Senate has to pass the bipartisan legislation for security in Europe
A bipartisan group of six senators has introduced a critical amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The provision attempts to stop the administration from making a dangerous decision for the military. It would prevent the planned drawdown of American troops from Germany unless the secretary of the Defense Department can prove that doing so will not harm the security of the United States and its allies in Europe.
Every senator needs to support this bill. The withdrawal would degrade American and European security, and would be financially costly to the United States. If Congress does nothing to slow or block this rash move, President Trump may then harm the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance irreparably, benefiting only President Vladimir Putin.
Trump announced last month that he wants to withdraw 9,500 American troops currently stationed in Germany. That country hosts more than half of American troops in Europe, who are there as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance and several American defense missions. The news, which had surprised both the Pentagon and the State Department, as well as Berlin and other allies, lacked any defense rationale.
Trump has made clear that the drawdown is punishment for low defense spending by Germany. In 2014, the allies pledged to budget 2 percent of gross domestic product in defense spending by 2024, but Germany has fallen behind in pace. Trump said Berlin is “delinquent” for its payments, despite the fact that North Atlantic Treaty Organization members do not pay dues. Each country decides how much it will spend with its defense budget. Germany has four more years to try to reach the goal.
The withdrawal of American troops will not convince Germany to spend more. Chancellor Angela Merkel is wildly popular at home, and Germans hold negative views of Trump, so Merkel will feel no domestic pressure to cave. Merkel is also prevented by law from racking up a budget deficit to spend more on defense. Instead, the United States will bear the costs. If some American troops are sent to Poland, while others come home, the United States will have to build new facilities in both places, and pay the costs of closing German facilities and relocating the soldiers.
More important, however, is that American troops are not in Germany as an act of charity. For 70 years, the United States has maintained a national security strategy based on forward defense by stationing troops overseas to meet threats far from its shores. Germany is a hub of this strategy and hosts the European Command, Africa Command, military hospitals, and training facilities. Germany is a base for a global military strategy, which helps in keeping the United States safe by preventing war in Europe and beyond. This strategy has worked rather well for Washington.
The United States can change its overseas commitments. It has done so many times in history, withdrawing American troops from Asia during the Vietnam War, and across the world after the Cold War. When it has done this in the past, it is because a national security threat has been reduced, and the United States has always worked closely with each of its allies to ensure that they do not think that they are being abandoned.
Trump has turned this logic on its head. There is no sign that the security situation for Europe has improved. Far from working to assure allies they will stay safe, the plan seems intended to punish Merkel for declining to attend a Group of Seven summit and for the spending reasons.
This capricious approach of the president could likely harden perceptions among allies that the United States can no longer be trusted, making allies less willing to work with Washington to counter more threats from Russia, China, and even on the global pandemic response. An American foreign policy that cannot count on key allies will be far more costly and far less effective. The only obvious beneficiary of the move is Moscow.
The reckless drawdown plan is a reminder that the president holds nearly unfettered authority to manage allies however he pleases. Given that the administration stood by as Russia paid bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan, the least Congress can do is stop another sacrifice to Putin. Even if it passes this amendment, lawmakers have to be vigilant.
Whether in Germany or in South Korea, where the administration has yet another spending standoff, Trump seems bent on unraveling alliances in Europe and Asia, which have kept the United States safe and prosperous for 70 years. Impulsive moves such as this one can be perilous.
Mira Rapp Hooper is the Stephen Schwarzman senior fellow with Council on Foreign Relations and she is the author of the recently published book “Shields Of The Republic: The Triumph And Peril Of American Alliances.”