04 August 2020

The US redeployments from Germany: “Is it or is it not happening? Yes it does!”

Ştefan Oprea

The news about a possible decrease plan of the US forces dislocated in Germany was provoking, at the beginning of June, a justified and sudden rumor on Atlantic’s both coasts. And that was no just happening because the US military presence in Germany is the result of some extremely complex policies, which comes from the security arrangements that followed the World War II, seen as the best global strategic contracts.

Image source: US Army

Starting with 300.000 military (both land and air forces) in Europe, in 1953, the numbers are maintained, lightly modified, up to the end of the Cold War when, after 1989, the decreases of the US presence became extremely big (around 79.000 in 2004), reaching nowadays around 63.000, wherefrom 35.000 are in Germany.

A brief analysis of the US troops’ dislocation in Europe is highlighting that these were a role model for the US foreign policy, being the start of the US military presence enlargement in the entire world. Also, it is worth mentioning that the US’s  need to redeploy troops in other difficult areas is something that happened also during the Cold War, but Western Germany’s capacity to provide a proper defence level to match its anticommunist rhetoric stopped it. A series of factors like the small, yet important, accumulation in the European defence field, the existence of the nuclear weapons and air transport capabilities as well as a kind of relaxation of the international relations led, after 1990, to a gradual decrease of the US presence in Europe.

With a great strategic investment on the European continent (mostly in Germany) and a military presence to provide the accomplishment of its own objectives, but also those of NATO, the US is strategically establishing itself in the region using Germany as a “transit hub” for its actions in Africa, Europe and Eurasia, but also as a crucial deterrence element against Russia.

Distributed in five of the seven big European garrisons,  the US forces dislocated in Germany include: the Unites States European Command (EUCOM) and the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) in Stuttgart, the United States Army Europe (USAREUR) in Wiesbaden, the US Air Forces (USAF) in Ramstein, the Regional Medical Centre Landstuhl, the biggest medical unit outside the continental United States and the Grafenwohr Training Centre, which is the biggest capability of such type in Europe, having the possibility to host and train an entire brigade, with all the specific elements for dislocation. If we also add that the US, within the nuclear distribution program, has tactical nuclear weapons at the Luftwaffe Air Base in Buechal, and that Ramsten is a key facility of the United States, which hosts command and control elements for the US drones operations in the entire world, then the image of this dislocation becomes quite suggestive.

As part of a larger enhancement process of the US forces, which are dislocated in the entire world,  to answer to the challenges posed by Russia and an developing China, updating the US forces in Europe wants to: increase Russia’s deterrence, consolidate NATO, reassure the allies and, not least, improve the US strategic flexibility and the EUCOM operational one.

“As we've entered a new era of great power competition, we are now at another one of those inflection points in NATO's history, and I'm confident the alliance will be all the better and stronger for it”, was the Defence Secretary, Mark Esper stating, in a media statement at the Pentagon.

From the analysis made by EUCOM it comes out that a redeployment of more than 5.500 people of the US forces from Germany to other NATO states, as well as a repatriation of more than 6000 people to provide the rotating presence of US in interested areas (mostly on the Eastern flank of NATO and in the Black Sea Region), is an adaptation of the force structure to approach the current national security issues.

This whole broad redeployment process will include also changing the current EUCOM location into another one, in Belgium. At the same time, within the same redeployment program, AFRICOM has elaborated its own redeployment plan of its Stuttgart command, founded in 2007, in a random location, aiming to selecting, later, a permanent location. Later works, which analyzed Europe, US and Africa’s sites, have pushed the Pentagon, in 2013, to keep the headquarter from Stuttgart, reasoned by the operational needs and the costs related to transport. It also seems that these difficulties were overcome because now they are looking for another location, in Europe or the US.

Based on the same plan, the Army’s 2d Armored Regiment (the only land “Striker Brigade” in Europe, placed in Vilseck, Germany), is a surprise because of the role this unity played in its 33 years in Europe, during the Cold War, but also after coming back to Germany, in 2014. After this year, the regiment played a key role in increasing the military efforts on the Eastern flank of NATO. From the US, the regiment’s soldiers will be used to provide both the rotating US forces, deployed in the Baltic area, but also for trainings with NATO’s allies, mostly in the Black Sea area. Moving the F-16 fighter-bomber of the 52nd Fighter Wing, in Italy, would close this dislocation tactically.

It is also important that within this plan the EUSOCOM will move to Mons and a previous decision on the dislocation of almost 2500 Air Forces military from the United Kingdom to Germany was cancelled.

As part of the dislocation process in Europe, the Pentagon is also exploring the presence of the United States forces in Poland, analyzing the possibility of creating an Operational Command here with the elements of the new 5TH Unit of the US Army, aiming at synchronizing the US Army tactical structures, the allied ones and of the partner nations operating in Europe.

Whatever the reason behind this would be, the US strategic motives, the German refusal to join a naval mission in the Persian Gulf to deter Iran or Trump’s complaints about the relation in foreign policy with the Merkel government, the announced decision by the US Defence Secretary, Mark Esper, to withdraw around 11.900 US soldiers from the Germany’s bases is far more complex and have significant consequences.

From this point of view, even just highlighting the investments in the complex military infrastructure, it is quite obvious that a 30% decrease of the service members in these facilities will affect their well-functioning. Also, any troops’ redeployment in other European garrisons, other than the current ones, will require substantial costs to implement this decision, as controversial as serious.

Without considering, as other analytical structures are doing, the redeployment decision as a punitive move against Germany, it is quite obvious that, strategically speaking, its implementation will anyhow take place and the consequences will be difficult to handle.

One of these consequences will be losing the reaction advantage in terms of time, of around two weeks; the US has today for the development of the forces left in Europe, in the current structure and the current locations to the conflict areas in the Middle East.

Another important effect will be elimination of the current air and naval strategic transport logistic capabilities, along with the need to build new ones, in the future dislocation or intermediary location on interested directions. From this point of view, Romania, through the strategic investments US made in the military facilities on our territory, will surely analyze these redeployments.

As for NATO, although the Alliance was clear and firm on the danger Russia represents, its efforts when it comes to preventing the war by increasing the deterrence effort in the Baltic area will become, after this decision, a lot weaker. Also, the NATO response in building a deterrence posture with thousands of military dislocated in the Baltic States and Poland, which have reserves ready for a quick reaction, can be affected. If we also add that the NATO initiatives on the training and mobility of reserve forces, to provide that they will get in time where needed, will be fundamentally affected and the efforts will be distributed to other areas, the whole image become even harder to approach. As the US is no longer part of the INF Treaty, the possible damages on the transatlantic security, after changing the NATO’s nuclear deterrence capacity on the continent, are quite obvious.

We cannot conclude this preliminary analysis without accounting for the economic consequences of this decision on Germany, given that any military base has large regional economic ramifications around it. Starting from the activity of service providers, tourism, transportation, real estate, education, local employment, etc., everything means money for the economy, and the US military is becoming an essential economic engine. In addition, despite the negative perception of the German population for US actions in Iraq (driven by the command and control elements for US drone operations in Ramstein), many Germans see economic considerations outweighing humanitarian ones when it comes to an American troops presence in the region.

In this context, even if some experts believe that the decision, "pushed" by President Trump, who recently insisted on reductions in Germany's own troops, will affect the North Atlantic Alliance, and not only, the statement of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, where he announced that "the US has consulted closely with all NATO allies before today's announcement" seems to allay fears.

Moreover, he added that "Secretary Esper's announcement today of US forces in Europe underscores the continued commitment of the United States to NATO and European security ... peace and security in Europe are important to the security and prosperity of North America and, as we face a more unpredictable world, we are stronger and safer when we are together”, addressing these dislocations could be a major and positive strategic change.

However, to calm down our optimism, the ulterior statement of president Trump, where he announced that he could reconsider the decision to withdraw troops from Germany “if they will start pay their bills” makes us circumspect even when thinking of the consequences of such a decision.

Translated by Andreea Soare