Security Brief

Will Trump’s Plans to Withdraw Troops from Europe Go Forward?

Diplomats and former Pentagon officials are concerned about the knock-on effects of reducing the U.S. military footprint in Germany.

U.S. and Polish troops take part in the official welcoming ceremony for NATO troops in Orzysz, Poland, on April 13, 2017.
U.S. and Polish troops take part in the official welcoming ceremony for NATO troops in Orzysz, Poland, on April 13, 2017. WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief. What’s on tap today: Trump is shifting U.S. troops in Europe, the United States and Russia make progress in nuclear talks, and the U.S. campaign against Huawei heats up.

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Trump to Shift U.S. Troops from Germany to Poland

U.S. President Donald Trump is forging ahead with plans to reduce the U.S. military footprint in Europe, announcing that the United States will deploy 1,000 additional troops to Poland while doubling down on plans to cut back the number of troops stationed in Germany. Polish President Andrzej Duda visited Washington on Wednesday—the first foreign leader to set foot in the White House since March.

During the visit, Trump announced that he would send troops to Poland and said Warsaw had offered to foot the bill. “We’re going to be reducing our forces in Germany. Some will be coming home, and some will be going to other places. But Poland would be one of those other places—other places in Europe,” he said.

On the face of it, it’s a win for Poland, which has been itching for a greater U.S. troop presence to bolster NATO deterrence against Russia—at one point even courting the president with a proposal to build a “Fort Trump” to host the troops.

What will the drawdown look like? Trump’s plan to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Germany comes after he hammered Berlin’s record on meeting defense spending pledges. Poland currently meets the NATO benchmark of spending 2 percent of its GDP on defense. (Germany doesn’t, but it plans to by 2024.) The Pentagon is drawing up plans to redeploy about 9,500 troops from Germany, where 34,000 troops are permanently stationed.

Republicans in Congress have criticized the president’s proposal. Former Pentagon officials and retired military brass say the move will undercut U.S. deterrence in Europe overall, even with the shift of some troops to Poland, as Defense One reports. And behind closed doors, European diplomats say that while Polish officials welcome the announcement, they remain uneasy about the knock-on effects of a drastically reduced U.S. footprint in Germany.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed these concerns on Thursday, saying the United States remained committed to European security and “the capacity to deter Russia or other adversaries isn’t determined any longer by just having a bunch of folks garrisoned some place.” (His full remarks are here.)

The knock-on effects. The U.S. military footprint in Germany is important for troops and supplies going to and from the Middle East and Afghanistan and serves as a launch point for many military exercises across Europe aimed at reminding Russia of NATO’s military power. Germany hosts also U.S. Africa Command, and any reduced presence there could undercut AFRICOM’s posture and planning.

 What We’re Watching

 A fresh START? U.S. and Russian diplomats indicated they made progress in talks to replace a key nuclear arms reduction treaty, New START, which is set to expire next February. The Trump administration wants to upgrade the agreement from a bilateral to trilateral one that includes China. But Beijing so far hasn’t shown interest. It was a no-show at the talks in Vienna this week—despite the Chinese flag making it to the negotiating table.

Even with this hurdle, Trump’s top arms envoy Marshall Billingslea said the U.S. and Russian sides agreed to establish technical working groups for next steps on negotiations, with a new round of talks planned for late July or August.

Our way or the Huawei. The Trump administration said this week that it would help finance telecommunications infrastructure in other countries if they vowed to cut out Chinese technology giants—namely Huawei. The United States sees Huawei as a national security threat and its 5G networks as a backdoor for Chinese surveillance. The statement is the latest move in a campaign by the Trump administration to get its partners around the world to disavow Chinese investments seen as threatening to national security.

The administration made several other moves on this front this week: The State Department released a list of “clean” countries and carriers. Meanwhile, the Pentagon on Thursday released a list of 20 top Chinese firms, including Huawei, that it says are controlled by the Chinese military.

Eye on Pyongyang. With the 70th anniversary of the Korean war marked today, North Korea has begun signaling its frustration with stalled talks with South Korea and the United States with some not-so-subtle diplomatic overtures. Kim Yo Jong, a politician and the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, bashed South Korea’s president as “insane” and “disgusting” and threatened to scrap agreements aimed at reducing border tensions. Experts say Pyongyang is trying to ratchet up tensions with Seoul and Washington again, so expect more provocations in the coming weeks.

 Movers and Shakers

 Pentagon resignations pick up speed. The revolving door of top officials at the Pentagon is spinning faster. On Tuesday, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering and his deputy both put forward their resignations and will return to the private sector. Defense Secretary Mark Esper praised Mike Griffin and Lisa Porter for leaving behind a “legacy of excellence” on Pentagon modernization.

Defense News previously reported that Griffin clashed with top Air Force officials over the creation of the Space Development Agency. Griffin and Porter are leaving after Katie Wheelbarger, who performed the duties of assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, and acting comptroller Elaine McCusker, announced their resignations last week.

New moves at the State Department. The State Department has a new deputy spokesperson, John “J.T.” Ice, a career foreign service officer who took up duties earlier this month after a posting as the embassy spokesperson in Ethiopia. Cale Brown has been moved up to principal deputy State Department spokesperson.

 The Week Ahead

 EU leaders are scheduled to hold a fourth Brussels summit next Monday and Tuesday to discuss the future of Syria and how to pursue a nationwide cease-fire.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will give an online lecture on Tuesday, June 30, hosted by the German Institute for Global and Area Studies on the geopolitical implications of the coronavirus crisis.

The Israeli government can put forward proposals for annexation parts of the West Bank beginning on Wednesday, July 1, according to the coalition deal between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz.

Odds and Ends

 Grounded. After a deadly plane crash in Pakistan last month, the country’s aviation minister issued an unnerving pronouncement this week for frequent flyers: Over 30 percent of civilian pilots in the country have fake licenses and are unqualified to fly, according to an internal investigation.

That’s it for today.

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Correction, June 26, 2020: The Israeli government can put forward annexation proposals beginning on Wednesday, July 1. A previous version of this article misstated the date when the process can begin.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Dan Haverty is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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