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Trump Is Withdrawing U.S. Troops From Germany. Do Germans Care?

Although it’s a sign of fraying U.S.-German ties, the move is unlikely to bother Germans.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
The U.S. Air Force logo is seen at the entrance of the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany on January 17, 2016.
The U.S. Air Force logo is seen at the entrance of the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany on January 17, 2016. Jean-Christophe Verhaegen / AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Donald Trump confirms U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet his Chinese counterpart in new talks, and Turkey eyes two Libyan military bases.

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Trump Confirms U.S. Troop Removal From “Delinquent” Germany

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Donald Trump confirms U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet his Chinese counterpart in new talks, and Turkey eyes two Libyan military bases.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Trump Confirms U.S. Troop Removal From “Delinquent” Germany

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed in public for the first time his administration’s plans to cut the U.S. military troop presence in Germany from its current level of roughly 35,000 to a reduced force of 25,000.

“So we’re protecting Germany and they’re delinquent. That doesn’t make sense,” Trump said on Monday, in a reference to Germany’s failure to reach a 2 percent spending threshold agreed by NATO member states in 2014. “So I said, we’re going to bring down the count to 25,000 soldiers,” Trump added.

The abrupt shift is reminiscent of previous announcements of troop withdrawals. In 2018, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned after Trump said he would withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. It’s not even the only troop withdrawal plan currently under consideration, as the president reportedly wants U.S. forces in Afghanistan home before his election in November.

Revenge served kalt? Although gripes about NATO member spending have been shared by presidents before Trump, the timing does have hallmarks of a Trump response to a perceived slight. The White House had to hastily rearrange a G-7 summit planned for Camp David at the end of June after German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined the invitation. The White House denies this connection, and said such plans have been discussed since September.

The move also coincides with the return of Richard Grenell, who was described by a senior German politician as a “biased propaganda machine” during his recent stint as U.S. Ambassador to Germany. Speaking to the German newspaper Bild on June 11, Grenell said Americans were “tired” of paying for the defense of allies and played down the withdrawal’s impact. “There will still be 25,000 American soldiers in Germany, that doesn’t seem like a small number to me,” he said.

Do Germans care? The Pew Research Center asked Germans last September whether they thought U.S. military bases were important to their national security: 45 percent said the bases were either “not too important” or “not important at all.” Only 15 percent said the bases were very important. In contrast, 56 percent of Americans said the bases in Germany were important for U.S. national security.

The countries also hold opposite opinions on whether to intervene if Russia were to enter conflict with another NATO member state. 60 percent of Americans said their country should use military force to defend the NATO ally, whereas 60 percent of Germans said their country should stay out of it.

Does Germany need U.S. troops? Writing in Foreign Policy on June 9, Michael John Williams argues that Germany’s U.S. troop presence is less about German security and more about U.S. interests. “U.S. bases in Europe support U.S. national security first and foremost,” he writes.  “Without them U.S. force projection would be difficult, some operations would be impossible, and stability in Europe would be questionable,”

What We’re Following Today

Pompeo preparing for U.S.-China talks. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Hawaii for talks with his Chinese counterpart on Wednesday, in the first in-person discussions between the two countries since the coronavirus pandemic began. The South China Morning Post reports that Pompeo will meet with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi. An agenda has not yet been made public but is likely to include trade, arms control, and the global pandemic response.

U.S. “outraged” at Whelan verdict. Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen accused of spying in Russia on behalf of the United States has been sentenced to 16 years in prison by a Moscow court. Secretary of State Pompeo said he was “outraged” by the verdict and that Whelan was deprived of a fair trial. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the 16-year sentence was not unfair or too harsh.

In the aftermath of the verdict, FP’s Robbie Gramer spoke with Whelan’s brother, David. He said the decision handed down was a “gut punch.”

Brexit “done” in July? British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested a trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom could be completed as soon as July. “I don’t think we’re actually that far apart but what we need now is to see a bit of oomph in the negotiations,” Johnson said. Last week, the British government repeated its intention not to seek an extension to the current transition period, due to expire at the end of this year.

Japan suspends radar deployment. Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono has suspended the installation of two U.S.-made missile defense radar systems, called Aegis Ashore, citing technical issues and cost concerns amid the global economic downturn. The defense systems, which have a joint price tag of $4.1 billion, were due to be installed in Yamaguchi and Akita prefectures as protection against missiles from North Korea.

Kyrgyz prime minister resigns. Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister, Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev, has resigned his post citing an ongoing corruption investigation into the awarding of radio frequencies in the country. “In today’s difficult conditions, when the country confronts the threat of coronavirus infection and struggles with its impact on the economy, the government must work in a state of stability and enjoy the full confidence of citizens,” Abylgaziev said in resignation statement. The Social Democratic party, which holds a majority in the Kyrgyz parliament, must now nominate a successor.

Keep an Eye On

Germany to monitor AfD office. Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has put a regional branch of the far-right political party Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) under surveillance. “The Brandenburg AfD has become more and more radical since its foundation and is now dominated by endeavors that are clearly directed against our free democratic fundamental order,” Brandenburg Interior Minister Michael Stuebgen said. Last month, Brandenburg AfD leader Andreas Kalbit was expelled from the party over links to far-right extremist groups. 

Turkey eyes Libya bases. Turkey is in talks with the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya to use two military bases in the country, Reuters reports. The move comes as Turkey has increased its support to the GNA in recent weeks as it helped break a months-long siege by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army. Awake to the possible threat to its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean, France has called for talks between NATO allies to discuss Turkey’s “aggressive” posture in Libya.

U.S. given low marks in global poll. A new poll suggests the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic has not gone unnoticed around the world. The poll, by the Alliance of Democracies Foundation asked 120,000 people in 53 countries to assess country responses to the pandemic. Over 60 percent of respondents said China had handled it well, while only a third said the United States had.

Odds and Ends

A large “Black Lives Matter” banner has been removed from the U.S. embassy in Seoul, just days after U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris ordered its installation. “To avoid the misperception that American taxpayer dollars were spent to benefit such organizations, [Harris] directed that the banner be removed,” An embassy spokesman said, adding “this in no way lessens the principles and ideals expressed by raising the banner.” Reuters has reported that President Trump was displeased with the banner.

Iran’s public hospitals will no longer provide vasectomies or distribute contraceptives as the country tries to boost its birth rate. Iranian women currently have an average birth rate of 1.7 children, below the 2.2 needed to maintain the population. Hamed Barakati, director general of the office of population and family health at the Iranian ministry of health, blamed poor economic conditions for the decline in the country’s birth rate as well as a trend of women delaying childbirth in order to receive a higher education. Under the new rules, private hospitals will still allow contraception and other family planning services.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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