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Trump’s ‘America-first’ policy intensifies in an election year

A U.S. flag is pictured on a soldier’s uniform during the ‘Dynamic Front 18’ exercise in Grafenwoehr, near Eschenbach, southern Germany on March 7, 2018.

A U.S. flag is pictured on a soldier’s uniform during the ‘Dynamic Front 18’ exercise in Grafenwoehr, near Eschenbach, southern Germany on March 7, 2018.   | Photo Credit: AFP

9,500 troops are to be pulled out from Germany

U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to draw down troops from Germany, months before his November re-election bid, marks the return to a lynchpin of his ‘America-first’ foreign policy rooted in a repudiation of multilateralism. The development shows persistent strains in relations between the two countries.

Under the move, 9,500 American defence personnel, about a quarter of those stationed in Germany — home to the largest contingent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Europe — would be removed by September. The significance of the step may be gauged from the fact that the U.S. Army and Air Force headquarters for Europe and Africa are located in the country, which also hosts major American military training bases. These facilities serve as critical strategic and logistics centres to bolster Washington’s security interests in West Asia and North Africa.

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A large U.S. presence has, moreover, served as a bulwark of peace in post-Second World War Europe, as well as to strengthen the Western alliance against threats from the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. Its relevance in current times remains undiminished, given Berlin’s reticence to project strategic power, notwithstanding its economic pre-eminence.

Trump’s displeasure at Berlin

The relocation of troops signals Mr. Trump’s strong disapproval of Berlin, which he has repeatedly singled out for non-compliance with NATO’s stipulation to spend 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence. The pressure he has exerted on the bloc has already resulted in substantial increases in expenditure from many member states. However, the German government reported a marginal increase last year and aims to meet the bloc’s target only in a decade. Turning up the heat on Berlin, whose huge trade surpluses with Washington have roiled domestic industrial lobbies, works to Mr. Trump’s advantage in an election year. Its backing for the Paris climate deal, the Iran nuclear agreement and even its domestic 2015 policy to let in immigrants have similarly drawn Mr. Trump’s ire. Washington’s former Ambassador to Berlin Richard Grenell, a close Trump associate, played down the significance of the troop withdrawal when he alluded to similar steps being planned in South Korea and Japan. But there were overtones of Mr. Trump’s stance of an isolationist America when Mr. Grenell remarked that there were costs to U.S. taxpayers from providing security for other countries.

Jitters across the Atlantic

Washington’s decision has, however, caused consternation across the Atlantic. Leaders from Germany’s ruling conservative Christian Democratic Party have highlighted the absence of consultations over the unilateral move as illustrative of the lack of cohesiveness within NATO. Germany’s left-wing Die Linke party has called on the government to push for a further rollback of U.S. troops. Conversely, over 20 Republicans from the House Arms and Defense Committee have written to the President opposing the troops pull-out, arguing that Russia under President Vladimir Putin continues to pose a real and present danger to the security of Europe and beyond.

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A potential beneficiary from this stand-off could be Poland on NATO’s eastern flanks, which spends 2% of its GDP on defence and has earmarked some $48 billion to modernise its armed forces by 2026. The ultra-right government has already signed a contract worth billions of dollars for U.S. Patriot missiles and has expressed interest in the F-35 fighter jets. During the signing of a deal last year for the supply of additional 1000 troops to Warsaw, Mr. Trump indicated that they could be redeployed from Germany. Seizing the moment, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has sounded optimistic about Washington’s latest decision. His ultimate aim is for a permanent U.S. military presence on Polish soil to counter Russian influence.

garimella.subramaniam@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 2:44:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/trumps-america-first-policy-intensifies-in-an-election-year/article31863431.ece

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