NATO’s decline not a bad thing

US President Donald Trump last Wednesday confirmed earlier media reports that the US plans to withdraw 9,500 soldiers from Germany, which would bring down the number of US troops stationed there from about 35,000 to 25,000.

“We’re going to be reducing our forces in Germany,” Trump said in Washington while receiving visiting Polish President Andrzej Duda, adding that some of the troops pulled out will be redeployed in Poland.

Trump has long accused Germany of being “delinquent” in its defence payments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). A 2014 agreement requires all NATO members to spend two per cent of their gross domestic product on the military by 2024. Germany, which is now spending about 1.38 per cent of GDP on its defence budget, says it won’t achieve the goal until 2031.

Trump has also criticised Germany for paying Russia “billions of dollars” for energy with their Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.

Tensions between the two allies were already simmering with Washington, saying last week that it might impose new tariffs on $3.1 billion of products from Germany and other EU countries. The withdrawal plan will further jeopardise the weak mutual trust that exists between the two allies.

Thus German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged European countries to think about a new reality that they are facing with the US increasingly resorting to unilateralism and isolationism.

“We grew up in the certain knowledge that the US wanted to be a world power . . . we would have to reflect on that very deeply,” she said in an interview on Friday. For Germany, NATO, which Trump called “obsolete”, remains a cornerstone of transatlantic security, and US troops in Europe serve to defend not only security of its European allies but also US national interests.

With his “America first” mantra, Trump has already pulled the US from many international deals and institutions.

That Germany was not even informed of his withdrawal plan beforehand indicates that the US is failing one of its major leadership roles – to involve its alliance partners in the decision-making processes. This will only prompt its European allies to reconsider their relations with the US.

But as a product of the Cold War, the trans-atlantic alliance has already fulfilled its historical tasks and it should have long ago been dissolved. If the US move prompts Europe to engage with Russia rather than viewing it as strategic rival as the US does, then it will be a positive development. But if it serves to fortify the military alliance and increase the confrontation with Russia, it will only make Europe a less safe place.