US reverses Trump-era troop withdrawal from Germany

Defence secretary confirms Biden’s commitment to Nato with promise to add 500 personnel

German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer  and US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin bump elbows to greet each other in Berlin on Tuesday. Photograph: Kay Nietfeld/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin bump elbows to greet each other in Berlin on Tuesday. Photograph: Kay Nietfeld/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

 

After four tense years of Trump stick, the relief was palpable in Berlin when the new US defence secretary Lloyd Austin arrived on Tuesday waving Biden carrots.

On an inaugural visit to Europe overshadowed by a growing standoff on the Russian-Ukrainian border, Austin confirmed the Biden administration would increase the US military presence in Germany.

It was a striking reversal from the previous administration’s threat to withdraw troops in response to Germany’s struggle to meet its Nato defence spending commitments.

At a press conference with his German counterpart Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Austin said the US would add about 500 personnel to the US base in the Wiesbaden area, near Frankfurt, by the autumn.

“This planned increase in US personnel underscores our commitment to Germany, and to the entire Nato alliance,” he said, describing it as a way to “strengthen deterrence and defence in Europe and... augment our existing abilities to prevent conflict”.

The new personnel in Germany would focus on cyber and electronic warfare readiness and boost the US commitment to defend US allies on the continent, he said.

Strategic priorities

Last August, the US announced a plan to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany and redeploy some 5,500 to neighbouring Poland. While his officials insisted the US was merely reordering its strategic priorities, Trump said the motivation behind the move was that “we don’t want to be the suckers anymore”.

The Biden administration has suspended the plan to reduce the 35,000 troops stationed in Germany, and an undertaking to move its military command from Germany to Belgium, pending a comprehensive global US military review.

Kramp-Karrenbauer welcomed the announcement as a “strong signal” of a healthy US-German relationship.

Ahead of her US visitor’s arrival, the German defence minister announced a further increase in military spending and a massive rearmament programme over the coming years. 

Even with a “new style” in Washington that was “more dependable” than what had gone before, she said, US concerns over European Nato spending remained, and it was in Germany’s interest to do more for its own security.

Defence spending

Even with its additional €2.5 billion in this budget period, Germany’s defence spending is nearing just 1.2 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) – still some way from Nato’s 2 per cent guideline.

“I find this isn’t sustainable, it’s not near enough to develop further our abilities to tackle effectively the threats we face,” she said.

Naming Russia and China as Germany’s two greatest security threats, she said Beijing was working hard to make its army “the largest and most modern in the world” while Russia was a “very imminent threat, both with conventional and nuclear weapons”.

After Berlin, Austin headed to Nato headquarters in Brussels for a meeting alongside US secretary of state Antony Blinken.

On Tuesday Blinken attacked as “very provocative” Russia’s stationing on the Ukrainian border its largest number of troops since 2014. He reiterated that “the United States stands firmly behind the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. 

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