The Irish Times view on Nato and the United States: Growing apart

The strategic hit Germany may take in its ability to repel a Russian advance is almost certainly less dramatic than the economic blow base closures would represent

German chancellor Angela Merkel and US president Donald Trump after a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a Nato summit in Brussels in July 2018. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/ AFP via Getty Images

German chancellor Angela Merkel and US president Donald Trump after a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a Nato summit in Brussels in July 2018. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/ AFP via Getty Images

 

On the campaign trail Donald Trump has a long list of international targets for his derision, from the UN to the EU, WTO and many others. As Nato defence ministers met yesterday by teleconference, the organisation, branded by the US president as “obsolete”, was absorbing his latest broadside.

On Monday he announced his intention to pull out 9,500 of the 34,500 US troops based in Germany.

Trump has long complained that Germany and others are freeloading off the US commitment to European security by failing to meet Nato’s 2 per cent of GDP targets for military spending. “We’re protecting Germany and they’re delinquent. That doesn’t make sense,” he said this week. “Until they pay, we’re removing our soldiers.”

European leaders see in the threat, however, more evidence of the US undermining of the trans-Atlantic alliance by a once-dependable ally – and another argument for increased European self-reliance.

Germany spent 1.38 per cent of its GDP last year on defence, but efforts by the CDU to raise that have been opposed by junior coalition partner, the SPD. The Greens and the left-wing Die Linke also oppose raising defence spending.

German diplomats also argue that, as Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg points out, the US presence is as much about protecting the US itself and trans-Atlantic security, and projecting US power into the surrounding region, as about defending Germany. The Ramstein airbase and Landstuhl military hospital “are essential for what the US has done over decades in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, and in Africa,” Stoltenberg says.

The strategic hit Germany may take in its ability to repel a Russian advance is almost certainly less dramatic than the economic blow base closures would represent. And if, as some suggest, the troops are redeployed to Poland, the monetary saving to the US will be marginal. Its standing among allies will be the real price it pays for this posturing.

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