Will American troops in Germany still be relocated if Biden wins the election?

US President Trump announced plans in June to withdraw one-third of American troops in Germany - a perceived election campaign maneuver that hasn't happened yet. Will plans go ahead if he's defeated?

Will American troops in Germany still be relocated if Biden wins the election?
A sign directing drivers to a US military base near Stuttgart in July. Photo: DPA

The planned withdrawal of about 12,000 troops has not yet started, more than four months after the announcement made by US President Donald Trump that the removal would start as soon as possible.

READ ALSO: US to move 11,900 troops out of Germany

The Stuttgart-based command center for the US armed forces in Europe (called Eucom) replied to DPA’s request for comment by saying that the preparations for such a move require more time. 

“Planning takes place at the highest levels and takes numerous considerations into account. This will take some time,” it said in a written answer. The soldiers are to be kept up to date about the plans. “At this moment in time we have no further details to offer and cannot speculate about schedules.”

The coordinator of the Federal Government of Germany for transatlantic relations, Peter Beyer of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), confirmed that the mass troop-withdrawal has not yet begun. 

“The US Army in Germany has, to my knowledge, still not received any concrete instructions concerning detailed implementation of the troop-withdrawal,” Beyer said DPA.  

Troop removal 'as soon as possible'

It was originally expected that at least the first soldiers would be removed before the US Presidential election on Tuesday, November 3rd. When Trump announced the removal on June 15th, he argued that Germany does not pay enough for defense spending. 

Six weeks later, Trump’s Defence Secretary Mark Esper provided details on the troop withdrawal, and made it clear that the plan should be implemented “as soon as possible.” The first soldiers, according to Esper, could be expected to leave within weeks. It has now turned into months, and the process has yet to begin. 

About 12,000 of the 36,000 soldiers stationed in Germany are to be withdrawn. Roughly half are to be brought back to the US, while 5,600 are to be transferred to other NATO countries. Three stations in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, and Rheinland-Palatinate are hit especially hard. 

US troops visiting a military museum in Dresden in 2017. Photo: DPA

Both of the Stuttgart-based command centers for U.S. Troops in Europe and Africa are to be transferred from the capital of Baden-Württemberg to Mons, Belgium. 

A total of 4,500 soldiers will return home to the US from a large military training area from the Oberpfalz region of Bavaria. 

A squadron with about twenty F16 fighter jets including crew, mechanics, and support staff is to be relocated from the air force base in Eifel, Rheinland-Palatinate to Italy. 

In Berlin it was originally expected that the first steps of the troop withdrawal would take place before the election. However from the start the German federal government was barely included in the planning by the U.S. allies.

Last week, Alexander Neu, a member of parliament representing Die Linke (The Left) asked the Defense Ministry whether they were aware if troop relocations had already taken place, or if they were planned for the next few months. 

The Defense Ministry responded curtly with a short response: “The federal government has no relevant findings.”

Could the decision to remove troops be reversed?

Even if there is indeed a rough or specific schedule for the first steps of the withdrawal, it would be easily thrown overboard depending on the outcome of the presidential election. 

This is what the German government is now hoping for, in the event that Trump loses the election.

“I see a definitive chance that this decision will be revised if Biden is President,” said representative of the Christian Democratic Party/Christian Social Union parliamentary faction, Johann Wadephul.

READ ALSO: NATO chief defends US amid German troop withdrawal report

He points to the considerable resistance against the withdrawal plans present across party lines in the US Senate, not only among Democrats. Republican Senator Mitt Romney, called Trump’s plan a “grave error,” and added further, “It is a slap in the face to a friend and ally.”

The US Military views the plan skeptically. The former commander of US troops in Europe, Ben Hodges, called it a “colossal mistake.” Hodges believes that the decision was purely politically motivated and followed no strategy. 

Transatlantic-coordinator Beyer still believes that the plans will be completely scaled back, even if Trump is defeated.

“I am convinced that this topic will remain, even if Biden wins the election,” he said. “Biden would also not completely stop the reduction in troops.”

Translated by Livy Marie Donahue

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US reclassifies Switzerland: What does it mean for American travellers?

America’s public health agency eased travel alerts for dozens of countries this week, including Switzerland. But does it mean that people from the United States can now travel here?

US reclassifies Switzerland: What does it mean for American travellers?
Not yet, but hopefully soon. Photo by Jan Rosolino / Unsplash

Switzerland in early June announced vaccinated travellers would be able to come on June 28th. Therefore, this story is now out of date. Please click here for more information. 

Due to massive vaccination efforts around the world, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lowered travel warning levels  for more than 110 countries and destinations, including Switzerland.

From the highest level four previously, which means all travel is discouraged, Switzerland was ‘promoted’ to Level 3, allowing travel for fully vaccinated individuals.

In total, 14 countries, including Switzerland’s neighbours France and Italy, have been reclassified to a lower level.

Does this mean American tourists can now come to Switzerland?

Even though the CDC has cleared travel for vaccinated US residents, it doesn’t mean they are now allowed to enter Switzerland.

For the time being, travel ban is still in place for most third countries, including the United States. The only exceptions are Swiss citizens or permanent residents returning to Switzerland.

READ MORE: When will Americans be allowed to travel to Switzerland again —and vice-versa?

There are some other exemptions as well, including people whose presence in Switzerland is absolutely necessary to maintain the functioning of the healthcare system or public security and order, death of a close family member in Switzerland, and to continue essential medical treatment that began in Switzerland or abroad.

Each of these conditions must be proven with official documentation.

For other ‘special necessity’ rules, see SEM’s page.

Basically, this means that tourists or other random travellers can’t come to Switzerland at the moment.

There are, however, some promising signs that this restriction may be lifted.

Swiss president Guy Parmelin is scheduled to meet with his US counterpart, Joe Biden, on June 15th. Biden will be in Geneva for high-level talks with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. 

It is not known what Switzerland and the United States will discuss at the meeting, beyond matters of importance to both nations, but there is a possibility that the subject of easing travel restrictions on both sides will be raised.

Also, under France’s new traffic light travel system, fully-vaccinated travellers can now enter France from non-EU countries, including the US.

This does not apply to Switzerland yet, but as the two countries share a border and both are part of the Schengen zone, Swiss entry regulations for US tourists might be relaxed in the near future — though not at this time.

Does this mean US residents can ‘slip’ into Switzerland through France?

Borders between the two countries are pretty porous and checks random at best, but if you attempt to get into Switzerland this way, you’d be breaking the law.

The only US citizens who can come into Switzerland legally right now are those residing in the EU/EFTA states, or one of the third nations deemed safe by public health officials:  Australia, New Zealand, Cyprus, Rwanda, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand.

In other words, it’s not the nationality of a traveller that counts but their place of residence.

What about Swiss citizens going on vacation to the United States?

The US still has a ban in place for tourists from the EU, including Switzerland. It also has similar exceptions — that is, US citizens and permanent residents returning from abroad.

The US is forming expert groups to decide when to lift global travel restrictions that have been in place since March 2020.

However, this will probably take time and, despite mounting pressure from the travel industry and airlines, US-bound travel may not be on the horizon for this summer.

READ MORE: How to get Switzerland’s Covid-19 health pass