Does the man speak on behalf of his master, or is his thrust only an expression of his own glory? For the German-American relationship, it may make a difference whether the US ambassador acts on behalf of his president or out of misjudgment of his role. In the case itself, it does not matter. For the announcement by Richard Grenell, Donald Trump's man in Berlin, the US would pull their troops from Germany and relocate to Poland, the Germans would not finally meet their military obligations, turns out on closer inspection as an empty threat. Because under the punishment, which Germany is to meet, nobody would suffer as much as the USA itself.
When protecting merchant ships, the Germans could easily be there
Around 50,000 US soldiers are stationed in Germany. The most important American military airport in Europe is in Ramstein, the world's largest military hospital outside the United States in nearby Lahnstein. From Stuttgart, the Americans coordinate their operations in Europe and Africa. They have their largest ammunition depot outside the United States created in Miesau - and bunkered their nuclear weapons in the Volcanic Eifel. A transfer of US troops to Poland would be a gigantic logistical effort and would cost billions. But money is not the main counter-argument.
The NATO-Russia Act of 1997 also forbids the permanent deployment of NATO troops in East Central Europe. But maybe Trump does not care that either.
Moving the European Strategy Center from safe southern Germany close to the border to an increasingly aggressive Russia - this idea is likely to lead to fierce opposition in the US military. Which soldier likes to attack?
And yet Grenell's apparent threat hits one point: It is true that the Germans are not complying with what they have promised. Not with the money. And not in the promise to take on more responsibility.
At two NATO summits, in 2002 and 2014, two federal governments, a red-green coalition and a grand coalition, committed themselves to "bring military spending to a target of two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2024," as it officially states. For a long time, spending did not move toward it, but away from it. Ships that do not swim and fighter jets that do not fly have since shaped the image of the Bundeswehr.
The defense budget has been rising again since 2014, reaching 1.35 percent of GDP this year. However, the financial planning of the government provides for decreasing percentages in the coming years. This is the background of the "muzzle full, we're pulling off" Grenell. Reversing the trend is also the key challenge for the new Minister of Defense, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.
The funding of the Bundeswehr is about a question of principle, about which surprisingly little is said in Germany: which army do we really want? One that can do something - not to please Trump, but because it suits German interests? Or one that makes fun of today's show ? Of the six submarines of the Bundeswehr can not dive just.
But is it really only the lack of material if the Bundeswehr is not used? When escorting for merchant ships in the Strait of Hormuz, the Germans could easily be there: The Bundeswehr not only has everything you need for such a mission - frigate, Corvette, Tender, Seefernaufklärer. These are even ready for use. What is missing is the political will.
The Strait of Hormuz is a bottleneck of world trade and of central interest to the export nation of Germany. The fact that the British refrained from their idea of military escort under the roof of the EU and hung on a US mission, was in Berlin reason to end any thinking about a commitment of the Bundeswehr. It would be much better, German and French would put together their own mission - and then vote with Americans and British.
Cursing Trump and letting the others do it when things get tough: that's an attitude that could make you, even as a well-tempered European, a Grenell.