After President Trump blasted Germany for not doing its part in supporting NATO, nearly 12,000 U.S. troops will be shifted from Germany. Additionally, the headquarters of the U.S. European Command and Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) will be relocated from Stuttgart, Germany, to Mons, Belgium where the NATO Special Operations Command is located.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced on Wednesday the multi-billion dollar move that will bring 6,400 troops back to the United States and shift another 5,600 to Italy and Belgium. Esper said the troop relocations can begin within weeks but may take years to fully complete.
“It is important to note that in NATO’s 71-year history, the size, composition, and disposition of U.S. forces in Europe has changed many times,” Esper said at a Pentagon news conference. “As we’ve entered a new era of great-power competition we are now at another inflection point in NATO’s history. I am confident the alliance will be all the better and stronger for it.”
“These changes will achieve the core principles of enhancing U.S. and NATO deterrence of Russia, strengthening NATO, reassuring allies and improving U.S. strategic flexibility,” Esper added.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, supports the move while at the same time acknowledging it will take “months to plan and years to execute.” He was briefed on the issue last week, and he issued a statement saying the “concept for realigning U.S. military posture in Europe” is sound. However, the planned move has been panned by bipartisan members of Congress.
Meanwhile, Peter Beyer, the Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation at the Federal Foreign Office for Germany’s government called the decision to remove the troops from Germany “completely unacceptable” and said that the German government was not informed in advance before the decision was made.
Esper told the media that the United States remains committed to Germany’s and NATO’s defense as 24,000 troops will remain there but other forces will be shifted further east to the Black and Baltic Sea regions. The U.S. will still be present to help protect Eastern Europeans from a resurgent and more aggressive Moscow.
Some of the troops returning stateside will later conduct rotational deployments “back to Europe,” Esper added. Germany and the Ramstein Air Force Base has been a major hub for American troops rotating through to and from the Middle East and Africa.
Stars and Stripes reported that the 2nd Cavalry Regiment with 4,500 troops will be returning to the U.S. No decision has yet been made on AFRICOM, Special Operations Command Africa, and a battalion of the 10th Special Forces Group that are all stationed in Stuttgart. Esper is also looking at shifting troops permanently to Poland. Hitherto, U.S troops had been rotated in and out of the country.
President Trump was very critical of Germany for not holding up the end of their and NATO’s defense. “We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills,” Trump said Wednesday. “It’s very simple, they’re delinquent.”
In 2014, NATO members agreed to reach the benchmark of 2 percent of their GDP on defense by 2024. President Trump was incensed when it was announced that Germany in FY 2019 spent about only 1.36 percent of its GDP on defense, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her nation would not reach that 2 percent target until the early 2030s.
Of the 30 NATO countries, only nine meet the 2 percent GDP benchmark for defense spending.
“I think Germany is the wealthiest country in Europe,” Esper said. “Germany can and should pay more to its defense. It can and should meet its 2 percent standard. And it can go beyond that.”