President Trump would like Germany and Japan – and, over time, any other country hosting US troops – to pay “Cost Plus 50” for what he calls the privilege of having US troops in their country.
At first, I found this amusing, having been stationed in Germany about a million years ago and trying to imagine me and my hard-drinking Army comrades as a privilege. We probably did our best to boost the economy by the amount of beer, schnapps, and Jaegermeister we consumed, but calling us a privilege is a stretch.
Yes, officially we were there as a holdover from post-war (WWII, that is) agreements, and later because of our NATO commitment.
Then And Now: From The Soviet Union’s Fall To Russian Authoritarianism
Back in the Warsaw Pact days, we military troops were meant as a deterrence from attack spearheaded by the Soviet Union. (I’m also pretty sure most of us late teen and twenty-somethings at my duty station mostly regarded Germany as a fun place to be assigned, even though we worked in military intelligence and you’d think we’d be more aware of the geopolitical considerations.)
After the fall of the Soviet Union, you could briefly have legitimately made the argument that US military presence in Germany was no longer as compelling. However, once liberal democracy failed in Russia, the authoritarians swooped in, resulting in Putin’s annexation of Crimea, his clear desire to annex the rest of the Ukraine, and his government’s cyberattacks on US and other democratic elections.
Thus, a strong US military presence in Germany is once again a net positive in helping to keep stability in European geopolitics. (For purposes of this op-ed, I’ll focus only on Germany rather than the expansive US military presence throughout Europe.)
Transactionalism And Seeking An Authoritarian’s Approval
Yet when we consider the benefit of a military presence keeping the peace, there are two primary issues to consider:
- One is that Trump is by nature a transactionalist; that is, he conducts himself pure in terms of self-interest while assuming the other parties also do, and with the expectation that all parties do things for each other with the expectation of reciprocation; and,
- Two of course is that Trump admires Putin, is likely beholden to him, and has cozied up to him for years, at times seeming to desperately seek his approval.
Which means by his nature and history, Trump is unable to see troops stationed in Germany as little more than the US doing the Germans a big favor that is seriously overdue for repayment rather than a complex and mutually beneficial alliance stretching over decades.
Cost Plus 50 Is A Sledgehammer
Trump’s been championing the notion of Cost Plus 50 since he took office; fixated on the idea that our NATO allies have been ripping us off for decades, he’s either unable or unwilling to acknowledge the delicacies of diplomacy, preferring to negotiate with a sledgehammer rather than nuance.
Is there a case to be made for some or all of our NATO allies paying their agreed-on share? Probably. But do they owe the US? Not under terms of the agreement itself; NATO dues aren’t meant to offset US defense spending.
But that’s what you get when you put a lifelong landlord with a transactional mentality at the head of the US government: a man who views geopolitical alliances and their history through the simplistic and erroneous lens of “you grease my palm and I’ll grease yours”.