The former American ambassador to Berlin, Richard Grenell, has confirmed that the US plans to withdraw troops from Germany, in a further blow to a transatlantic relationship that is already under strain.
In an interview with the mass circulation daily Bild Zeitung, Mr Grenell, a close ally of President Donald Trump, said the message the US was sending was that “American taxpayers are getting a little bit tired of paying too much for the defence of other countries”. He said Mr Trump had been making that “very political point” for a “long time”.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the US intended to remove 9,700 US troops stationed in Germany, which amounts to about 30 per cent of the current force. The Trump administration has not confirmed the move, which has sparked some domestic US opposition, including from Republicans in Congress.
The report caused consternation in Germany, which sees the US military presence as a strong symbol of Washington’s commitment to defending its European allies. There were fears a withdrawal would only embolden Russia, which has in the past been keen to exploit divisions between Nato members.
German authorities initially declined to comment on the report. However, on Wednesday German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said ministers had been informed that the US administration was indeed “considering” reducing the US military presence in Germany. She said she was not aware that a final decision had been made.
In the Bild interview, however, Mr Grenell appeared to confirm the drawdown, saying it would leave a total of 25,000 US troops in Germany. “That doesn’t seem like a small number to me,” he said.
Some German media had suggested that Mr Trump had decided to withdraw troops in a fit of pique, after Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, declined to attend a G7 summit he intended to host this month in the US, citing the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Grenell, who recently stepped down as ambassador after two years in the job, reportedly to join Mr Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, said there was no connection. He said there had been a debate about reducing US troop numbers in Germany in August and September 2019, and that the German media had dismissed it at the time as a “fantasy” and a “PR stunt”.
“Then we went to the Nato summit in London last September, and we talked about the troop withdrawal then,” he added. “No one should be surprised that Donald Trump is bringing the troops home.”
Mr Grenell placed the proposed move in the context of Mr Trump’s plans to bring troops back from a variety of military theatres, including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, South Korea and Japan.
The re-emergence of the plan to pull US troops out of Germany has alarmed European officials who are concerned about the fraying of the transatlantic alliance under Mr Trump.
The US president branded Nato obsolete on the campaign trail and has since repeatedly attacked European countries — and Germany in particular — for failing to spend more on their militaries.
European officials hope the German drawdown can still be averted or softened by opposition from inside the Trump administration or Congress.
Almost two dozen Republicans in the House of Representatives wrote to Mr Trump this week urging him to reconsider the move because of continuing “threats” posed by Russia,
“It’s not a done deal,” one European diplomat insisted of the US plan. “And at the end of the day there is still a large US commitment to security and defence in Europe.”
Pawel Jablonski, Poland’s deputy foreign minister, said that while Warsaw was opposed to reductions in Nato’s capabilities in Europe, the US move could be a “step towards a potential positive outcome” if US troops ended up being redeployed to other states on the alliance’s eastern flank.
“In general, we believe that withdrawing any troops from Europe is not a good signal, because our own common European safety depends on the US army,” he said.
“It’s not that there is some rivalry between Poland and Germany, or Poland and any other country, but if you look at the strategic needs of the alliance, it’s obvious that we should have more troops and more defensive capabilities on the eastern flank. So if these troops were moved to the eastern flank, this would in general be good news from the strategic point of view.”
Alarmed by Russia’s renewed assertiveness, Poland has long pushed for a greater US military presence in Europe. Last year, the US agreed to send 1,000 further troops to the country as part of what US officials described as an “enduring presence”.
Mr Jablonski did not confirm or deny whether the US had indicated to Warsaw that any of the troops could be moved to Poland.