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Auf Wiedersehen Baumholder?

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U.S. Army photo by Jonathan Riley
I had an exchange with a friend earlier today. They suggested that NATO’s case of the Trumps is terminal. I disagreed, but suggested that a Trump victory in 2020 might very well render NATO largely irrelevant to the power politics of western Eurasia. I’m thinking that I might be too optimistic.

The Pentagon is analyzing the cost and impact of a large-scale withdrawal or transfer of American troops stationed in Germany, amid growing tensions between President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to people familiar with the work.

The effort follows Trump’s expression of interest in removing the troops, made during a meeting earlier this year with White House and military aides, U.S. officials said. Trump was said to have been taken aback by the size of the U.S. presence, which includes about 35,000 active-duty troops, and complained that other countries were not contributing fairly to joint security or paying enough to NATO.

Word of the assessment has alarmed European officials, who are scrambling to determine whether Trump actually intends to reposition U.S. forces or whether it is merely a negotiating tactic ahead of a NATO summit in Brussels, where Trump is again likely to criticize U.S. allies for what he deems insufficient defense spending.

U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on the unpublicized effort, emphasized that the exercise is limited to an internal exploration of options. The top military brass are not involved as yet, and the Pentagon has not been tasked with figuring out how to execute any option.

Three quick comments.

  • When you see a leak like this, it’s because someone worries enough to go public in the hope of shutting the whole thing down or otherwise influencing policy debates. That does not mean that their assessment is correct.
  • The absolutely bonkers—or, under this administration, “normal”—part of the story? The president apparently spent a year in office with only the vaguest sense of the topography of American basing arrangements and troop deployments overseas.
  • Redeployment is probably more expensive than keeping the troops in Germany. Not only are the costs of packing up and going home likely to be very high, but Germany subsidizes its American presence in a variety of ways. Moreover, the intimate connection between the American military and the world’s fourth-largest economy also generate a number of benefits that, while not easy to quantify, are still significant.
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