Greece when I say: fuck the German economy.

      • djw says:

        + some incredibly large number.

        I mean really, if Keynesianism abroad is the justification, is there a less justified place for it on some sort of need/desert calculus?

      • dave says:

        Unfortunately, if you fuck the German economy, you fuck the economy of the whole of Europe, and thus the world. [No, yes, really]. Fucking anyone’s economy is not a good idea, which is why it’s such a shame that successive Greek governments fucked theirs. Ably assisted by Goldman Sachs, of course.

        • RhZ says:

          Hmm. Guess that logic means we are fucked…

          So we’re not allowed to pass on the fucking? That seems like a strange conclusion to reach.

        • djw says:

          But whatever economic stimulus the American military presence is currently providing is surely quite modest, given the size, scope, and relative health of the German economy. Yes, of course blowing up the German economy out of spite would have significant negative consequences extending far beyond Germany. But that’s so beyond the scope of what we’re talking about here it’s entirely irrelevant.

      • DrDick says:

        Indeed. There is no reason that we should, as the Greeks currently are, sacrifice our economic well-being to bolster the German economy. They certainly are not willing to help anyone else at any cost to themselves.

    • Alan Tomlinson says:

      Speaking for the great majority of Germans, except for those in the areas in question, I’m sure we would all be much happier if the troops in question would indeed be off on their merry way.

      As it happens, a lot of those troops are their because the US uses Germany as a staging area. It’s a convenient distance for airlift both to and out of the Middle East, there is a rather good hospital, there is a solid infrastructure system, etc.

      If any of you thinks that it’s some sort of large boon to any governing party in Germany that there are still US troops here, you might want to get out more. While Kaiserslautern does benefit financially from the US military presence, that effect is very localized and is not really appreciated outside of K-town(as the US calls it).

      If the US left, the great majority of Germans would say, I suspect, that took a while. They wouldn’t say it rudely, but they’d say it.


      Alan Tomlinson


      Alan Tomlinson

      • Randy Paul says:

        Amen. If anything , Kaiserslautern is sui generis. I lived there twice when my dad, a civilian employee of the US Army was stationed there: 1963-64 and 1972-74. Last week while paying a visit to Germany, my wife and I went there, walked from the Bahnhof to Fliegerstrasse, where I lived both times and discovered that all of the buildings had been razed and new housing is being constructed for the German community. If anything, the diminishment of the forces there has provided jobs in the constrcution industry.

        Nearby Ramstein AFB, is little more than a forward operating station for the USDOD operations in the Middle East and Landstuhl Hospital is primarily for casualties from Afghanistan.

      • Steve LaBonne says:

        Exactly. And the fact that it’s a staging area that facilitates our excellent Middle Eastern and West Asian adventures makes it even a far worse use of resources than it already appears to be on the surface.

    • LeeEsq says:

      Will the German economy really be hit that bad if American troops withdraw as a whole. The areas of Germany where troops are stationed will be hurt but most places in Germany would still be quite fine. Living in a rust belt city isn’t nice but just because one place in a country sucks economically, does not mean that the entire country collapses.

  3. Rarely Posts says:

    Yes. Anything that we can do to make it less likely that Germans start feeling like becoming more militaristic is almost certainly worth it from a cost-benefit scenario. 50,000 troops is definitely worth it. The same reasoning applies to Japan. I love both countries, their histories, their culture, and everything about them, but you don’t want either of them thinking that the United States is not watching them like a hawk.

  4. ironic irony says:

    All I have to say is, I live in Germany, and I love it. Loved being stationed here.

    Don’t forget though, there are German soldiers and airmen stationed in the US, just not in the same numbers (they mostly go to our military training schools).

  5. DocAmazing says:

    Soldiers in Germany are some of the few adult Americans who learn or speak any language other than English or have any exposure to a culture other than mid-US.

    That’s a useful thing.

  6. Will someone read this boy some Schelling

    Tripwire forces gotdamn

  7. greylocks says:

    I don’t actually know, but I suspect that few of these are actual combat units. The various US bases in Germany provide a tremendous amount of rear-guard support to the forces in the Middle East. I believe Germany is also one of the main layovers for troops heading to/from the Middle East.

    That doesn’t answer the question of whether that many are actually needed, of course.

  8. elm says:

    Troops in Germany demonstrate the U.S. committment to NATO and allow cross-training with NATO partners. (For good or ill, most U.S. combat missions include NATO.)

    Germany is closer to many hot-spots than the U.S., so it serves as a forward-base of sorts.

    Do you really trust Putin?

    I don’t know if all of this justifies 50,000 troops, but I think it’s enough to justify a decent sized force. (We have 2 infantry brigades in Germany, one cavalry regiment, a helicopter brigade, an army headquarters and all the support staff, and two air force fighter squadrons, plus an airborne infantry brigade and 2 more fighter suqadrons in Italy. That’s a whole lot of firepower in Europe. We could probably drop one of the infantry brigades and accomplish whatever mission needs accomplishing in Europe.)

    • SpiderBat says:

      Do you really trust Putin?

      I trust Putin not to invade Germany the same way I trust Castro not to invade Florida.

      • elm says:

        Well, yes, but if he decides to invade Ukraine, it’d be nice to have those troops in Germany. (The third reason wasn’t really serious.)

        There’s also the Tom Clancy scenario: what if China invades Siberia and the U.S. decides to defend Russia? We’ll need those troops in Germany if we have any hope of getting anyone into the battle in time. (I’m not serious here, either, though I think Clancy was.)

    • sparks says:

      Y’know, I read that as “cross-dressing with NATO partners”

  9. M. Bouffant says:

    Why are American troops stationed anywhere but on Wall Street, our “number one geopolitical foe?”

  10. Linkmeister says:

    Ramstein AB provides support to the Middle East and the Balkans. Landstuhl is a huge regional med center for Iraq and Afghanistan wounded.

    If we have infantry in Germany, that seems wasteful, I agree.

  11. Townie 76 says:

    A bi-partisan amendment was offered to the House version of the NDAA directing that all American troops be withdrawn from Germany; to the surprise of many it passed. Two of the sponsors were Betty McCollum of MN and Jack Kingston of Georgia.

    As a retired military officer I ask the same question, why are we still there?

  12. ajay says:

    Is this a good use of resources?

    Question not asked: compared to what? Is the alternative “sacking them all” or “bringing them back to the US”?

    The important thing is that Germany is no longer a place where the US sends troops to do stuff. It’s a place where the troops live in between being sent to other places to do stuff. If they weren’t in Germany, 172nd Inf Bde, etc, would need to live in the US in between deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, which would not actually be much of a saving (if any) compared to leaving them in Germany, especially once you think about the cost of building or refitting a new brigade-sized post in the US to put them in. We’ve had exactly the same debate in the UK – much of our heavy armour stayed in Germany for years after the Wall came down not because we were still worried about 3 Shock Army storming over the IGB, but because we literally didn’t have anywhere to put it back in the UK.

    The other thing about having troops based in Germany is that it allows them to train with lots of European troops rather more easily than either flying them over to Europe for exercises and courses or flying the Europeans over to the US for exercises and courses. And as long as the US government still insists on having European help in every war it fights (and complains endlessly when it doesn’t get it) that sort of joint training is probably worthwhile.

    • Kurzleg says:

      It might not be much of a savings, but as with all of our military bases around the world, their presence makes it much easier to pursue dim-witted adventures like the Iraq War. Closing foreign bases would help cramp the style of those who cavalierly council “intervention” in foreign countries. Maybe this is a case of the horses already leaving the barn, but one can dream.

      • ajay says:

        It might not be much of a savings, but as with all of our military bases around the world, their presence makes it much easier to pursue dim-witted adventures like the Iraq War

        I am not quite sure about this. The US troops that invaded Iraq were based in Camp Pendleton, Camp Lejeune, Fort Stewart, Fort Campbell, and Fort Bragg. None of the troops based in Germany were used in the invasion. So I’m not sure that closing the German bases would have done much good there.
        Not allowing US troops into Kuwait, though, would probably have doomed the entire invasion. I’m not sure you’d want to take an entire corps in through Fao and Umm Qasr.

        • Kurzleg says:

          I am not quite sure about this. The US troops that invaded Iraq were based in Camp Pendleton, Camp Lejeune, Fort Stewart, Fort Campbell, and Fort Bragg. None of the troops based in Germany were used in the invasion. So I’m not sure that closing the German bases would have done much good there.

          As someone else mentioned above, the role of the German bases isn’t war fighting per se but rather a supporting one, particularly medical support. Without established support bases like those in Germany (especially Rammstein), fighting a war in Iraq would be far more precarious for the fighting men and women. Precarious operational conditions don’t necessarily prevent something like Iraq from occurring, but at least there are some significant logistical obstacles to overcome in order to make things like these from happening.

          If you don’t have bases already in place, then you’d have to negotiate with foreign countries for use of their assets. That’s a not minor hurdle. Kuwait may have agreed to allow US forces to use the country as a base of operations anyway, but the simple act of having to negotiate such things before proceeding does have a braking effect that can be useful in minimizing cavalier use of force.

          Let’s not forget that one of bin Laden’s stated reasons for opposing/attacking the US was the US bases in the ME. That alone may not be a strong enough argument to get rid of them, but it does suggest the relative unpopularity of the bases amongst the wider ME populations. Bin Laden took an extreme position. The populations in the ME mostly don’t share that extreme, but they’re sympathetic to the general opposition of US forces in the land. In the end, less US military presence – not to mention operations – would probably increase our standing amongst the ME populations generally.

    • somethingblue says:

      If they weren’t in Germany, 172nd Inf Bde, etc, would need to live in the US in between deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan

      See also: Space Shuttle, International Space Station.

  13. Charlie Sweatpants says:

    Yes, the idea of a Russian attack into Western Europe is very farfetched these days. And yes, those bases are more for cross-NATO training and support for our adventures elsewhere than they are for keeping down the Germans. I’d even agree that on a strict, by-the-numbers accounting basis (or even a semi-plausible war game scenario), you’d be hard pressed to say it’s worthwhile.

    However, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that for an awful lot of people in the former Eastern Europe, membership in NATO (which is who those troops are there to protect and reassure) is very valuable. For one thing, democratically elected governments from all over the former Warsaw Pact and Yugoslavia keep petitioning to be let in. For another, Putin era Russia has shown a marked tendency to interfere more in non-NATO places than NATO ones. Those things aren’t wholly caused by NATO membership, of course, but it’s a lot easier for the Prime Minster of Estonia or Bulgaria to ignore the kinds of constant demands the Russians place on places like Belarus and Georgia.

    Moreover, it’s a lot easier to see the Cold War as ancient history on this side of the Atlantic than it is on the other. Tanks manned by guys speaking Russian were cruising the cities of the Soviet Republics just two decades ago, and plenty of people in Slovakia and the Czech Republic still remember 1968. Those troops are a lot more important to them than they are to us.

    There’s a realist case to be made that we shouldn’t care about that. But given that those countries (recent doings in Hungary notwithstanding) tend to be far more democratic, liberal, and respectful of human rights than their erstwhile allies (including Russia itself), it would be coldhearted and embarrassing not to take their opinions and their people’s well being into account.

    • Kurzleg says:

      In other words, US bases in Eastern Europe at least make the region more stable? I don’t think that’s true in the Middle East, but it’s at least plausible in Eastern Europe.

  14. With due respect to Duncan, “nobody is talking about it” and “nobody I pay attention to is talking about it” are different things. There’s a pretty robust conversation about the utility of the German bases in the strategic community. For my part, if you’re going to maintain a quasi-imperial foreign policy then you need bases like those in Germany, and the Germans don’t seem to mind terribly. Indeed, putting the bases in a happy, friendly place like Germany means that you have to put fewer troops in places like Bahrain (although obviously not zero).

    The wisdom of maintaining a quasi-imperial foreign policy is another question entirely, although I think that some of the responses here have suggested that the German deployment can be justified even under multilateral/liberal internationalist configurations of American interest.

    • Leak says:

      There’s a pretty robust conversation about the utility of the German bases in the Army installation management community.

    • Charlie Sweatpants says:

      “With due respect to Duncan, “nobody is talking about it” and “nobody I pay attention to is talking about it” are different things.”

      True enough, but for all the ink and pixels spilled over “counterinsurgency” in the last six years, discussions at technical and military levels didn’t have much of an effect on how we ended the Iraq War, and they remain quite peripheral to how we’re ending the Afghan one. It’s not that those arguments didn’t matter, it’s just that they were far less influential than I think most of their participants would like to admit.

      If the troops in Germany are ever going to actually be removed or significantly modified, there will need to be a conversation among the people Atrios is paying attention to, but they’re never going to get to it until Afghanistan is over at the very least, and by then the strategic community may have changed its mind, or Russia may appear more or less threatening, or any of a dozen other things might change the situation.

  15. Pathman25 says:

    Why do we have 800 military bases around the world? Global hegemony. The war machine is making the world safe for corporate profits. The other half of the equation of course is the pentagon/corporate welfare system. You know, socialize the costs of developing new technology and privatizing the the profits. It’s win win!!

  16. Jesse Levine says:

    40 years ago there was a huge debate over whether the economy should be focused on “guns or butter”. That debate is over. War is the most profitable business we have, and no president will risk an overseas retrenchment that will add hundreds of thousands of capable men and women to the domestic job market.

    • ajay says:

      Jesse, the US armed forces are a lot smaller now than 40 years ago, and their budget considerably smaller as a percentage of total government spending.

  17. Because as long as the US offers guarantees to Germany, backed by the presence of US troops, the Germans have no excuse to build a nuclear arsenal?

    I dunno if that’s the reason, but I often wonder.

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