Trump still hasn’t told Merkel he’s pulling troops from Germany

Raymond Colitt and Patrick Donahue

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government said it’s received no official word from Washington on plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany, the latest sign of deteriorating relations between the two countries.

“As of this hour, there is no official confirmation by the appropriate authorities in the United States whether these plans will really be carried out or not,” Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said during a press conference in Berlin on Monday, days after the news was reported by numerous media outlets. “We’re only aware of the information that is in the press.”

In this Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump, center, and first lady Melania Trump greet members of the military at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Germany's defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is warning that U.S. President Donald Trump's reported plans to withdraw more than a quarter of the American troops out of Germany could weaken not only the NATO alliance but the U.S. itself.

Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, earlier had a similar response when asked at a regular news conference.

President Donald Trump’s directive to pull 9,500 troops from Germany caught authorities off guard and underscored just how much relations between Washington and Berlin have cooled.

“The fact is that the presence of U.S. soldiers in Germany serves the overall security of NATO, so American security as well,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said. “That’s the basis of our cooperation.”

Merkel and Trump have sparred repeatedly over issues from international trade to defense strategy. The two have also taken divergent paths to combating the coronavirus. Last month, she snubbed the U.S. president’s plan to hold an in-person Group of Seven summit in June.

“The president is punishing Merkel not only for rejecting his invite to a G-7 that is clearly a political stunt here in occupied Washington but for other perceived slights,” Jim Townsend, a former Pentagon official for European and NATO policy, wrote on Twitter. “It’s so transparent. Allies wonder if they’re next.”

While Trump has long insisted that Germany must step up defense spending, Merkel has stood her ground on a broad range of issues, insisting on a multilateral, rules-based approach to global economic affairs and backing a pipeline that is to carry Russian gas to Germany despite U.S. opposition.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg vowed to push for more political unity in the transatlantic alliance and said the coronavirus pandemic is magnifying a range of threats to the security of the alliance. He cited Russian military muscle-flexing, Middle East terrorism, state-sponsored disinformation and China’s geopolitical rise.

“Military strength is only part of the answer – we also need to use NATO more politically,” Stoltenberg told an online event on Monday. “This means bringing all the issues that affect our security to NATO’s table, so that we can forge stronger consensus sooner and more systematically.”

Lawmakers and government officials in Berlin criticized Trump’s troop decision, which would cut U.S. forces in Germany by slightly more than a quarter, as an affront.

But the ultimate impact on the country’s security is seen as limited. The U.S. troop strength in Germany has dwindled to about 34,500 from a peak of 274,000 during the 1960s, and Kramp-Karrenbauer implied the biggest blow would be to the people involved.

German-American cooperations is “the basis on which many American soldiers have become a real element within German society, have been well integrated in communities, and play an important role,” she said.