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Berlin: US troops in Germany are key to security

June 16, 2020

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said US troops in Germany is central to transatlantic and European security. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said that security was "not a commodity."

US-Airbase Ramstein
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Roessler

Germany's top officials on Tuesday voiced concerns about the possible withdrawal of US troops, for possible redeployment to Poland.

It was important for European and American security that US soldiers remain in Germany, said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

 "We think that the US presence in Germany is important for the security not just of Germany but also for the security of the United States and especially for the security of Europe," Heiko Maas said while visiting Poland.

US President Donald Trump announced on Monday he would cut the number stationed in the country because Germany was "delinquent" in contributions to NATO, also saying that it had treated the United States "badly" on trade. 

'NATO is not a trade organization'

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said: "NATO is not a trade organization, and security is not a commodity," at an event in Berlin later on Tuesday.

"NATO is founded on solidarity, on trust. And it is based on common values and common interests," Kramp-Karrenbauer said at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung think tank tied to her Christian Democrats.

Kramp-Karrenbauer admitted that it was currently "a bit of an agitated time" for German-US ties, with the odd "more shrill tone" dominating the discussion. Maintaining flexibility and tolerance in relationships was also key to maintaining them, she added.

Read more:  How does Germany contribute to NATO?

Back in Warsaw, Mass told reporters that he had not yet been briefed on how and when any redeployment might take place.

"Neither the State Department nor the Pentagon has been able to provide any information about this," he said, adding that any changes to Europe's security architecture "definitely need to be talked about."

Backup from Poland

At a joint press conference with Maas, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said he did not see a link between the boosting of US troops numbers in Poland and any withdrawal from Germany.

"I want to underline that these talks [with the US] have no connection with the recent US declarations and US-German relations concerning the presence of, or reduction of, US forces in Germany," he said. "From our standpoint, US forces in Germany also serve our security. We would want that presence in Germany to be continued."

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas,left, and Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz greet each other with an elbow bump, used instead of a handshake during the coronavirus pandemic, in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, June 16, 2020.
Maas went to Warsaw a day after the formal reopening of the borders, but he and Czaputowicz were still keen to keep to some coronavirus ground rules, like not shaking handsImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/C. Sokolowski

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also backed Maas on Tuesday, the eve of two days of video meetings between the alliance's defense ministers.

"What matters for me is that we maintain credible deterrence and defense, and that we maintain the strong link between North America and Europe." 

Read more:  US military in Germany: What you need to know

Trump on Monday told reporters there were 52,000 US soldiers stationed in Germany and that he would bring that down to 25,000.

However, the Pentagon says there are only between 34,000 and 35,000 US soldiers permanently stationed in Germany. The overall number can only temporarily top 50,000 when deployments are being rotated. 

Ironically, because of the coronavirus, there's a reasonable chance that Germany might come far closer to NATO's spending target of 2% of GDP for defense this year. That's because a considerable reduction in Germany's GDP seems likely in 2020. Its defense budget as such has risen only slightly in recent years, and equated to 1.22% of GDP in 2019.

kmm,rc/msh (AP, AFP)

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