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Pompeo brings divisive US messages to Germany

November 6, 2019

US top diplomat Pompeo is in Germany to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall. He knows the country well, as he was stationed here during the Cold War. But how much longer will the US keep troops stationed in Germany?

Mike Pompeo
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP/M. Altaffer

Germany isn't exactly unfamiliar territory for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who arrived in the country on Wednesday for a three-day visit. In fact, he was stationed here in the 1980s in what was then West Germany.

After graduating top of his class from West Point Military Academy, Pompeo found himself patrolling the Berlin Wall before serving as a tank commander at a base in Bavaria.

Following German reunification, the US pulled many of its troops from the country in a protracted withdrawal that would continue for decades. The base where Pompeo served, located in the strategic location near both the former East Germany and Czechoslovakia, would close like many other US facilities in Germany.

Infographic map showing US military installations in Germany

Scaled-down US presence after Cold War

In 1990, as the Cold War was coming to an end, the United States still had more than 200,000 soldiers stationed in the western part of Germany. In the eastern part of the country, there were more than 400,000 Soviet soldiers — reportedly the largest-ever occupying force to be permanently based in a foreign country.

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

While the last of these forces were pulled from the former East Germany in 1994, NATO troops remained in the western part of Germany. There are currently around 38,000 US military personnel stationed on German soil, predominantly in Rhineland-Palatinate, Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse.

Rows of US soldier standing in front of a huge American flag
Pompeo will visit US troops stationed in GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/N. Armer

Just how long those troops remain in Germany, however, is likely to be on the agenda when Pompeo meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz.

Trump threatens troop drawdown

Washington has called on its NATO allies to increase military funding and tied statements about withdrawing or moving US soldiers out of western Europe to defense spending goals agreed by the military alliance's members.

Mike Pompeo and Angela Merkel shake hands
Pompeo was last in Germany for a meeting with Merkel in MayImage: Reuters/F. Bensch

Yet so far, the US has not delivered on its threat. Possibly also because today, the US military chiefly coordinates its African and Asian operations from its German bases, like Ramstein. Germany, it seems, has become indispensable for the US, as ongoing investments in its bases make clear.

Read more: Military celebrates US-German friendship — despite Donald Trump

In August, however, US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell told German news agency dpa: "Multiple presidents have asked Europe's largest economy to pay for its own defense. This request has been made over many years and by many presidents." 

NATO has agreed that each member country should invest 2% of its annual GDP in defense spending. But as Germany remains far below this spending target, US President Donald Trump in June threatened to relocate 1,000 soldiers to neighboring Poland, which honors the 2% target. 

Pompeo is also expected to discuss 5G technology, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which the US opposes, and growing concerns in Washington bout economic and strategic threats from Russia, China and Iran.

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