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Missile shield in Germany

February 5, 2012

The Ramstein Air Base is going to become the operational center of the new NATO missile defense system. Politicians and experts in both Europe and the US are supportive of the idea.

Ramstein Air Base
The new missile defense system will protect Europe and the USImage: dapd

Plans to establish a missile defense system that protects both American and European territory have been in existence for years. Germany will now be central to this multi-billion-dollar project, as the Ramstein Air Base in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate has been chosen as the location of the system's headquarters.

It appears as a stark contrast to the reduction in military spending recently announced by the US government. Two American combat brigades are due to pull out of Europe in the next two years, with thousands of soldiers leaving Germany. They will leave behind not only empty barracks, but also cause a job shortage in some areas.

Overall, the number of US soldiers around the world is going to be reduced by 90,000. President Barack Obama has also announced plans to reduce the military budget by over $480 billion over the coming decade.

In light of these developments, the construction of a missile defense system is of even greater significance. It will create new jobs at the Ramstein Air Base, going against the trend of military reductions.

Reorganization of NATO structure

Another decision in Ramstein's favor is the plan to close down the command center in Turkey's Izmir Province. According to Manfred Reudenbach, spokesperson for the NATO air command mission, this will result in 100 additional jobs at the Ramstein base.

Hillary Clinton at the 2012 Munich Security Conference
Clinton: Europe is an important allyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

These developments are significant to Europe as a whole. At this year's Munich Security Conference, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized that Europe is still the most important ally of the US, despite the Pentagon's increased focus on Asia. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta added that Europe continues to be America's "security partner of choice for military operations and diplomacy around the world."

Important alliance

Karl-Heinz Kamp, director of the Research Division at the NATO Defense College in Rome, told Deutsche Welle that the choice of the Ramstein Air Base location is largely due to Europe's strategic significance. The original plan was for all decisions related to the defense system to be made by US authorities, but at the NATO summit in Lisbon in November 2010 the decision was made to turn this into a joint American-European project.

Kamp sees Europe's involvement as important. It means that the other 27 NATO member states can now contribute something and have a say in the matter.

At the same time, Germany's more active participation in NATO is a break with tradition. At the Munich Security Conference, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere pointed out that there has never been so much discussion about increasing Germany's military influence as there is now. And for some Germans, this is a problematic aspect of national identity.

Thomas de Maiziere
De Maiziere supports Germany's increased military presenceImage: DW-TV

"For good reasons, we are already taking on more international responsibility than we can convey to some of our citizens," said de Maiziere. "Mentalities change more slowly than circumstances."

Author: Matthias von Hellfeld / ew
Editor: Spencer Kimball