While the US administration sells the decision to withdraw US troops from Germany as a strengthening of NATO force alignment, the reality is it’s merely the latest manifestation of a political and military relationship on the decline for decades.
The announcement by Secretary of Defense Mike Esper that the USA has finalized plans for the withdrawal of some 12,000 troops from Germany came as a surprise to no one.
This decision, minus the details concerning implementation, was originally announced back on June 30, 2020.
At that time, President Donald Trump linked it to the failure of Germany to meet its obligation regarding meeting NATO goals of defense spending matching 2% GDP (German levels for 2019 were around 1.4%).
However, in announcing that, of the 36,000 forces permanently stationed in Germany, 24,000 would remain while 11,900 will be deployed in Poland or return home.
Mike Esper did not mention Germany’s budgetary arrears, instead linking the decision to new US defense priorities driven by the need for better deterrence of Russia and China.
National security experts on both sides of the Atlantic will be debating the genesis of the US troop withdrawal for some time to come, trying to assign weight to the competing justifications offered by Trump and Esper.
The current crisis is derived from a larger US-German dysfunction that has been in place for decades, driven by inherently incompatible world visions and value systems, and the inevitable clash between American exceptionalism and German ideals based on the principle of European sovereignty.
As a battleground state, Germany struggled with the danger of US ambivalence, plus a possible US overreaction in the form of war plans involving the use of nuclear weapons on German soil?
Earlier West Germany was ground zero for the anti-nuclear movement that swept Europe in the early 1980’s following the US’ effort to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles onto European soil.
This came in response to the Soviet deployment of SS-20 missiles, which triggered the collapse of the government of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt due to a vote of no confidence.
While the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in 1987, and the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent German reunification in 1989, helped repair USA-West German relations, but the US involvement in the Gulf War in 1990-91 did not receive German support.
When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, many Germans believed that he would usher in an era of improved relations that coalesced around common ideals and values, only to be disappointed by the reality that the problems souring US-German relations were larger than one man.
Successive spy scandals in 2013 and 2014 involving eavesdropping by the USA on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, and the recruitment by the CIA of senior German officials, only confirmed to many Germans the reality that the USA did not view their nation as a friend, but rather a potential adversary.
The US’ use of military bases in Germany to conduct armed drone attacks against targets in the Middle East likewise drew the ire of many Germans, who believed their sovereignty was violated by such actions.
Seen in this light, the deterioration of US-German relations under President Trump is not a new phenomenon, but rather a continuation of a decades-long slide which finds the two nations at odds over critical policy issues involving international peace and security, European independence, and relations with Russia.
While Germany continues to believe that its membership in the NATO alliance is essential for European security, this stance is strained by what it views as US unilateralism and exceptionalism at the expense of European values and interests.
The worsening relationship between the two countries is tied to a clash between American exceptionalism and German notions of European sovereignty, which no US or German leader can paper over with gestures and speeches.
It is a manifestation of the geopolitical disharmony that has existed in Europe and the world in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the US’ decision to fill the resulting vacuum as the unilateral global superpower.
The gradual degradation of American military, diplomatic and economic power in the three decades that followed this event is the principal driving force behind the US-German split, and with it the decline in the relevance and authority of the NATO trans-Atlantic alliance. No amount of reshuffling of American military assets can undo this reality.
Given the current trajectory of relations, one has to wonder how long NATO can survive under such conditions. Especially now with Turkey also (after Britain, France and Italy) sending troops to protect the confiscation of the oil reserves in Libya.
RT. com / ABC Flash Point WW III News 2020.