As the United States prepares to pull some of its troops out of Germany, US-German relations will continue to deteriorate, at least until and perhaps beyond the US presidential election in November, according to European experts.
Following the US announcement of plans to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement on Saturday in Warsaw, setting out the legal framework for the presence of additional US troops in Poland.
Around 5,400 of the US troops to be withdrawn from Germany will be deployed elsewhere in Europe, including in Poland, while about 6,400 will be sent back to the US.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained that Germany does not spend the NATO target of 2 percent of its GDP on defense.
“Germany is a wealthy country, and they have to pay,” Trump told Fox News. “They owed us billions of dollars, billions of dollars to NATO. They should be paying their bills. Why should we defend countries and not be reimbursed?”
Fraser Cameron, director of the Brussels-based EU-Asia Center and a former member of the European Commission delegation in Washington, described the US troop reduction in Germany as “a typical Trump reaction” to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refusal to attend a proposed in-person G7 summit in Washington because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A YouGov poll early this month found that 47 percent of German respondents supported a US troop reduction, while a majority in the same poll supported the removal of US nuclear weapons from Germany.
Shada Islam, head of the Brussels-based global strategy and advisory firm New Horizons Project, said the troop withdrawal is another manifestation of the deteriorating bilateral relationship.
Besides being the first G7 leader to decline Trump’s invitation to the G7 summit, Merkel also is vocal on the need for Europe to wean itself from overdependence on the US, Shada said.
She added that Germany has been unhappy with former US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as well as his successor, Douglas Macgregor.
She believes that US actions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project have been a major irritant in the relationship.
The 10 billion euro ($11.8 billion) pipeline, owned by Russian gas company Gazprom, is expected to double the amount of Russian natural gas transported from Russia to Germany. The project is near completion beneath the Baltic Sea.
In a letter dated Aug 5, Republican US Senators Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Ron Johnson vowed “crushing legal and economic sanctions” against a German company operating the Baltic Sea port of Mukran, where Russian vessels are helping build the last section of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Trump also told Fox News that “we’re supposed to protect Germany from Russia. That’s fine. But Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for energy. What’s that all about?”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Pompeo on Aug 10 that he was displeased with the threats made by three US senators. On the same day, Merkel spokesman Steffan Seibert said Germany was opposed to “extraterritorial sanctions”.
Many German politicians were furious about the letter.
Manuela Schwesig, the premier of the state where the port is located, called the letter “blackmail”, while Jurgen Trittin, a German Green politician and former federal minister for the environment, said it amounted to “declaration of economic war”. Carsten Schneider, a leading Social Democrat in the German Parliament, accused Washington of “neo-imperialism”, according to Politico.
German respondents in the 2019 Pew Global Attitudes Survey mostly held an unfavorable view of the US. Among NATO members in Europe, only Turkey had a lower favorability rate toward the US in the survey.
According to the survey, 38 percent of Germans had a favorable view of the US, while 13 percent were confident that Trump would do the right things regarding world affairs.
Shada said many recognize that the era of close transatlantic consensus－if it ever existed－is over.