oBy Zhang Yuannian
US president Donald Trump is about to make two short trips to Europe, first to France's seaside resort Biarritz for the G7 Summit at the end of August and then to visit Denmark and Poland in early September. Both trips are “ingeniously” designed to bypass Germany. In fact, the rift between Berlin and Washington has been widening since Trump came in office, with more prominent differences and conflicts in economy, security and even values.
US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell said recently that Chancellor Angela Merkel's refusal to increase national defense expenditure left the US with no choice but to shift the US troops’ stationing position in Germany to Poland, adding without mincing words, "it is unfair that the American taxpayers have to bear the expenses for the more than 50,000 American soldiers stationed in Germany while Berlin uses its trade surplus to meet its domestic demand."
This statement added fuel to the flames of US-Germany rift. It wasn't the first time that the US has imposed pressure on Germany regarding the issue of stationed troops. When attending the NATO summit last July, Trump said "countries including Germany must bear more costs of the American troops", and Grenell's latest remarks were just a repetition of what Trump said. The American ambassador was also happy to air his "views" on social media. Not long ago he criticized Germany online for not willing to join America's military operations at the Persian Gulf, which was interpreted by the German media as US mistrust of its allies.
But Berlin was quite calm in face of Washington's threat to withdraw troops. It didn't give a direct response, and German the Federal Ministry of Defense of Germany only made a symbolic statement. German The Secretary-General of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Lars Klingbeil spoke bluntly, "Grenell is threatening Germany and we shouldn't be blackmailed like this", and Dietmar Bartsch of Germany’s Left Party mockingly reminded the US "to take away your nuclear bombs deployed in Germany too" when withdrawing the troops.
More than 34,000 American military personnel are currently stationed in Germany, the largest troops that the US stations in Europe, and the US European Command and African Command, the "brain" and "center" of US troops in Europe, are both located in Germany's Stuttgart, while the Command of US Air Force Europe is headquartered at the Ramstein Air Base.
The US regards Germany as a strategic stronghold for its overseas deployments and US troops in Germany as a "reliable presence" for coping with Russia's challenges and providing security guarantee for its European allies. Germany is also a "hub" for US troops to transport materials and personnel to the Middle East and Africa and an assembly area if the troops have to take actions in those regions.
Unlike the US, most Germans don't think the American troops in Germany have especially important military and political significance after the Cold War, and they don't welcome those troops either, considering them rude, self-conceited and privileged. A poll showed that 70% of the Germans believed the Bundeswehr(German for “Federal Defense Force”) was capable enough to defend the country even without the American troops.
To be objective, the American troops in Germany do give a push to local economic development because 17,000 Americans and 12,000 Germans are working for those troops in Germany and tens of thousands of jobs are related with them too. But these economic benefits seem insignificant as opposed to the conflicts between the two countries in recent years.
As a matter of fact, not only do they disagree on the increase of military expenditure, but they also have major divergences on trade tariffs, Iran nuclear agreement, refugee policy and Germany-Russia relations, and standoff, contradiction and even conflict will be the keywords used by German media to describe bilateral relationship for a very long time during Trump's presidency. Although the foundation for bilateral relationship remains unchanged, the divergence between Berlin and Washington will probably widen as competition among western countries is intensified and their ideological division getting out of control.