My interview on Trump’s announced US troop draw downs from Germany and partial reassignment to Poland appeared in the Polish economic press Gazeta Prawna on 25 June 2020 by the Polish journalist Artur Ciechanowicz. You can read it (a) in ENGLISH below (via Google Translate, with minor fixes) or (b) in the POLISH original at this link.
O’Donnell: Soldiers at the borders of Russia are a signal to the Kremlin [INTERVIEW]
From a military point of view, deploying too many troops too close to the border with a potential enemy is dangerous because there is a risk that they can be overrun rapidly – says Dr. Thomas O’Donnell, energy and international affairs analyst, and adjunct faculty at Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
Question: US President Donald Trump has decided to increase the US military presence in Poland, while also reducing the contingent in Germany. Where do these decisions come from?
As a rule, increasing the US military presence in Poland is of course good news. The Pentagon’s activities have been moving in this direction for some time, although the US military is of the opinion that this should be done a little slower and not at the expense of Germany. From a military point of view, deploying too much of the army too close to the border with a potential enemy is dangerous because there is a risk that it will be overrun too soon. There is therefore a tactical reason to keep some of the army a little further from the Russian border. Therefore, the rapid relocation of a significant number of soldiers to Poland is viewed skeptically by some American commanders. Remember, soldiers deployed in Poland are a kind of warning against the Kremlin. There are enough of them for Vladimir Putin to think twice before doing anything. However, not enough – even after increasing the quota – to stop the first strike. The rule is simple here: if Russia decided to attack Poland and American soldiers would die, it would mean a war with all the power of the US. Neither any president nor Congress would hesitate a single moment.
Some American commanders are opposed to the permanent presence of US troops in Poland. Why?
Because they do not want America and NATO to be the party that will unambiguously break the agreement on mutual relations between the North Atlantic Treaty and Russia of 1997. [This refers to the fact this treaty bans “permanent” deployment of NATO troops to the former Warsaw Pact states; it is for this reason that US troops in Poland rotate on a regular basis. The treaty also imposes certain restrictions on the Russian side.- Tom O’D.]
They are not convinced by the aggression against Georgia and Ukraine that Moscow does not respect international agreements?
Will the withdrawal of soldiers from Germany reduce the country’s security and NATO operational capabilities?
Germany is no longer a potential front country. However, they are of great importance as a logistics and supply hub. Of all war scenarios taken into account, the most realistic is that a war with Russia could occur if the US engaged in a conflict with China in the South China Sea. The Kremlin could then seek to create a fait accompli and occupy certain territories in the former Warsaw Pact countries. Hoping that European countries will not react. According to the NSS vision, the role of Germany would then be to provide the capacity to receive a huge amount of equipment and the US military. It is therefore important that Germany maintains the infrastructure that will enable this. From a strategic point of view, this is Germany’s most important role.
How was the decision to withdraw American soldiers adopted in Germany?
Berlin is aware that the form and style in which this decision was announced – without consultation and notice – is to show that Donald Trump disregards Angela Merkel and negatively views Germany’s defense policy. However, it is unlikely to convince those who do not want to increase military spending to change their minds. For example, the SPD co-ruler welcomed this news and wants American nuclear warheads to be withdrawn and for soldiers to follow. It is not surprising that the post-communist and traditionally pro-Russian Left (Die Linke) reacted in the same way. [Note: The ultra-right Alternative for Germany, which is also pro-Russia in foreign affairs and anti-American, was included in this list – Tom O’D.] On the other hand, much of the CDU, CSU, FDP and part of The Greens regret the move of the US President, also because it means the loss of thousands of jobs – mainly in Bavaria – in enterprises whose fate depends precisely on the existence of American bases .
== End of interview article ==
-1- I also stressed that it is bad for the NATO alliance for the Trump administration not to have consulted or informed the German side properly beforehand. Criticizing Germany’s NATO policies is one thing; but Trump likely did not properly consultat with and inform German officials in order to have maximum impact with his voting base, seeing this troop redeployment as an opportunity to again publicly disrespect Chancellor Merkel. This was gratuitous grandstanding, and only makes life more difficult for those in Germany who support NATO and desire to maintain close cooperation with DC generally.
-2- I suspect the US generals do not want to lower the number of troops in Germany so significantly or rapidly. However, the Pentagon and Congress do want to relocate more troops to Poland, Romania, Baltic states — a process that began especially after the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine, under Obama — and lately into the Black Sea as well. Trump, however, generally speaks only of Poland, and usually in narrow-minded transactional and mercantilist ways, emphasizing Polish purchase of expensive 5th-Generation US weapons systems and LNG.
-3- My guess – this is just a guess – is that the US president took advantage of a Pentagon request for a more modest troop redeployment away from Germany, and boosted the numbers, perhaps only boosting the announced level, not the actual level to be cut – to make points with his voting base (he promises to “bring our troops home”). He may be bluffing about these big numbers leaving, going against the generals’ wishes. We simply do not know.
-4- What is not a guess is that increasing US and NATO troops and enhancing weapons systems present in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) and Baltic states, and in the Black Sea is deeply supported by Congress, by both parties.
In DC this continuing buildup, especially since 2014, is widely seen as consistent with the new US National Security Strategy, which mandates a strategic shift from a focus to fighting terrorism and heavy use of US troops in the Middle East and North African (MENA) areas, to preparation for “great power competition” with China and Russia. Work on the preparation of this strategic shift was began under former Obama officials including Clinton, Kerry et al, and continued through Trump officials Mattis, Pompeo et al, with the new NSS published in Dec. 2017.
I stressed that this was a bipartisan commitment deeply supported in Congress (like Nord Stream 2 sanctions), and does not depend on any given president, which is why Poland and others can count on it.
Regardless of what Trump might promise to do for the defense of Poland. Note that it is not clear what he has actually agreed to in his meeting with President Duda on Sunday, 28 June in DC. Reports are rather vague about his willingness to firmly agree to increase US troops in Poland. Further, Trump has clearly opposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and against the Russian-German Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which Poland and many CEE, Baltic and other EU Members oppose. To wit:
-5- Trump opposed the sanctions imposed on Russia by a veto-proof majority of Congress in 2017. In fact, what Congress did in that case was codify into law the executive sanctions which Obama had imposed on Russia, so as to insure Trump could not revoke Obama’s presidential sanctions in deference to Putin. It should be noted that Congress included in its 2017 sanctions law, provisions empowering the president to impose further sanctions on Russian activities, such as construction of the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) pipeline. (See my article: Neue Neue Ostpolitik.)
However, Trump and his Secretary of Treasury, Mnuchen, were opposed to NS2 sanctions. This is precisely what then moved Congress, in December 2019, to take matters out of Trump’s discretion by enacting mandatory sanctions on NS2. These sanctions immediately halted construction of the pipeline in its final phase as it by then stretched across the Baltic Sea from near St. Petersburg, Russia and was approaching its final landfall in Germany.
In both cases, in 2017 and 2019, Trump had no choice but to sign these sanctions into law and acquiesce to their implementation, as Congress had more than sufficient bipartisan votes to override any presidential veto.
Right now, Congress is again preparing to pass yet another, exceptionally harsh, “clarification” to the December 2019 sanctions, to ensure that the pipeline is never completed by Russian and/or German firms and governments. Reports are, once again, that they are looking for ways to make sure Trump cannot veto these latest NS2 sanctions.
-6- Given all this, one additional comment I made is to beware anyone who promotes themselves as a friend of Poland, who also makes clear that they are not a friend of Ukraine, and are admirers of Putin. Such a person, in my estimation, cannot possibly be considered a reliable friend of Poland.
-7- Domestically in Germany, not only the Social Democratic Party (SPD( and the Left Party (Die Linke) broadly support any major draw down of US troops in Germany; but they are joined in this by the extreme-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in parliament. The AfD is a party which tends to admire Mr. Putin, desires German alignment with Russia, and is also anti-American in general.
As always, your comments and critiques are of interest (privately to twod-at-umich.edu) or Comments below.
This original interview appeared in Polish in the Polish economic daily GazetaPrawna.pl of 25.06.20 at