Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Tuesday that the U.S. will increase its military presence in Germany. This is a reversal of the Trump administration’s plan to cut the amount of U.S. troops in the country. Furthermore, it shows that the U.S. to the NATO alliance.

The U.S. will move 500 troops in a permanent change of station to the Wiesbaden area, Austin said. He added that the troops should arrive by the fall.

While many were touting this move as a counter to the Russian buildup in Ukraine, this is hardly the case. Nevertheless, the announcement gave the politicians involved something to tout as an example of toughness against Russia.

“Today, I’m happy to announce that we will be increasing the U.S. force presence in Germany,” Austin said at a news conference in Berlin.

“These forces will strengthen deterrence and defense in Europe, and they will augment our existing abilities to prevent conflict, and if necessary, to fight and win,” he added.

A Renewed U.S. Commitment to NATO and Germany?
U.S. Army Paratroopers conduct familiarization fire with the M240B machine gun, mounted on an M1167 HMMWV, during Exercise Havoc Fury at the 7th Army Training Command’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, August 24, 2017. (Photo by Visual Information Specialist Gerhard Seuffert/ U.S. Army)

Appearing along with Austin was Germany’s Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. She stated that the announcement was “happy news.” She added that the U.S. commitment to NATO is “a crucial pillar for our freedom and peace.”

“Our cooperation is all the more important, important in times where the security and defense architecture has come under pressure in many parts of the world,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

Last year the Trump administration had announced that the U.S. would be cutting 12,000 of the 36,000 troops stationed in Germany. Six thousand of them would move to other European and NATO countries such as Lithuania, Italy, and Poland. At the time, Trump and Germany were at odds. The reasons were Trump accusing Germany of its lack of defense spending and of taking advantage of U.S. trade. 

“We don’t want to be the suckers anymore,” Trump had said about the decision last July. “We’re reducing the force because [the Germans] are not paying their bills; it’s very simple.”

Then-Democratic candidate Biden had said that he would review the moves, especially moving some headquarters from Stuttgart to NATO HQs in Belgium.

Biden quickly reversed Trump’s decision. He said that he wanted to strengthen Europe’s defenses and recommit the U.S. to NATO citing Article 5 of the alliance’s treaty. 

European Command (EUCOM), commander General Tod Wolters welcomed the news. Later on Tuesday, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the 500 additional troops “will approve our ability in all domains” and “increase our ability to deter.”

Will the Troop Movement Change the Balance On the Ground?

Austin said the 500 U.S. troops will augment existing capabilities, help in the space and cyber domains, and provide more electronic warfare capabilities in Europe. They will “greatly improve our ability to surge forces at a moment’s notice to defend our allies,” he added. 

Austin smartly sidestepped the question of whether this planned movement was a message to Russia.
U.S. and French paratroopers jump during an exercise in Germany. (DoD)

“Let me assure you it’s a message to NATO, and that message is that we support NATO to the fullest extent, and most importantly we value the relationship with our partner here in Germany,” Austin said.

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The Russians, meanwhile have massed 40,000 troops on the eastern border with Ukraine and another 40,000 in the Crimea. Crimea was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014. These 80,000 troops send a message that trying 500 additional troops will do little to deter Russia in the present. 

Russia’s belligerent actions in Crimea, Ukraine, and Georgia are testing the resolve of the West, and NATO in particular.

Although Germany’s strategic location is the key for NATO, this announcement, while symbolic in strengthening the strained ties between Washington and Germany, does little to deter Putin.