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Trump Confirms He Plans To Move Some Troops Out Of Germany

NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump complained yesterday that Germany needs to contribute more to the NATO alliance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They owe NATO billions of dollars. And they have to pay it.

KING: And until they do, he said, the U.S. will pull thousands of troops out of Germany. The thing is no one appears to have told the Pentagon that. With me now, NPR's Rob Schmitz in Germany and Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Good morning, guys.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Tom, how did we get to this point?

BOWMAN: Well, as far as I can tell, it all came out of the White House. And it appears there was little coordination with the Pentagon. And the president simply said, as we just heard, that the - Germany isn't paying enough for its own security. Of course, in the past, decisions over troop cuts, especially thousands of troops - you'd have a lot of discussion about it.

KING: What is the Pentagon actually saying?

BOWMAN: Well, the odd thing is the Pentagon isn't saying much. Officials are referring questions to the White House. Pentagon officials have only said there's no official order yet. Now, I heard about it from Capitol Hill, where even Republicans are against it. Two dozen Republicans wrote a letter to Trump saying they opposed it, saying it would undermine NATO. And with a resurgent Russia, this is certainly not the time to cut back on U.S. forces.

KING: Oh, my goodness. So there will certainly be some debate over this, it seems. Rob, I wonder - there in Berlin, what is the German government saying?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, not much either. You know, a German Defense Ministry spokesperson has given us a vague statement that says Germany and U.S. have collaborated well over the years on missions and NATO exercises and that it assumes this will continue to be the case in the future. Last week, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer had this to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANNEGRET KRAMP-KARRENBAUER: (Speaking in German).

SCHMITZ: And she's saying here, Noel, that U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany serve NATO's interests but also U.S. security interests. And that's the reason that they work together.

KING: Rob, is it true what President Trump says - that Germany does not pay its NATO bills?

SCHMITZ: Well, you know, first off, NATO does not send bills to its 30 member states in the mail.

KING: (Laughter) OK.

SCHMITZ: But President Trump and presidents before him have been frustrated by Germany's level of defense spending, though Trump has been more belligerent about it. In 2014, NATO members agreed that by 2024, each member state would spend 2% of their GDP on defense. Now, Germany spends around 1.3% of its GDP now and says it's on its way to 2% but that it won't be able to do that until 2031. And that's irked President Trump.

KING: OK. Tom, we have discussed this before. Sometimes, the president just says things and then doesn't do them. Do you have a sense of what the chances are that these troops will actually be withdrawn from Germany, that this will happen?

BOWMAN: You know, it's hard to say. And judging from what the president said - that Germany's not paying enough for defense - this could simply be a negotiating tactic to get Germany to spend more. And the president has made similar complaints in the past against countries including South Korea. So at this point, we really just don't know. But you're right. Oftentimes, he'll make these pronouncements - you know, causes a flurry of action through the government. And then in the end, nothing really happens.

KING: Rob, let me throw this last one to you. NATO is a 70-year-old alliance. What does this mean? Does this actually pose a threat to that alliance?

SCHMITZ: Well, you know, it's interesting - the fact that President Trump did not bother to tell Germany or any other NATO member state that he was going to do this shows how dismissive the U.S. has become about its allies and its international commitments. If this troop drawdown actually does happen, it will undoubtedly damage the cohesion of NATO. And it'll send a message both to U.S. allies as well as adversaries, like Russia and China, that America's commitment to NATO and its mission is wavering.

KING: Rob Schmitz in Germany and Tom Bowman, who covers the Pentagon. Thanks for the reporting, guys.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.