By Xu Haiyun
Recently, the White House announced that US President Joe Biden tasked Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin to conduct a global posture review on US military deployments worldwide, during which the US would suspend the plan to withdraw troops from Germany.
On July 29, 2020, the US announced the decision to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany on the excuse that Germany didn’t increase its defense budget and refused to terminate its cooperation with Russia in the Nord Stream 2 project. According to the decision, some of the US troops would move from Germany to other NATO countries such as Italy and Poland, and the rest would return to the US for re-deployment in Europe in the future.
After President Biden took office, he began to “bring order out of chaos” by modifying or abolishing the policies of the former administration. Suspending the withdrawal of US troops from Germany not only signifies the Biden administration’s stance to seek “separation” from Trump administrationbut also has other underlying reasons.
On the one hand, despite its declining status in the European security landscape, NATO still has strategic importance for the US. As the largest security organization in Europe and the Atlantic region, NATO remains a “major player” in Europe’s geopolitical arena. In 2008, after the outbreak of the war between Russia and Georgia, the relationship between NATO and Russia deteriorated sharply.
Especially after the Crimean incident in 2014 and the following Ukraine conflict, NATO and Russia fell into a military standoff, and the importance of NATO in Europe’s geopolitics was further enhanced. At the same time, with Germany and France as the lead, the EU is increasingly strengthening its defense and strategic independence, making the US realize the urgency of re-controlling Europe via NATO.
From this perspective, the reason that the Trump administration decided to withdraw US troops from Germany was not to alienate from NATO, but to force its European allies to follow the order of the US. The decision to move some troops from Germany to countries like Poland not only represented the strategy of the US “clamping down some countries while wooing others” but also signified that the issue concerning the withdrawal of US troops could be solved within NATO.
On the other hand, stopping withdrawing troops from Germany became an important measure taken by the Biden administration to repair US-Germany relations and transatlantic relations. From the perspectiveof partisan politics, the Biden administration would definitely return to the track of elite politics and attach greater importance to the role of US allies in international affairs. Therefore, rectifying policy toward Germany and repairing and reshaping transatlantic relations have been put on the top of the agenda of the Biden administration.
However, this decision made by the Biden administration doesn’t mean that the US troops in Germany will immediately restore the original scale. Trump’s “America First” policy still has many supporters among the Republicans, which indicates that Biden is unlikely to reject all domestic and foreign policies of the Trump administration to avoid new antagonism and conflict between the White House and the Congress, between the Democrats and the Republicans, and between different social classes. Therefore, the Biden administration may adopt a gradual approach to appease and eliminate Germany’s “misunderstandings” and bring its policy toward Germany back to the right track.
Notably, although Biden disagrees with Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Germany, this doesn’t mean he will agree Germany continue maintaining a relatively low defense budget or conducting cooperation with Russia at will, let alone allowing Germany and other European countries to marginalize the US in European affairs.
It is expected that the Biden administration will leverage the issue concerning the withdrawal of US troops to maintain pressure on Germany, repair relations with Germany under the premise of maintaining US’ diplomatic dignity, and maximally secure US’ interests on the basis of maintaining the normalization of transatlantic relations.
(The author is from the School of History, Renmin University of China.)