NATO chief defends US amid Germany troop withdrawal report

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg defended America's military commitment to Europe on Monday, following reports President Donald Trump plans to slash troop numbers in Germany.

NATO chief defends US amid Germany troop withdrawal report
Archive photo from June 2016 shows American troops outside of Dresden's Military History Museum. Photo: DPA

Berlin has voiced concern at the proposal reported by US media to cut the 34,500 American military personnel posted in Germany by nearly a third.

The move would significantly reduce the US commitment to European defence under the NATO umbrella, and appeared to catch Berlin off guard.

Asked about the plans, Stoltenberg refused to comment directly on “leaks or media speculation” but said he was “constantly consulting” with Washington on its military presence in Europe.

READ ALSO: Trump plan to slash US troops sparks concern in Germany

And — as he often does when pressed about the Trump administration's ambivalence towards NATO — Stoltenberg launched into a detailed defence of Washington's commitment to European security.

“In the last few years we have actually seen an increase in the US presence in Europe again,” he said.

“And this is not only about Germany. We have seen for instance a new US brigade deployed to Europe, we have seen more rotational presence, we have seen the US taking a lead function in the NATO battle group in Poland.”

Despite transatlantic political tensions, Stoltenberg insisted that NATO allies were “doing more together now in Europe than we have done for many, many years”.

Stoltenberg was speaking in an online question-and-answer session to launch an exchange of expert ideas aimed at strengthening the alliance in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

There has been no official confirmation about the reported plan to cut US troop numbers in Germany and cap them at 25,000.

But Trump's lukewarm support for longstanding cooperation agreements with European allies has long caused alarm on the continent.

He has been particularly scathing about Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, accusing it of not spending enough on its own defence.

Germany hosts more US troops than any other country in Europe, a legacy of the Allied occupation after World War II, and while the presence has declined since the Cold War, it remains a crucial hub.

As well as serving as a deterrent to a resurgent Russia, US troops use German bases to coordinate military operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

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Germany welcomes US troop withdrawal freeze under Biden

The German government on Friday welcomed a decision by President Joe Biden to put on hold plans to reduce US troops in Germany, saying their presence was in the countries' mutual interest.

Germany welcomes US troop withdrawal freeze under Biden
An American soldier stationed in Germany, in front of Dresden's Military History Museum in 2016. Photo: DPA

“We have always been convinced that American troops being stationed here in Germany serves European and transatlantic security and hence is in our mutual interest,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.

As part of a major foreign and security policy overhaul presented Thursday, Biden announced a freeze on plans set in motion by his predecessor Donald Trump to reduce the US troop presence in Germany, a cornerstone of NATO security since the start of the Cold War.

READ ALSO: What could Joe Biden as US president mean for Germany?

Trump's decision was seen as linked to his tense relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and his frequent complaints that Europe's top economy spent too little on defence.

The United States has had US troops stationed in Germany since World War II but their numbers have declined since the fall of the Berlin Wall from some 200,000 soldiers in 1990 to 34,500 today.

Although the prospect had been looming for years, Trump's decision in July to redeploy 12,000 soldiers from Germany still came as a shock, particularly to towns that have built strong economic and cultural ties to the US military.

READ ALSO: Trump to withdraw 'thousands of US soldiers from Germany' under Biden

“We strongly value the close, decades-long cooperation with the American troops stationed in Germany,” Seibert said.

He said the communities hosting GIs appreciated their presence, calling the bases “part of the lived transatlantic friendship”.  

Seibert said German officials were in “consultations” with the US administration about “further planning” but that the decision how to shape the future American military footprint in Europe was a “US domestic issue”.