Poll: Most Germans Approve of US Troop Reduction Plan, But Reject Defense Spending Criticism

By James Carstensen | August 5, 2020 | 6:24pm EDT
President Trump greets U.S. troops at Ramstein Air Base in Germany in Dec. 2018. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
President Trump greets U.S. troops at Ramstein Air Base in Germany in Dec. 2018. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Berlin (CNSNews.com) – Most Germans approve of President Trump’s planned reduction of U.S. troops from this country, although a majority of politicians are opposed, according to a new poll.

Forty-seven percent of German respondents in the YouGov poll were in favor of the move. They include 25 percent of all respondents who said U.S. forces should leave Germany entirely

Twenty-eight percent of respondents thought American troops should remain in Germany at their current numbers, and another four percent were in favor of increasing the number of troops here.

YouGov conducted the poll between July 31 and August 3. It was published by the dpa news agency on Tuesday.

The survey was taken after Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced last week that the U.S. will reduce the number of soldiers in Germany, currently around 36,000, by 12,000 – more than the previously anticipated 9,500 figure.

Of those soldiers being withdrawn, 6,400 will return to the U.S. while the remaining 5,600 will be sent to other European NATO allies, such as Italy, Belgium or Poland.

The move also signals that Germany will no longer operate as a hub for U.S. forces coordinating operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The headquarters of the U.S. European Command is set to move from Stuttgart in Germany to Mons in Belgium.

Also being mulled is the possible relocation of U.S. Africa Command, also currently in Stuttgart.

The decision has met with strong criticism from politicians here from almost all parliamentary parties. Only the left-wing Linke Party supports the move, and would in fact prefer the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing Christian Democrats (CDU), opposed the planned reduction, but also used the opportunity to raise the long-disputed topic of establishing a common E.U. defense policy.

“The truth is that good life in Germany and Europe increasingly depends on how we take care of our own safety," Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a statement.

Germany should leverage its current position as head of the rotating E.U. Council presidency to “finally move faster with the European security and defense policy,” she added.

Michael Roth, secretary of state for the E.U. at the Foreign Office, and a member of the CDU’s junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), similarly rejected the move.

He called it “a wake-up call and an opportunity to strengthen our European sovereignty.”

Alternative für Deutschland, in an unusual move for the far-right party, found itself in agreement with its customary opponents, calling the troop reduction “wrong.”

“It is obviously not based on NATO’s strategic requirements, but is directed solely against Germany,” Alexander Gauland, AfD co-founder and former leader, said in a statement on the party’s website.

Gauland indicated, however, that he agreed with Trump on the touchy topic of defense spending.

“Germany spends too little on its defense – and thus also on the defense of its allies – Trump is right,” he said.

Although the Pentagon stressed the plan was unrelated to the issue, Trump directly linked the reduction to Germany’s defense spending, which stands at 1.38 percent of national gross domestic product (GDP), below an agreed 2024 target of two percent for all NATO allies.

“Germany is very delinquent in their two percent fee to NATO,” Trump tweeted last Friday. “We are therefore moving some troops out of Germany!”

Trump also reiterated U.S. opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which will double Russian natural gas supplies to Germany.

“Germany pays Russia billions of dollars a year for Energy, and we are supposed to protect Germany from Russia. What’s that all about?” Trump asked.

Unlike the views on troop reductions, however, the majority of Germans in the YouGov poll felt differently with regard to defense spending. Fifty-eight percent disagreed with Trump that Germany spends too little on defense, while 25 percent agreed with him.

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