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Why Biden could reverse US troop removal from Germany

Joe Biden could reverse course – at least partially – on the Trump administration's move to withdraw some 12,000 US troops from Germany, according to the US President-elect defense advisers.

Why Biden could reverse US troop removal from Germany
US President-elect Joe Biden. Photo: DPA

Michele Flournoy – former number three at the Pentagon and a favorite to lead the Defense Department under the new administration – nearly predicted as much during a conference in August.

“If you have a new administration, the first thing they'll do is a posture review globally,” she said at the Aspen Security Forum when asked about the withdrawals.

“My hope is that this (withdrawal plan) will not be fully executed because I don't think it's in the strategic interests of the United States and it's very damaging to our alliance relationships,” Flournoy said.

The move was announced July 29th by former defense secretary Mark Esper, who was abruptly fired by President Donald Trump Monday.

Some 34,500 troops are currently deployed in the country. Under the Trump administration's plan, about 6,400 would be sent home to the US while 5,600 others would be re-deployed to other NATO countries, especially Belgium and Italy.

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

'Doesn't make sense'

Esper framed the re-deployment as strategically necessary, especially as part of efforts to counter Russian influence, but Trump immediately contradicted that explanation, saying the maneuver was actually in response to Germany's refusal to “pay the bills.”

“We don't want to be the suckers anymore…. We're protecting Germany, so we're reducing the force because they're not paying the bills,” Trump said at the time.

“I don't think it makes sense,” said Flournoy, who was set to be the first woman to direct the world's most powerful military if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2016.

Archive photo shows US soldiers at the Storck Barracks in Illescheim, Bavaria, in March 2017. Photo: DPA

The removal “was seen as sort of punishing … and it underscores the narrative in Europe, unfortunately, that the United States cannot be relied upon, that we can't be counted on to sort of stick with them, that we don't value the NATO alliance relationships,” she lamented.

Another Biden adviser, Kathleen Hicks, also critiqued the Germany troop removal, writing in the newspaper The Hill in August that the move “benefits our adversaries.”

The move “comes at the cost of readiness” and “will be expensive,” said Hicks, director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

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

Moving is expensive

And Hicks was skeptical of the money-saving powers of Esper's assurances that the troops withdrawn from Germany would be replaced with rotations of new units.

“Relocating 11,900 forces, dependents, and equipment, and securing new capacity for living, working, and training take more money,” she pointed out.

Hicks was nominated Monday to head the Democrats' team managing the presidential transition at the Department of Defense.

Germany, which hosts more US troops than any other European country – a legacy of the Allied occupation after World War II – is ready to turn the page on the Trump years.

But during a September interview with AFP, the German head of transatlantic relations, Peter Beyer, hedged on the removal plan.

“The controversial issues won't go away overnight, but with Biden the transatlantic friendship would become more reasonable, calculable and reliable again,” he said.

Flournoy didn't say whether she would be in favor of keeping all of the troops in question in Germany, but she did explain that she foresees a re-deployment of some forces farther east.

“And maybe we need more in the Baltics or in Poland or somewhere else, Romania, but that was not what was driving this (move in Germany),” she said.

By Sylvie Lanteaume

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NATO

KEY POINTS: Five things to know about Sweden and Nato

After decades of staying out of military alliances, Finland and Sweden are about to decide whether to apply to join Nato, as a deterrent against aggression from their Eastern neighbour Russia. Here are five things you need to know.

KEY POINTS: Five things to know about Sweden and Nato

The Nordic neighbours are expected to act in unison, with both expressing a desire for their applications to be submitted simultaneously if they decide to go that route.

A historic U-turn

For decades, a majority of Swedes and Finns were in favour of maintaining their policies of military non-alignment. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 sparked a sharp U-turn. The change was especially dramatic in Finland, which shares a
1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia. After two decades during which public support for Nato membership remained
steady at 20-30 percent, polls now suggest that more than 75 percent of Finns are in favour.

During the Cold War, Finland remained neutral in exchange for assurances from Moscow that it would not invade. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Finland remained militarily non-aligned.

Sweden, meanwhile, adopted an official policy of neutrality at the end of the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century. Following the end of the Cold War, the neutrality policy was amended to one of military non-alignment.

Close Nato partners

While remaining outside Nato, both Sweden and Finland have formed ever-closer ties to the Alliance. Both joined the Partnership for Peace programme in 1994 and then the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997. Both countries are described by the Alliance as some of “Nato’s most active partners” and have contributed to Nato-led missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sweden’s and Finland’s forces also regularly take part in exercises with Nato countries and have close ties with Nordic neighbours Norway, Denmark and Iceland — which are all Nato members.

Sweden’s military

For a long time, Swedish policy dictated that the country needed a strong military to protect its neutrality. But after the end of the Cold War, it drastically slashed its defence spending, turning its military focus toward peacekeeping operations around the world.

In 1990, defence spending accounted for 2.6 percent of GDP, compared to 1.2 percent in 2020, according to the government.

Mandatory military service was scrapped in 2010 but reintroduced in 2017 as part of Sweden’s rearmament following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Combining its different branches, the Swedish military can field some 50,000 soldiers.

In March 2022, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden announced it would increase spending again, targeting two percent of GDP “as soon as possible”.

Finland’s military

While Finland has also made some defence cuts, in contrast to Sweden it has maintained a much larger army since the end of the Cold War. The country of 5.5 million people now has a wartime strength of 280,000 troops plus 600,000 reservists, making it significantly larger than any of its Nordic neighbours despite a population half the size of Sweden’s.

In early April, Finland announced it would further boost its military spending, adding more than two billion euros ($2.1 billion) over the next four years. It has a defence budget of 5.1 billion euros ($5.4 billion) for 2022.

Memories of war

While Sweden has sent forces to international peacekeeping missions, it has not gone to war for over 200 years. The last conflict it fought was the Swedish-Norwegian War of 1814. It maintained its neutral stance through the two World Wars.

Finland’s memories of warfare are much fresher. In 1939, it was invaded by the Soviet Union. Finns put up a fierce fight during the bloody Winter War, which took place during one of the coldest winters in recorded history. But it was ultimately forced to cede a huge stretch of its eastern Karelia province in a peace treaty with Moscow.

A 1948 “friendship agreement” saw the Soviets agree not to invade again, as long as Finland stayed out of any Western defence cooperation. The country’s forced neutrality to appease its stronger neighbour coined the term “Finlandization”.

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