Concerns are emerging in Germany after information has been revealed in the press about an orderly reduction of the US military personnel deployed in the country.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Sunday that close cooperation is in the interest of both countries. Other politicians in Berlin have been more direct, citing a blow to German-American relations and a potential security risk.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing anonymous government sources in Washington, that President Trump had ordered the Pentagon to reduce the number of US troops stationed in Germany to 25,000, a decrease of 9,500.
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Currently, some 34,500 soldiers live with their families at one of the 21 US military bases in Germany. The workforce can reach 52,000 people during team rotations or during maneuvers.
Consequences at European level
Such a decision, which seems to have taken Berlin by surprise, would be tantamount to significantly reducing American engagement in European defense within the framework of NATO.
"If this should lead to the withdrawal of some of the American soldiers, we take note of it," Heiko Maas told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. "We appreciate the cooperation with the American armed forces (which) is in the interest of our two countries."
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Heiko Maas nonetheless acknowledged that the ties had weakened under the Trump presidency. "We are close partners in the transatlantic alliance. But it is complicated," he told Bild, referring to subjects of friction such as the nuclear agreement with Iran, support from Berlin to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany or contributions to NATO.
No confirmation from the US government
The White House and the Pentagon have refused to confirm or deny information from the Wall Street Journal and other media, which comes amid tensions between the US government and its European allies within NATO.
This downsizing was also one of the plans of the former U.S. ambassador to Berlin, Richard Grenell, a supporter of Donald Trump who has just resigned.
"The relationship between Germany and the United States could be seriously affected by such a decision by the American president," warned the German government coordinator for transatlantic relations, Peter Beyer, quoted by the dpa agency.
A strong American presence in Germany
A reduction in the American presence would be "a colossal error" and "a gift" to Russian President Vladimir Putin, judge Ben Hodges, ex-former commander of the American forces in Europe, who left in 2017.
"American soldiers are not in Europe to protect the Germans," he tweeted, "they are on an advanced basis, as part of NATO, to protect all members, including the United States. United".
Completely agree ... US troops are not in Europe to protect Germans ... they are forward-based, as part of NATO, to protect all Members, including USA. Europe enables USA to project power to Middle East, Africa. BTW, 35K US Army in Europe ... 1/3 of a major American football stadium. https://t.co/M3lM98P9Bp- Ben Hodges (@general_ben) June 6, 2020
Although their numbers have declined since the Cold War, Germany is home to more American soldiers than any other European country, a legacy of the Allied occupation after the Second World War.
The US military has headquarters for Europe and Africa in Stuttgart. The American air base in Ramstein plays a major role in the transportation of men and equipment to Iraq and Afghanistan. The American military hospital in Landsthul, near Ramstein, is the largest outside the United States.
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