Spotlight: U.S. draws down forces in Germany, to chagrin of Congress, allies

Source: Xinhua| 2020-07-30 11:04:55|Editor: huaxia

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, July 29 (Xinhua) -- The White House announced Wednesday that it would withdraw roughly 11,900 U.S. troops from Germany, in a sweeping troop re-organization that has brought condemnation from both parties in the U.S. Congress, as well as from European allies.

The pullout has spurred concern among U.S. lawmakers who contend that the forces are not there to protect Germany, but rather to provide a base for operations in the Middle East, as well as a symbolic barricade against Russia.

The move also irritated Germany's government.

Germany's Bavaria State's Minister-President Markus Soeder on Wednesday blasted the U.S. move, saying Germany hoped the next U.S. president would reverse the plan.

"We very much regret the U.S. government's decision. Unfortunately, this puts a burden on the German-American relationship," Soeder said, contending that the withdrawal had no strategic purpose and would weaken the NATO alliance.

"We are now waiting to see if the decision will last," Soeder said.

German lawmaker Peter Beyer, also the transatlantic coordinator for Chancellor Angela Merkel, echoed those thoughts, saying the sweeping pullout was "completely unacceptable, especially since nobody in Washington thought about informing its NATO ally Germany in advance," as quoted in Germany's Rheinische Post news publication in June.

At a White House briefing on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters: "We don't want to be the suckers anymore," reiterating his contention that NATO allies are taking advantage of the U.S. generosity.

"We're reducing the force because they're not paying their bills. It's very simple," Trump said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said some U.S. troops would be deployed to the Black Sea region and others might temporarily take up positions in the Baltics.

Others would permanently move to ally Italy, and the U.S. military's headquarters would move from Germany to Belgium.

At a Pentagon briefing, Esper said the move would boost U.S. strategic interests, and prepare the military for "a new era of great power competition."

William Courtney, a retired U.S. ambassador and now an adjunct senior fellow of U.S. nonprofit global think tank RAND Corporation, told Xinhua that while Trump may have initiated or accelerated the shift, senior Defense Department officials also point to military strategy as a reason.

However, any move back to U.S. soil of a combat brigade team, which comprises around 4,000 soldiers, would signal to Moscow that Washington was less committed to protecting Europe.

"Permanently-stationed defending forces are more visible and pose a greater obstacle to any potential aggressor than do rotating forces, which may be absent or unable to return to Europe if a crisis emerges," Courtney told Xinhua.

"By unsettling the NATO alliance once again, Trump's actions are likely to reduce Europe's confidence in U.S. support for its security," Courtney said.

Explaining Trump's myriad reasons for the drawdown, Republican Strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua that "Trump likes to keep promises. And he made the point that the U.S. was going to draw down troops around the world, and he's now living up to that."

O'Connell added that the American public does not like being seen as the world's police.

"Obviously there is an effort to get NATO to pay their bills, but there's also a yearning among the American public to draw down our presence around the world. But that doesn't mean weakening the efficiency and effectiveness of the American military abroad when it's needed," O'Connell said.

Meanwhile, the White House is weighing the possibility of reducing U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula. The move has drawn harsh criticism from inside Trump's own party, as well as from U.S. experts.

U.S. media reported recently that the Pentagon had given the White House options for the possible reduction of the U.S. troop presence in South Korea, amid a battle with Seoul in which Washington is demanding significantly more cash to keep U.S. forces there. Enditem