President Donald Trump had a bad day because Berlin annoyed him again. Therefore he blurted out that he'd withdraw almost 10,000 U.S. troops out of nearly 35,000 stationed in Germany. I hope he does not follow through.
Trump has had enough; the president does not want the U.S. to pull Europe's chestnuts out of the fire when the moment of truth arrives. America has enough on its plate. It must deal with an acute domestic crisis and face off with China. And most of our NATO allies expect us not only to fight for them but also to pay for them. Enough of the free ride! Ditch Europe! That's the argument one hears.
Admittedly, Trump and the American people, have many reasons to be upset with the Old Continent, in particular its Western part. Since the Federal Republic of Germany calls the shots in the European Union, it tends to bear the brunt of our ire. Our main gripe is that most European nations refuse to pay for their fair share of the defense costs and none is a greater offender here than the Germans. They constantly cut their defense budget, they habitually shirk from their NATO commitments and they have allowed their military to be degraded to nearly catastrophic proportions.
On the other hand, the emasculation of Europe's military might may not be such a horrible thing after all given rampant anti-Americanism in Germany and elsewhere in the western part of the continent. Perhaps their militaries ought to stay flacid, while Berlin and other capitals reimburse our costs for defending them. This rule should apply to all who fail to fulfill their budgetary obligations to NATO. Right now only the United States, Great Britain, Greece, Estonia and Poland spend the mandatory 2% of their GDP on defense.
As far as the fighting spirit is concerned, things are similarly discouraging. Poll after poll shows that most Europeans appear unwilling to fight, except the Brits, the Balts and the Poles. Likewise, surveys indicate that Transatlanticism, the cornerstone of the Western alliance, has lost much of its appeal.
So why keep NATO? Why stay in Europe? Well, we should stay for a variety of reasons. Pax Americana has been good for the world. Our presence not only saved Europe from communism, but also continues to provide security and stability in northern hemisphere. The Europeans have been incapable of that and will be even less so when they are left to their own devices.
Retaining our bases in Germany allows us to project our power far and wide; it also gives us much flexibility in managing our actions to safeguard America's global leadership. Even for logistical reasons we should remain in Europe. Most of our wounded are evacuated from Iraq or Afghanistan to Germany and are tended there before they can be brought home for recuperation. Most of our materiel hubs are in Germany. Same goes for our military infrastructure. We can project our power best out of those bases, although various American and allied outposts in Britain, Romania, Poland and elsewhere are helpful as well.
Further, any time the U.S. disengages, it costs us much more in blood and treasure to reengage. America's absence in Europe after 1918 meant another world war. Our presence stabilizes everything and scares off potential aggressors.
Remember all the smart people who offshored everything we had to China? NATO is a reverse situation of the same ill judgement. Dissolving it makes as much sense as scrapping U.S. industry did. NATO is a deterrent to war. And it is a tool that strongly suggest that when the next big war comes, it will be primarily fought away from our shores. And we shall have at least some allies to bleed with us, not just the British.
In essence, our presence in Europe and the maintenance of the alliance are in our interest. It promotes the cause of freedom for those Europeans who still care about such issues. And it frees our hands to deal with our domestic issues and with the Chinese threat.
Lord Ismay, NATO's first secretary general, famously remarked back in the 1950s: "The objective of Britain's foreign policy is to keep the Germans down, the Russians out and the Americans in." Not much has changed since. The White House should reconsider its plans about removing troops from Germany.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports – More Here.
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