Well, that depends on what the Trump administration does with those troops.
Trump is not the first president to announce troop withdrawals from Germany. In 2004, President George W. Bush pulled nearly 70,000 troops out of Europe and Asia, including about 30,000 troops in two heavy divisions from Germany — moving them out of Cold War garrisons, bringing some of them home, and repositioning the rest so that they could better respond to hot spots in the world. Doing so, Bush promised, would “reduce stress on our military families” and simultaneously “raise the pressure on our enemies.”
Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, says this administration is doing much the same thing. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, O’Brien explained that while the details are still being worked out, thousands of American troops currently stationed in Germany may soon “redeploy to the Indo-Pacific, where the U.S. maintains a military presence in Guam, Hawaii, Alaska and Japan, as well as deployments in locations like Australia,” while thousands more “may be reassigned to other countries in Europe.” If that comes to pass, then the move will deter, not strengthen, Russia as well as China.
There is simply no reason to station so many troops in Germany in the 21st century. The Iron Curtain that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo patrolled as a young Army officer came down three decades ago. Yet American troops are still stationed on the old Cold War line of contact that separated East and West Germany. We no longer need to stop a Soviet tank invasion across the Fulda Gap. Today, the threat from Moscow has moved east, and the time has come for U.S. forces to move east with it.
Right now, the Trump administration is finalizing an agreement to move thousands of American troops to permanent bases in Poland. The U.S. already inaugurated a new divisional headquarters in Poznan that could soon be the home of a U.S. armored brigade combat team. The Poles have even offered to name the facility Fort Trump. Having Fort Trump on its border can’t make Russia happy.
Why should Germany be rewarded with the presence of so many U.S. forces, with all the economic benefits they bring, when Berlin continues to shirk its responsibilities to the NATO alliance? Germany has the world’s fourth-largest economy, yet it spent just 1.38 percent of its gross domestic product on defense last year — far below the 2 percent NATO countries agreed to in 2006. By contrast, Eastern European allies including Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are all meeting or even exceeding their defense spending commitments. There is nothing wrong with rewarding those countries for their steadfastness by moving American troops out of Germany and stationing them on the territory of more reliable allies.
This is especially true since Berlin is endangering the security of these NATO allies by building the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline over the Trump administration’s vociferous objections. Right now, Russian natural gas travels through pipelines that cross the territory of Poland and Slovakia, which means that if Russia wanted to cut off natural gas to Eastern Europe, it would have to sacrifice its lucrative sales to the West to do so. Once the Nord Stream 2 is complete, Russia will be able to bypass Eastern Europe and send natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea — leaving Russian President Vladimir Putin free to threaten our Eastern European allies without endangering his Western gas sales. As Trump put it during his Tulsa rally, “We’re supposed to protect Germany from Russia, but Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for energy coming from a pipeline, brand-new pipeline. … How does that work?” It doesn’t.
The Trump administration should tell Berlin that if the pipeline goes forward, more American troops may soon be moving east. Properly executed, Trump’s decision to move forces out of Germany could strengthen the NATO alliance and enhance U.S. deterrence against Russia.