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Old 08-04-2020, 11:53 AM
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Arrow Pentagon action to withdraw from Germany benefits our adversaries

Pentagon action to withdraw from Germany benefits our adversaries
By: Heather Conley & Kathleen Hicks - The Hill News - 08-04-20

Defense Secretary Mark Esper recently wrote on these pages to explain the hastily made decision to withdraw 11,900 forces from Germany in the coming weeks. The plan followed the directive by President Trump to reduce our forces in Germany because the country is “not paying its bills” and is “very delinquent” in the 2 percent spending goal for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Esper referred to the military reduction as “wholly consistent” with the defense strategy of the administration and part of the global review designed to reassure our allies, better deter Russia, and retain operational flexibility.

But this decision does absolutely none of these things. It in fact significantly harms all the stated objectives in both the defense strategy and the national security strategy. It punishes Germany simply because Trump takes issue with the country. Let us review what his team declares and what our allies, adversaries, and Americans have seen.

The administration claims this is about the defense strategy and operational flexibility. Strengthening alliances is a cornerstone of the national defense strategy. China and Russia benefit from the United States separating itself from our closest partners, and the announcement actively advances their goals. Defense Secretary James Mattis felt so strongly about standing up for our allies and partners that he resigned when faced with direction from White House to sell out its partners. But no principled resignations appear imminent in the wake of this decision.

The move also does not seem to support operational priorities in the strategy. The national security adviser recently justified reductions in Germany as needed to support more forces in the Pacific. But the announcement this week shifts no forces to that region. Esper rightly acknowledged the need to have a greater presence across the eastern flank, notably on the Black Sea. But the United States has not advanced this concept, having given no details on future posture in Romania or Bulgaria and having not accounted for how Russia and Turkey are likely to limit operational flexibility.

It is also unclear what operational flexibility is gained by placing forces in Italy and Belgium, two countries which spend less on their defense than Germany, because no other details have been provided. Shifting forces back to the United States may create operational flexibility, but it comes at the cost of speed and readiness in Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa.

The administration also claims this is about saving dollars. But these moves will likely be expensive. Relocating 11,900 forces, dependents, and equipment, then securing new capacity for living, working, and training takes money. Giving away negotiating leverage by making the decision prematurely will cost even more. Congress should be demanding budget details and preparing to extract a high price in the 2021 defense authorization and appropriations process for any efforts to use 2020 funds for these moves. Appeasing Trump might be a price the Pentagon is willing to have taxpayers pay, but Americans should not be penalized for that timidity.

The reality is that this is about a personal grudge against Germany. Trump has tried to frame his fixation on the country as an issue of burden sharing. While this is important, allies must discuss it in the context of mutual benefit and responsibility. While the United States and Germany both benefit from our forces in Europe, the decision to reduce that posture was unilateral. Why was it not preceded by an attempted negotiation over the estimated $1 billion that Germany provides to the United States in shared costs, as has been the traditional case when burden sharing concerns arise?

It is also ironic that the majority of our forces leaving Germany are headed to Italy and Belgium, both countries that spend less on defense in total and as a portion of gross domestic product than Germany. Even using the 2 percent measure of commitment highlighted by Trump, the United States had a better deal with Germany.

The announcement has laid bare the hollowness of rhetoric from our defense officials, military leaders, and diplomats who regularly herald the importance of our allies and the transatlantic relationship. Before these officials deliver their next false claims about how such decisions reassure our allies and deter Russia, they should take a hard look in the mirror. Decisions like those made this week will harm the national security and fiscal situation of the United States for years.

About these two writer(s):
Heather Conley is a senior vice president and the director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Kathleen Hicks is also senior vice president and the director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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