US troops in Germany make both sides safer, says NATO chief

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that US troops in Europe made both sides of the Atlantic safer, after President Donald Trump confirmed plans to slash forces stationed in Germany.

US troops in Germany make both sides safer, says NATO chief
Archive photo shows US soldiers at the Storck Barracks in Illescheim, Bavaria, in March 2017. Photo: DPA

Defence ministers from the alliance will discuss Trump's plans to cut troops based in Germany by a third to 25,000 during video talks on Wednesday and Thursday.

The move has been criticised as weakening America's commitment to European defence as well as its ability to wield influence in the Middle East and Africa.

Stoltenberg said he had discussed the matter in a phone call with Trump on Monday last week – several days after it was leaked to US media.

“My message was that the US presence is good for Europe, but it's also good for North America and the United States,” he told reporters.

“The US presence in Europe is not only about protecting Europe, but it's also about protecting US power beyond Europe.”

READ ALSO: 'It's a tremendous cost': Trump to halve US troops in key NATO ally Germany

And German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas echoed the statement. On Tuesday he said: “We think that the US presence in Germany is important for the security not  just of Germany but also for the security of the United States and especially for the security of Europe.”

The plans appeared to catch Berlin by surprise and they have raised concerns among senior German politicians.

US troops have been stationed in Germany since the end of World War II, reaching a peak during the Cold War.

But the resurgence of Russia's military ambitions under President Vladimir Putin has given the US presence new importance.

Trump said he was cutting troop numbers to punish what he called “delinquent” Germany for not spending enough on its own defence, instead freeloading on the US.

Trump has repeatedly complained about European NATO members falling short of their commitment to spend at least two percent of GDP on defence by 2024.

While the US presence in Germany is based on an agreement between the two countries, Stoltenberg said that it “matters for the whole alliance”.

READ ALSO: Where in Germany do all the Americans live?

But he stressed that the details of the plan are still not finalised.

“The United States and the president have announced what they have announced, but it's not yet decided how and when and this decision will be implemented,” he said.

While expressing concern about Trump's plans, some NATO diplomats noted that the president has made similar announcements in the past about troop withdrawals elsewhere in the world, only for the end result to be somewhat less dramatic.

They also point out that repositioning large numbers of troops is both expensive and logistically complicated, factors which may weigh on the final decision.

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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”.