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 out.
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.
Originally published on The Resurgent