The US has announced it is to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany, in a move Donald Trump said was intended to punish the “delinquent” Nato member for not spending enough on defence.
The US president had declared his intention last month to cut by about a third the 36,000-strong US troop contingent in Germany, faulting its ally for failing to meet the alliance’s spending target and accusing it of taking advantage of America on trade.
Of the troops leaving - a mix of Army and Air Force units - some 5,400 will be relocated to Italy and elsewhere in Europe, while 6,400 forces will be returned to the US and will in time redeploy to the continent.
As part of the shakeup, which is estimated to cost billions of dollars, the US’s European Command headquarters and Special Operations Command Europe will also be moved from Stuttgart to Belgium.
Germany's Defense Ministry refused to comment on the moves, saying the plans needed to be discussed internally first.
Mark Esper, US Defence Secretary, cast the decision as a way to “enhance deterrence against Russia” and strengthen Nato.
However, Mr Trump later told journalists: “they're not paying their bills. It's very simple. They're delinquent." He added that he might rethink the decision to pull troops out of Germany "if they start paying their bills."
“We don’t want to be the suckers anymore,” he said. “The United States has been taken advantage of for 25 years, both on trade and on the military.”
The president has repeatedly accused Germany of failing to pay bills, which is a misstatement of the issue. Nato nations have pledged to dedicate 2 per cent of their gross domestic product to defense spending by 2024, and Germany is still short of that goal, at about 1.4 per cent.
Defence officials too yesterday insisted that the decision as to where to house the US troops leaving Germany was not influenced by whether the new host country was meeting the two per cent target.
Belgium and Italy, the two countries that will be receiving US troops from Germany, spend an even smaller percentage on defence than Berlin does.
Members of the Republican Party have criticised the move as a gift to Russia and a threat to US national security.
It remains to be seen if Congress would approve the funds for such a major relocation and if the plan would remain intact if Joe Biden, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is elected.