Will American troops in Germany still be relocated if Biden wins the election?

US President Trump announced plans in June to withdraw one-third of American troops in Germany - a perceived election campaign maneuver that hasn't happened yet. Will plans go ahead if he's defeated?

Will American troops in Germany still be relocated if Biden wins the election?
A sign directing drivers to a US military base near Stuttgart in July. Photo: DPA

The planned withdrawal of about 12,000 troops has not yet started, more than four months after the announcement made by US President Donald Trump that the removal would start as soon as possible.

READ ALSO: US to move 11,900 troops out of Germany

The Stuttgart-based command center for the US armed forces in Europe (called Eucom) replied to DPA’s request for comment by saying that the preparations for such a move require more time. 

“Planning takes place at the highest levels and takes numerous considerations into account. This will take some time,” it said in a written answer. The soldiers are to be kept up to date about the plans. “At this moment in time we have no further details to offer and cannot speculate about schedules.”

The coordinator of the Federal Government of Germany for transatlantic relations, Peter Beyer of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), confirmed that the mass troop-withdrawal has not yet begun. 

“The US Army in Germany has, to my knowledge, still not received any concrete instructions concerning detailed implementation of the troop-withdrawal,” Beyer said DPA.  

Troop removal 'as soon as possible'

It was originally expected that at least the first soldiers would be removed before the US Presidential election on Tuesday, November 3rd. When Trump announced the removal on June 15th, he argued that Germany does not pay enough for defense spending. 

Six weeks later, Trump’s Defence Secretary Mark Esper provided details on the troop withdrawal, and made it clear that the plan should be implemented “as soon as possible.” The first soldiers, according to Esper, could be expected to leave within weeks. It has now turned into months, and the process has yet to begin. 

About 12,000 of the 36,000 soldiers stationed in Germany are to be withdrawn. Roughly half are to be brought back to the US, while 5,600 are to be transferred to other NATO countries. Three stations in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, and Rheinland-Palatinate are hit especially hard. 

US troops visiting a military museum in Dresden in 2017. Photo: DPA

Both of the Stuttgart-based command centers for U.S. Troops in Europe and Africa are to be transferred from the capital of Baden-Württemberg to Mons, Belgium. 

A total of 4,500 soldiers will return home to the US from a large military training area from the Oberpfalz region of Bavaria. 

A squadron with about twenty F16 fighter jets including crew, mechanics, and support staff is to be relocated from the air force base in Eifel, Rheinland-Palatinate to Italy. 

In Berlin it was originally expected that the first steps of the troop withdrawal would take place before the election. However from the start the German federal government was barely included in the planning by the U.S. allies.

Last week, Alexander Neu, a member of parliament representing Die Linke (The Left) asked the Defense Ministry whether they were aware if troop relocations had already taken place, or if they were planned for the next few months. 

The Defense Ministry responded curtly with a short response: “The federal government has no relevant findings.”

Could the decision to remove troops be reversed?

Even if there is indeed a rough or specific schedule for the first steps of the withdrawal, it would be easily thrown overboard depending on the outcome of the presidential election. 

This is what the German government is now hoping for, in the event that Trump loses the election.

“I see a definitive chance that this decision will be revised if Biden is President,” said representative of the Christian Democratic Party/Christian Social Union parliamentary faction, Johann Wadephul.

READ ALSO: NATO chief defends US amid German troop withdrawal report

He points to the considerable resistance against the withdrawal plans present across party lines in the US Senate, not only among Democrats. Republican Senator Mitt Romney, called Trump’s plan a “grave error,” and added further, “It is a slap in the face to a friend and ally.”

The US Military views the plan skeptically. The former commander of US troops in Europe, Ben Hodges, called it a “colossal mistake.” Hodges believes that the decision was purely politically motivated and followed no strategy. 

Transatlantic-coordinator Beyer still believes that the plans will be completely scaled back, even if Trump is defeated.

“I am convinced that this topic will remain, even if Biden wins the election,” he said. “Biden would also not completely stop the reduction in troops.”

Translated by Livy Marie Donahue

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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”.