'Simply not OK': removal of US troops worries German communities
The US government’s decision to withdraw thousands of troops from bases across southern and western Germany will have a huge impact on affected communities, local politicians have said.
Up to 12,000 troops from the air force and army are due to leave the region, the US defense secretary, Mark Esper, said this week in a move attributed to long-term planning by the Pentagon, but which Donald Trump said was a punishment for Berlin’s low defence spending.
According to initial reports, thousands of troops are due to be repositioned to bases within other Nato countries, such as Belgium, Italy and Spain, while around 6,400 will return to the US.
Bases in the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg in the south, and in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate will be affected.
Several mayors in the region have already called on the German government to be ready to offer financial aid.
The worst affected is likely to be Grafenwöhr in Bavaria, the largest Nato training base which is operated by 7th army joint multinational training command.
It is due to lose 4,500 troops. Three thousand locals out of a population of 6,500, are dependent for employment on the base, and according to the mayor, Edgar Knobloch, the presence of US troops, who have been stationed there since the end of the second world war, is worth around €660m (£594m) to the local economy.
“These two figures speak for themselves as to what this will mean for us,” Knobloch told the broadcaster DLF.
He said the local region faced losing a reliable partner in the Americans, and local anger was likely to be triggered by any economic losses. “We have always had a very good and friendly relationship with them, including to the commanding generals ... communication has always been superb.”
Knobloch said. “In us they’ve benefited from our acceptance that they’re here – for example we put up with things like the considerable noise from their weaponry.”
Knobloch said it was well known that many of the troops stationed in Germany had been taken aback by the move and considered it a mistake.
“Every one of them you talk to says from a strategic point of view these measures are completely unjustified ... they say they have the best conditions here, not least the Bavarian style of living, and those Americans who leave in my experience always try to get sent back here.”
He said there were “many examples” of ex-soldiers who had returned to Grafenwöhr to retire as well as plenty of soldiers who had married locals.
Hans-Martin Schertl, mayor of the town of Vilseck, home to the Rose Barracks, which are part of the Grafenwöhr base, said he was “furious” about the plans, which would affect 300 to 400 civilian jobs.
“This is a bitter loss for the town and the whole region,” he said.
Schertl still hoped the decision could be reversed: “If it’s just to do with electioneering bluster maybe the plans won’t be realised if in November another US president is elected,” he said.
Fritz Kühn, mayor of the southern city of Stuttgart, in the state of Baden-Württemberg, home to EUCOM, the United States European Command, said his city was being punished for the breakdown in relations between Trump and the German government. “I think what is happening is simply not OK. It does not reflect the good relations which exist between the city of Stuttgart and the Americans,” he said.
The city’s economy would be hit badly by the withdrawal, he said. “The city will miss the consumer power of the Americans. But even more than that is the loss of the German-American tradition. The Americans like the city. They visit our markets, our wine festivals ... they enjoy our way of life.
“This announcement is like a rejection of that tight association. Trump doesn’t think much of the transatlantic partnership and Putin is the one who profits from those insecurities. Trump is playing Putin’s tune and that’s dangerous.”
David Sirakov, director of the Atlantic Academy said the Americans were an integral part of the German regions in which they were based, having had a solid presence there since 1945, and having played a key role during the cold war. “They are well integrated and the German-American relationship is sometimes perhaps like a counter-reaction to certain frictions which exist between Washington and Berlin,” he said.
Some political parties in Germany have welcomed the announcement, having argued for years that a foreign army has no place on German soil. But the Greens and Die Linke in particular are critical about the fact – indeed, are keen to point out the irony –that even if they withdraw their troops, the US will likely continue to store nuclear weapons on German soil as well as to coordinate much-criticised drone missions from its base in Ramstein, Rhineland-Palatinate, the US air force’s headquarters in Europe.