America First, Cold War, deterrence, free-riding, Germany, military spending, NATO, North Atlantic treaty Organization, nuclear war, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Poland, The Wall Street Journal, tripwire, Trump
So where will President Trump send those U.S. troops he’ll be moving out of Germany? That may sound like an odd question to post about, given the widespread anti-racism and police brutality protests in the United States, still deeply depressed activity across the national economy, some signs of a CCP Virus second wave, and of course the intensifying presidential election campaign.
But precisely because, as Americans hopefully are learning, crises can spring up seemingly out of nowhere, it’s a crucial subject to examine. For if President Trump comes up with the wrong answer – as is entirely possible based on what’s known so far – the stage could be set for a terrifying and completely needless nuclear showdown with Russia that could all too easily result in a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland. And in a supreme irony, these dangers all stem from what’s been shaping up as one of the President’s sharpest and most dangerous departures from the America First principles on which he’s based much of his foreign policy.
But let’s begin at the beginning. As first reported last week in The Wall Street Journal, and pretty strongly confirmed last week, the President has decided to reduce the numbers of active duty American servicemen and women stationed permanently in Germany from 34,500 to 25,000, and cap this presence at that level.
If the troops would be heading further west on the European continent, or heading back home, that would be great news for Americans, as it would dramatically reduce nuclear war risk. As I’ve frequently written, for decades, (although in much greater numbers during the Cold War), U.S. forces have been deployed in Germany not to defend Germany militarily, but to function as a tripwire.
That is, American policymakers were under no illusion that these units would strong enough (even in tandem with the forces of U.S. allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO – like Germany) to beat back an attack from the conventional forces of the Soviet Union and its satellite allies. But Washington believed that the U.S. presence in West Germany – which bordered then-Communist East Germany) would deter a Soviet attack in the first place precisely because of its vulnerability. Specifically, the specter of American soldiers being decimated would force an American President to try saving them with nuclear weapons. The resulting prospect of the conflict threatening to escalate to the all-out nuclear leve – which would destroy the Soviet Union, too – would supposedly be enough to keep Moscow at bay.
As I’ve also written, this strategy arguably made sense during the Cold War, when its aim was keeping in the free world camp West Germany and Western Europe and all of its formidable economic power and therefore military potential. Today, however, it not only makes no sense from a U.S. standpoint. It has become positively deranged, as the likeliest targets of post-Soviet Russian aggression (and the arenas where the U.S. forces would likeliest be sent if the shooting starts) are not the longstanding NATO members of Western Europe. Instead, they’d be sent to the newer NATO members of Eastern Europe – most of which border Russia, but whose security was never viewed as a vital U.S. interest (that is, worth risking war over), even in the Cold War days.
Even less excusably, sizable American forces have remained in Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe in part because Germany and most of the other allies keep skimping so shamefully on their own militaries – even though most have hardly been short of resources.
No ally has been a more disgraceful military free-rider than uber-wealthy Germany, and the President has been right to complain about German and broader stinginess, and to threaten major consequences if the allies’ defense budgets aren’t significantly boosted. But as I’ve also explained, he’s focused on the wrong objective: securing a fairer deal for U.S. taxpayers.
Instead, all along, he should have been seeking the removal of the American military either from Europe altogether, or its transfer far enough from the front lines to reduce meaingfully the odds of it getting entrapped in a new East-West conflict immediately. For those are the kinds of moves that would shrink to insignificance the chances of the United States getting hit by Russian nuclear warheads because of a combination of its forces being placed in a completely impossible position militarily, and because U.S. allies have been too cheap to pay for their own security.
Worst of all, though, far from moving U.S. forces away from the front lines of a Russian attack, Mr. Trump consistently has been moving them closer, by cautiously but steadily stationing more in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. And numerous reports have suggested that Poland is exactly where at least some of the 9,500 U.S. troops leaving Germany will be heading.
Because a final decision to transfer the troops to Poland hasn’t been made yet, there’s still hope that this potentially disastrous mistake can be avoided. But that outcome seems unlikely without a serious intervention from a Trump advisor influential enough to produce an about-face. Anyone out there know how I can get a hold of Jared, Ivanka, or Melania?