The Trump administration has recently decided to reduce American troop presence in Germany by over 25%, taking overall troop levels from 34,500 to 25,000 by September. This decision came about abruptly for NATO member e believe that American troops in Germany damage the chances of having a diplomatic conversation with Russia. In contrast, others believe that an American military presence is both good for the economy (soldiers spend money in the local communities) while also providing ties with a powerful state.
The reason for this troop withdrawal likely has to do with defense budgets and the overall relationship with Germany. NATO requires that member countries spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. Germany currently spends about 1.36% of its GDP on defense with plans to reach the 2% threshold in 2031. Adding on top of the issues on defense budgets are also the issues that the German government often refuses to take part in military operations with the United States. This is due to military deployments being a politically unpopular topic and politicians attempting to be re-elected could face a disillusioned electorate if they approved an operation of this kind. Some on both sides of the Atlantic may also sensationalize and say that the American military is occupying Germany. However, this is untrue as the bases in Germany house important headquarters and logistics centers for the U.S. military globally. Many of the bases tend to have these support functions rather than being combat-ready military forces, and most of the bases are co-commanded by the German and American militaries.
While the troops from Germany are headed home, for now, Trump is also looking at Poland. The government of Poland has been trying to get American military forces to have a more permanent presence there likely due to the threat of Russia, and they have offered several lucrative deals. Poland also maintains at least 2% of GDP defense spending in contrast with Germany, and it is likely a political move to encourage other NATO countries to increase their defense spending to at least 2%.
How is this relevant to the average American?
American overseas deployments do not seem to have a significant effect on the average American, but they do. Much of the average American taxes go to defense spending, and less oversee deployments could mean a shrinking of the overall tax burden or more spending on domestic programs. Moving troops to another country could also decrease costs if the country willing to pay more for subsidizing the American military presence, and it could make everyone safer by encouraging other states to maintain an adequate defense budget. It could also improve or harm American operational capacity abroad, which could have a lot of indirect consequences for the average American.
Supporters of bringing troops home often cite that Americans shouldn’t subsidize the defense of other countries, especially ones that are not meeting their obligations. They argue that the money could be spent on tax breaks or improved domestic spending. Although the military bases in Germany have limited combat capability, they are still American bases that would have to be defended if they did come under threat. These arguments tie into the broader debate over American global engagement stating that if Americans “retrenched,” then we would be spending less money on defense, have a more mobile military, and be less engaged in conflicts around the globe that don’t involve the U.S.
Detractors of bringing American troops home argue that theses troops are essential to American engagement abroad and should be left where they are. They also state that this could further harm the American-German relationship and reduce overall NATO capability and America’s ability to act multilaterally. In the broader debate, they often argue that American engagement in the world is necessary as much of the global system is interdependent and that Americans maintain a higher quality of life with the global system in place, which is only possible if it’s protected.