Inevitable for Germany and Europe to seek break from US dependence
Published: Apr 16, 2021 03:27 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Tuesday that US military will increase its presence in Germany, permanently stationing "approximately 500 additional US personnel in the Wiesbaden area." This is a reversal from the Trump administration's plans to withdraw troops from the country.

Ostensibly, the US is strengthening Europe's defense capability. But its real purpose is to promote German-US relations. The deployment of 500 additional US personnel doesn't have much significance in terms of defense ability. Instead, it's a symbol of the US' desire to restore ties with Germany. Since President Joe Biden took office, he has sought to boost relations with allies. Strengthening ties with the US' European allies meets his global strategy to rebuild US alliance system.

Under the Trump administration, German-US relations deteriorated severely. When Trump proposed withdrawing troops from Germany, he cited Germany's "delinquency" in meeting NATO's 2 percent-of-GDP target for defense spending. There is a large trade deficit between Germany and the US. Trump often complained about Germany on the construction of the Nord Stream 2. Germany was also unhappy with Trump on many issues. His plans to withdraw troops from Germany made Germans feel that the US can no longer be trusted.

In fact, Trump's decision to pull troops out of Germany has a small influence on Germany's defense. But it was of great political significance. Biden's announcement to increase military presence in Germany is a sign that he wants to correct mistakes made by the Trump administration. 

Most countries of the European Union are members of NATO, which is both a political and a security alliance.

However, their interests are not exactly the same. For example, while the US wants to maintain its global hegemony, Europe wants to pursue strategic autonomy and independent policymaking. In terms of global strategy, the US is gradually shifting its strategic focus to the Indo-Pacific region, while the EU hopes to keep its main defense stronghold in Europe. When it comes to China, the US pursues a comprehensive containment strategy, while Europe wants both cooperation and competition with China. 

These differences make it impossible for Europe to stand with the US on every issue. The steps taken by the Biden administration, including increasing US military personnel in Germany, only indicate that the relationship is better than it was under the Trump administration. But the improvement will not bring Europe completely to the US' side. 

Germany has insisted on and called for strategic autonomy of Europe. Germany has long hoped to build up an independent European defense force. But there is a structural contradiction between Germany's pursuit and the existence of NATO. It is very difficult for the EU to establish a new security and defense system on its own. Europe's defense has long depended on the US. 

As a defeated country in World War II, Germany faces restrictions in developing its military forces. Germany knows very well that the US' presence in Europe will definitely affect Europe's strategic autonomy - particularly in the field of defense. German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said last November that Germany and Europe "cannot protect themselves" without the US. The increased presence of US troops is what Germany needs. But Berlin, in its deep heart, wants to get rid of this dependence.

The US has displayed its unreliability many times in transatlantic relations. As French President Emmanuel Macron warned, "Europe can no longer rely on the US for its security." Therefore, European countries will surely continue their joint construction of defense.

The author is a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn