The Pentagon is analyzing the cost and impact of a large-scale withdrawal or transfer of American troops stationed in Germany, amid growing tensions between President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to people familiar with the work.
The effort follows Trump’s expression of interest in removing the troops, made during a meeting earlier this year with White House and military aides, U.S. officials said. Trump was said to have been taken aback by the size of the U.S. presence, which includes about 35,000 active-duty troops, and complained that other countries were not contributing fairly to joint security or paying enough to NATO.
Word of the assessment has alarmed European officials, who are scrambling to determine whether Trump actually intends to reposition U.S. forces or whether it is merely a negotiating tactic ahead of a NATO summit in Brussels, where Trump is again likely to criticize U.S. allies for what he deems insufficient defense spending.
U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on the unpublicized effort, emphasized that the exercise is limited to an internal exploration of options. The top military brass are not involved as yet, and the Pentagon has not been tasked with figuring out how to execute any option.
A spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House said in a statement that the NSC had not requested a Defense Department analysis of repositioning troops in Germany. But “the Pentagon continuously evaluates U.S. troop deployments,” the statement said, and such “analysis exercises” are “not out of the norm.”
Several officials suggested that Pentagon policymakers may have moved ahead with the assessment to prove the worth of the current basing arrangement and dissuade Trump from carrying the thought of withdrawal any further.
But persistent doubts in Europe about Trump’s commitment to the alliance have made even the possibility of routine changes to American force posture in Europe far more charged.
Although several U.S. administrations have called on Europe to spend more, Trump is particularly focused on the balance sheet. He has been especially critical of Merkel, on defense and a range of other issues.
The official said Poland’s offer was “peanuts by comparison” to U.S. military investment in Germany, including “the value of 60 years of sunk costs in facilities” such as the Landstuhl military health complex and Ramstein Air Base.
As Trump has railed against NATO — describing it at this month’s Group of 7 summit in Canada as “worse than NAFTA,” the trilateral trade agreement he has also denounced — allies have been comforted by support from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and to some extent from Pompeo.
In a Senate hearing on the State Department budget Wednesday, Pompeo spoke of “strong, united Atlantic unity,” even as “we have pushed them to increase their willingness to support NATO forces.”