Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE) - Richard Grenell, President Trump’s outspoken Ambassador to Germany has openly criticized the Berlin government, accusing it of failing to pull its weight on defense spending and suggesting that the 50,000 American troops stationed in NATO’s largest European nation could be moved to Poland.
Ambassador Grenell said in an interview with the German news agency DPA that U.S. patience was running out after successive U.S. presidents had in vain urged Germany — long a close NATO ally — to do more for its own security. It follows Grenell’s criticism of Germany recently for its refusal to take part in a U.S.-led naval mission in the Persian Gulf.
“It is offensive to assume that the U.S. taxpayers continue to pay for more than 50,000 Americans in Germany but the Germans get to spend their budget surplus on domestic programs,” Grenell was quoted telling DPA, comments which made waves in Germany and were confirmed by the U.S. Embassy.
Germany’s defense spending has long been a point of contention between the two allies. And its fighter jets, tanks and submarines are in a woeful state of disrepair. But no U.S. president or ambassador has ever spoken out as bluntly as Grenell. Trump will visit Europe twice in the next four weeks: France for a Group of 7 meeting, and then Denmark and Poland.
The German government’s room for maneuveris limited by an anti-militarist electorate. Military expenditure has fallen far short of its 2014 pledge to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to raise defense spending to 2% of GDP by 2024.
Berlin has no plan in place to get to 2%. It expects to spend 1.36% of GDP on defense in 2019 and that is expected to drop to 1.24% in 2024, while most other NATO members reach the 2% target. The United States spends 3.3% of its GDP on defense.
Along with U.S. nuclear missiles based in Germany, there are more American forces in Germany than in any other country in Europe: 35,000 soldiers along with 17,000 American civilians. Some 12,000 German civilians work in jobs connected to the U.S. military.
In June, Trump said he would shift 1,000 U.S. troops from bases in Western Europe to Poland, joining about 4,000 U.S. soldiers who rotate in and out of Poland.
The U.S. ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, recently tweeted in support of moving U.S. troops from Germany to Poland. ‘Poland meets its 2% of GDP spending obligation towards NATO. Germany does not. We would welcome American troops in Germany to come to Poland.’
“President Trump is right and Georgette Mosbacher is right,” Grenell said. “Multiple presidents have asked the largest economy in Europe to share the burden of its own defense. This is a request that has been made over many years and by many U.S. administrations. We have reached a point where Americans and the U.S. president must react.” However Germans find it hard to believe that they face any serious military threat in Europe. On the other hand they are inclined to think that NATO is an alliance to suit the United States and subsidize its military spending.
The move of troops to Poland could have far-reaching security consequences in Europe. When NATO began expanding in the 1990s to take in countries that had been Soviet satellites during the Cold War, the alliance promised not to permanently station combat forces in Central Europe unless security conditions changed, a pledge that Moscow says NATO has violated.
It may also be a move that the United States actually wants that would enable it to reinforce its presence in Central Europe and the Three Seas group within the EU, linking the Baltic, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
German media reports about the unpopular Grenell’s comments stirred considerable reaction. Hundreds of readers on Spiegel Online’s website applauded Grenell’s suggestion, urging him personally to leave the country along with the American forces. Several wrote “good riddance,” and some even offered to help the soldiers pack up their equipment.