Friday afternoon is often the time to drop unpopular and
controversial news. As the denizens of Foggy Bottom hurry to leave the District
of Columbia for the weekend, it can be a convenient time to unveil news that
will reflect poorly on the elites who control the government. That was the case
today as the Trump Administration dropped a figurative bomb whose effects will
be felt around the world.
As the president toured tornado-ravaged areas of Alabama, Bloomberg reported that Mr. Trump is demanding Germany, Japan, and any
other country hosting American troops pay the full cost plus an additional 50
percent. Per Bloomberg,
the plan would apply first to Germany and Japan and eventually be applied to every
other nation where American troops are based. Under the plan, some countries would
pay five or six times their current share of defense costs.
President Trump has reportedly pushed the idea for months
and his insistence on the requirement reportedly derailed talks with South
Korea about the status of the 28,000 US troops stationed on the Korean
Peninsula. Trump allegedly overruled negotiators with a note to National
Security Advisor John Bolton that read, “We want cost plus 50.”
The proposal seems tailor-made as an excuse for President
Trump to unilaterally withdraw American forces from abroad and bring the troops
home. During the 2016 campaign, Trump
questioned the need for mutual defense pacts such as NATO and railed
against the cost of basing troops abroad. While in office, Trump’s relationship
with America’s allies has been rocky and the president has reportedly
considered withdrawing the US from NATO. The demand for more money from allies
may be intended to resolve the issue by having host countries kick American forces
It is possible that the demand is simply a negotiating ploy
by the president, who has pushed NATO and other allies to pay a larger share of
the cost of their defense in the past. The president may also be swayed by
advisors to accept a less harsh deal. This week Mr. Trump reversed himself on a decision last year to withdraw American
troops from Syria.
The basing of American soldiers around the world benefits
both the host country and the United States. In the War on Terror, the US used
bases in Germany as a transshipment point to and from the Middle East. Ramstein
Airbase was a vital link in the logistical chain to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.
Likewise, the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center is the largest overseas military
hospital in the world. Many American soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan
were sent to Landstuhl for stabilizing treatment before returning home.
It is not clear whether the US is close to making a formal
demand of its allies or whether Friday’s announcement is a trial balloon, but
the proposal comes at an awkward time. Vladimir Putin’s Russia has been waging an
offensive war on the borders of NATO against Ukraine, another US ally, since 2014. In Asia, Trump’s attempted détente
with North Korea has yielded little in the way of results while China
continues to solidify its hold on the South China Sea.
While basing American soldiers abroad has not been free for
the United States, it has been beneficial. The seventy years that American troops
have occupied parts of Europe and Asia has been known as the Pax Americana, the
American peace. The period allowed the US to become the world’s preeminent trading
power and the leader of the community of nations.
It is a virtual certainty that the forward deployment of
American soldiers prevented numerous wars including a Soviet invasion of Europe.
If President Trump gives in to his isolationist tendencies, it is likely that the
world may find that the cost in both blood and treasure of bringing American
soldiers home is much greater than the cost of basing them abroad.