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Why Biden could reverse US troop removal from Germany

Joe Biden could reverse course – at least partially – on the Trump administration's move to withdraw some 12,000 US troops from Germany, according to the US President-elect defense advisers.

Why Biden could reverse US troop removal from Germany
US President-elect Joe Biden. Photo: DPA

Michele Flournoy – former number three at the Pentagon and a favorite to lead the Defense Department under the new administration – nearly predicted as much during a conference in August.

“If you have a new administration, the first thing they'll do is a posture review globally,” she said at the Aspen Security Forum when asked about the withdrawals.

“My hope is that this (withdrawal plan) will not be fully executed because I don't think it's in the strategic interests of the United States and it's very damaging to our alliance relationships,” Flournoy said.

The move was announced July 29th by former defense secretary Mark Esper, who was abruptly fired by President Donald Trump Monday.

Some 34,500 troops are currently deployed in the country. Under the Trump administration's plan, about 6,400 would be sent home to the US while 5,600 others would be re-deployed to other NATO countries, especially Belgium and Italy.

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

'Doesn't make sense'

Esper framed the re-deployment as strategically necessary, especially as part of efforts to counter Russian influence, but Trump immediately contradicted that explanation, saying the maneuver was actually in response to Germany's refusal to “pay the bills.”

“We don't want to be the suckers anymore…. We're protecting Germany, so we're reducing the force because they're not paying the bills,” Trump said at the time.

“I don't think it makes sense,” said Flournoy, who was set to be the first woman to direct the world's most powerful military if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2016.

Archive photo shows US soldiers at the Storck Barracks in Illescheim, Bavaria, in March 2017. Photo: DPA

The removal “was seen as sort of punishing … and it underscores the narrative in Europe, unfortunately, that the United States cannot be relied upon, that we can't be counted on to sort of stick with them, that we don't value the NATO alliance relationships,” she lamented.

Another Biden adviser, Kathleen Hicks, also critiqued the Germany troop removal, writing in the newspaper The Hill in August that the move “benefits our adversaries.”

The move “comes at the cost of readiness” and “will be expensive,” said Hicks, director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

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

Moving is expensive

And Hicks was skeptical of the money-saving powers of Esper's assurances that the troops withdrawn from Germany would be replaced with rotations of new units.

“Relocating 11,900 forces, dependents, and equipment, and securing new capacity for living, working, and training take more money,” she pointed out.

Hicks was nominated Monday to head the Democrats' team managing the presidential transition at the Department of Defense.

Germany, which hosts more US troops than any other European country – a legacy of the Allied occupation after World War II – is ready to turn the page on the Trump years.

But during a September interview with AFP, the German head of transatlantic relations, Peter Beyer, hedged on the removal plan.

“The controversial issues won't go away overnight, but with Biden the transatlantic friendship would become more reasonable, calculable and reliable again,” he said.

Flournoy didn't say whether she would be in favor of keeping all of the troops in question in Germany, but she did explain that she foresees a re-deployment of some forces farther east.

“And maybe we need more in the Baltics or in Poland or somewhere else, Romania, but that was not what was driving this (move in Germany),” she said.

By Sylvie Lanteaume

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Merkel calls for new EU-US trade deal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Wednesday for a sweeping new free trade deal between the EU and the United States, after previous efforts faltered amid mass protests and transatlantic tensions.

Merkel calls for new EU-US trade deal
An 'Origin: Germany' sign on a package. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

Against the backdrop of revived ties with Washington since President Joe Biden took office, Merkel said that both sides stood to benefit from such a pact.

READ ALSO: Merkel invites Biden to Germany ‘as soon as pandemic allows’

“I’ve always advocated a trade agreement between the US and the EU,” she told a foreign policy congress, noting that the 27-member bloc had hammered out such agreements with regions around the world.

Merkel, who will leave office after a general election in September, said it would be “very, very sensible” to use the template of the EU-Canada deal which cut tariffs and promotes exports to deepen economic relations with the United States.

“There is much to do for transatlantic cooperation in a turbulent world which needs partnerships,” she said.

“That’s why I’m pleased that we have new possibilities with the new (Biden) administration which the German government would like to seize.”

Years-long talks on an ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) stalled following widespread protests in Germany, France and Austria over fears it would undermine EU standards on food and health.

They collapsed for good under US President Donald Trump who took a confrontational approach toward the EU on trade matters.

Biden has expressed a keen interest in restoring transatlantic relations including trade cooperation, even as he promotes a “Buy American” message European officials have seen as protectionist.

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

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