The Corner

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Freeloading Germany Is a Terrible Ally

German soldiers load an American M109 tank onto a heavy goods transporter during preparations for international military exercises in Bergen Hohne, Germany, February 12, 2020. (Fabian Bimmer/Reuters)

Donald Trump says the United States will reduce its military presence in the country by roughly a third, after he accused Germany of being “delinquent” in NATO payments. No, Germany doesn’t technically owe anyone “vast sums of money,” as fact-checkers delight in pointing out.

NATO set its own targets on spending at two percent of GDP in 2014 to be met in a decade’s time. This is merely a “guideline.” Only nine of NATO’s 28 nations have hit the threshold as of 2019– United States (3.42 percent), Bulgaria (3.25 percent), Greece (2.28 percent), Estonia (2.14 percent), United Kingdom (2.14 percent), Romania (2.04 percent), Lithuania (2.03 percent), Latvia (2.01 percent), and Poland (2.0 percent). Nations like Turkey (1.89 percent), France (1.84 percent), Norway (1.80 percent), Slovakia (1.74 percent), Croatia (1.68 percent), Montenegro (1.66 percent) and Portugal (1.52 percent) all spend more of their GDP on defense of Europe than the fourth biggest economy in the world.

Though the soft deadline to meet that level isn’t until 2024, what often goes unmentioned by Trump critics is that Germany has already admitted it will miss the target. In 2019, German defense spending hit 1.38 percent, but 2024 defense spending is estimated to fall to 1.25 percent of GDP. It now promises to meet the 2 percent level in 2031.

The Germans argue that they pick up financial slack in other ways, like accepting Syrian refugees. Creating a refugee crisis in Europe was a choice. But it has nothing to do with defense of the continent from … who? Let’s not forget it was Germany that shut down its clean-ish nuclear energy program and made a $10.5 billion Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline import deal with Putin, potentially giving Moscow more political leverage over Europeans than it has had in decades. It is only American sanctions that are holding up the deal.

Germany, incidentally, boasts a $3.948 trillion national GDP while Russia has a GDP of $1.658 trillion. There’s little reason for the United States to continue to subsidize the budget of a nation well positioned to defend itself.

The debate over whether it’s in our best interests to preserve troop levels in Germany is complicated. There were 250,000 American servicemen in the country at the end of the Cold War, and only about 35,000 today. Would 25,000 troops be any less effective in protecting Berlin from an invasion? Would it really undermine U.S. strategic missions in the Middle East if we moved some bases to Poland rather keeping them in a nation that has consistently proven to be one of our least reliable allies? I’m skeptical.

The Heritage Foundation’s Ted Bromund once pointed out that “Germany’s characteristic posture since World War II has been to shuffle around on its knees while hitting everyone else over the head with its own moral superiority.” Nothing’s changed.

Johann Wadephul, a ranking member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, claims that the withdrawal shows “that the Trump administration is neglecting an elementary task of leadership, to bind coalition partners into decision-making processes.” But criticism of German freeloading predates Trump, and “coalition partners” already agreed on spending thresholds when Obama was president. Germany simply ignores its commitments while lecturing the rest of the world about its behavior.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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