It has been 27 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but American foreign policy has not evolved to fit the new world. We have more military bases in Europe than we did post-World War II. There seems to be no coherent answer as to the necessity of such bases and, worse, no justification of the burgeoning costs.
Who are these bases designed to protect? Which European countries have an actual or even a perceived threat of foreign invasion, and by whom? Why can’t economic powerhouses such as Germany provide for their own defense?
In short, Germany can, but won’t. Agreements among North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations stipulate that if one member is attacked, the others must come to their aid. This agreement acts as a one-way insurance policy for Europe. The United States pays the premiums—the costs of maintaining bases across Europe. If a member nation is attacked, however, the United States, in practice, will end up shouldering a majority of the burden of defense.
We Secure Them, They Do Nothing for Us
In 2006, all NATO members agreed that a healthy number for defense spending is 2 percent of their individual nation’s gross domestic product. Nearly 11 years later, a majority of the member nations have not met this goal. In fact, with the exception of France, the United Kingdom, Greece, and Portugal (and recently a few former Soviet Bloc countries), all other countries have failed in meeting their goals. Germany is the most notorious overlooker of its own stated goals and agreements with NATO. While the wealthiest country in Europe, they spend 1.2 percent of their GDP on defense.
Europe is the beneficiary of the insurance policy should things go awry on their shores, since a majority of NATO members do not have any significant investment in defense. This agreement not only forfeits the rights of the United States to decline participation if it is not in American interests, it is not and cannot physically be reciprocal. Germany and a majority of the rest of the member nations cannot aid the United States in times of conflict. Even if they wanted to, they are not capable of aiding in any meaningful way. This is a contractual obligation that these countries are in default of, which should render it unenforceable and void.
In January, the German Parliamentary armed forces commissioner, Hans-Peter Bartels, issued a shocking report that stunned the German parliament, the Bundestag. In it, he wrote that Germany’s military personnel are at an all-time low of a 170,000-man army. To put this in perspective, if this were hand-to-hand conflict, Germany would be evenly matched against the militaries of Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
It takes new German recruits approximately 45 weeks to get uniforms, and many are trained with broom handles instead of guns and passenger vans in place of armored vehicles. Only one-third of their jet-fighters and a staggering five of their 60 transport helicopters were operational. To make matters worse, after a slight increase in spending in 2018, defense spending will again regress to an all-time low in the following year.
In June of last year, news of a German withdrawal from NATO exercises after less than two weeks into a four-week exercise caused international embarrassment. Rules limiting overtime by German military officials highlight their attitudes about meeting their commitments to the European Union to bolster their defense forces to appropriate levels and see to their own well-being. German attitudes on defense can be summed up by saying, “American pays for our defense, so why should we?”
The American Military Protects Foreign Countries
You can’t blame Germany, however, as they are choosing to spend this money on economic development and social welfare. The blame rests solely on the shoulders of U.S. bureaucrats and politicians who allow a deal to continue in perpetuity in which the United States is on the losing end. President Trump hit the nail on the head when, on a stump speech, he said, “Our politicians are stupid—we are fleeced in almost every deal that we make with other countries.” In this case, that sentiment rings true.
Today, nearly 100,000 American military personnel and family reside in and around U.S. military bases in Germany. Of the 43 military bases, the largest, Rammstein, costs the United States more than $1 billion per year in operating costs. The other 42 bases’ operating costs are approximately $240 million each per year. That is a staggering $11 billion per year, of which Germany pays a paltry $1 billion per year.
To be fair, Germany does what it considers “in-kind contributions” to its defenses. It upgrades its infrastructure in and around U.S. military bases at a higher rate than it does, say, downtown Berlin redevelopment. This is laughable, as it is similar to giving a Christmas present to someone knowing that he will not really use it. They instead buy it for themselves. In the same way, Germany builds its own infrastructure and believes that this directly contributes to their national defense.
Germany is the largest economy in Europe by a long-shot, the fifth-largest economy in the world, and the number one exporter of goods around the world. Forty-six percent of the German economy lives on exports, compared to China at 20 percent. Nine percent of German exports are bought directly by U.S. markets. In 2016, the United States had a trade deficit of $65 billion with Germany, which was only America’s third-largest deficit after China and Japan.
Trade deficits are not bad by definition. It just means that more Americans are buying more products than Germans are buying American. The problem with the trade deficit lies in that foreign countries take actions to drive these numbers up, which harms American manufacturers. The American taxpayers may wonder why they have to pay for the defense of a foreign nation that clearly has the resources to provide for its own defenses. After all, they are making a killing on a trade deficit alone, caused by high tariffs on American automobiles sold in Germany.
Reducing U.S. Military in Europe Would Benefit both Sides
An American force reduction in Europe, particularly Germany, is advantageous to both sides. For the United States, the burgeoning cost and gross overextension of military forces can be greatly alleviated by militarily leaving a continent that can afford its own defense. There are no super-power bogeymen lurking in the shadows waiting for the right opportunity to destroy Europe.
There simply are no reasonable military challenges to the sovereignty of European countries. Russia’s military is grossly underprepared for making large-scale attacks, which is why it focuses on small, stealth skirmishes as it has in Eastern Europe. Europe has the ability and resources necessary to defend itself should such a situation arise.
A successful and well-balanced democracy should consist of a healthy culture, government, citizenry, and military. Germany can no longer neglect the latter of these. A Eurexit would be a wake-up call. If they are left with no U.S. protection, it will force them to build their own military, which should be doable considering their vast wealth. If they don’t, that is their choice. The United States should not finance either scenario, especially poor choices that create a grossly expensive dependency-state.
The status quo ensures that Americans will be contractually obligated to fight in whatever conflicts European nations find themselves in the future. History suggests this is an extraordinarily frightening concept. Keeping U.S. military in Europe continues the vicious cycle of helping NATO nations become totally reliant on American military might.
There are no incentives for these nations to fund and develop their armed forces. They would prefer to save their money for social welfare because they know they have the largest insurance policy that the world has ever seen. The bargain of a century, one could call it. The United States funds these policies, provides the services, and the biggest beneficiary is Europe.
As the world hurls towards globalism, the United States should drop defense agreements that can be ruinous, non-reciprocal, and never-ending. The United States must act aggressively in pursuing its own economic and military interests. There are no Panzers in France or Soviets in Poland anymore. It’s time to let the Cold-War geopolitical mindset go and abandon faith-based foreign policy and instead pursue American interest. The western world will be better off for it.