Trump signals US will move troops from Germany to Poland
President Trump said Wednesday, following a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda at the White House, that the United States will likely move some of the troops being shifted out of Germany into Poland.
“They’ll be paying for the sending of additional troops, and we’ll probably be moving them from Germany to Poland,” Trump told reporters at a joint press conference with Duda in the Rose Garden. “We’re going to be reducing Germany very substantially down to about 25,000 troops.”
Trump’s remarks essentially confirmed speculation that the administration would move some of the troops it plans to withdraw from Germany to Poland, though he did not offer any further details beyond saying it was a likelihood.
“We’re going to be reducing our forces in Germany. Some will be coming home, and some will be going to other places. But Poland would be one of those other places, other places in Europe,” Trump said.
The president abruptly announced earlier this month that he planned to reduce the permanent U.S. troop presence in Germany from 34,500 to 25,000.
Trump has regularly criticized Berlin for failing to meet the goal set by NATO of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense, a failure he emphasized on Wednesday.
“Germany is paying a very small fraction of what they’re supposed to be paying,” Trump said, accusing Berlin of “tremendous delinquency.”
In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal published Monday, Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien said troops withdrawing from Germany could be moved to “other countries in Europe,” redeployed to the Indo-Pacific or returned to bases in the U.S. O’Brien also acknowledged that details of the plan were still being developed.
Trump has faced blowback, including from some Republicans, for his plans to scale back the U.S. presence in Germany, which critics argue would weaken NATO’s ability to counter Russian aggression.
Trump insisted Wednesday that his moves send a “strong signal” to Moscow, before criticizing Germany for its reliance on Russian natural gas exports.
In his own remarks, Duda said it was ultimately up to Trump whether to send troops to Poland but that he would be “ready” to accept a larger U.S. presence. Duda also emphasized the need to keep U.S. troops in Europe.
“I wouldn’t dare say to the president of the United States of America where he should send his soldiers. This is the decision which is always taken by the United States, and this is a very responsible decision,” Duda told reporters. “However, I do not deny that I requested, Mr. President, that he would not withdraw U.S. forces from Europe because the security of Europe is very important to me.”
Charles Kupchan, who worked on the National Security Council under former President Obama, said sending some forces to Poland would “marginally” compensate for the removal of troops from Germany while asserting that the decision to reduce U.S. presence in Germany suggested a “demotion” in the U.S. commitment to European defense. Kupchan also noted that it is difficult to measure the full impact of the plans given that they are still being developed.
“To put one or two thousand more troops in Poland says we care about the Eastern flank, but when you stack that up to the overall disappearance of, say, 8,000 troops in Europe, it’s a net loss,” Kupchan said.
Wednesday’s meeting marked the first visit from a foreign head of state to the White House amid the coronavirus pandemic since March 12. Trump and Duda said a wide range of topics were discussed, including efforts to confront the novel coronavirus, defense cooperation and energy security.
Still, the meeting fell short of any concrete deliverables, such as a final defense agreement that has been subject to deliberation since Trump and Duda announced plans to bring 1,000 U.S. troops to Poland last year.
Duda, a conservative nationalist, is staring down a surprisingly tight reelection battle in just four days.
The proximity of his trip to the White House to the election prompted some to criticize Trump for seemingly trying to tip the scales in favor of a foreign leader he views as a personal ally. U.S. presidents have typically avoided meetings with foreign counterparts within a month of them facing an election, though Trump has not adhered to the tradition.
Trump offered full-throated praise for Duda during the press conference, commending him for doing a “terrific job” and predicting he would win reelection.
“I don’t think he needs my help,” Trump said, adding that he was honored to take the meeting. “He will do well with or without us. He is going to have a great success.”
Duda told reporters that the pandemic disrupted plans for the two leaders to meet and that they had agreed to meet “as soon as possible,” expressing his gratitude to Trump for inviting him to Washington.
Trump has built a personal bond with Duda over his presidency since meeting the leader in Warsaw in 2017. He has now hosted him three times at the White House, including roughly a year ago in a meeting that was marked by an elaborate F-35 flyover.