US, Germany Seem Set to Revive Security Cooperation under Biden as Lloyd Austin Heads to Berlin
After chilling trans-Atlantic jabs between the long-time allies during the four years of the Trump Administration, the United States and Germany now seem set for a revival of their close security cooperation under President Joe Biden, with high hopes for Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III’s visit in Berlin on Tuesday, April 13, 2021.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III is the first Biden administration official to come to Germany, with multiple topics likely to feature on the talks’ agenda.
Only the current issues form a long list: a reported amassing of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine against the backdrop of the ongoing Donbass War, a suspected Israeli sabotage against an Iranian uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, and a looming deadline for withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan.
In March 2021, Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, voted to extend the country’s part in the NATO mission in Afghanistan, a decision largely opposed by the parliamentary group of the Greens.
At a news conference last month, Biden said the US did plan to withdraw its own troops at some point but made it clear that was unlikely to happy by a May 1 deadline.
The Afghanistan mission will crucial in Tuesday’s German-US defense talks in Berlin since US firepower often protects German and other NATO troops on the ground in the Central Asian country.
“German and American soldiers stand side-by-side in a number of operations,” a German Defense Ministry spokesperson told DW in a statement, describing the US-German partnership as “intense and growing.”
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit in the German capital Berlin is part of a four-stop tour of key allies, an element from the Biden Administration’s all-out diplomatic effort to reestablish the United States as a leader in managing global stability.
Besides Germany, Austin’s current foreign tour stops include Israel, where he declared America’s “ironclad commitment” to Israeli security, as well as the NATO headquarters in Brussels, and the UK.
In his four years as US President, Donald Trump frequently lambasted Germany and its leader Chancellor Angela Merkel on issues such as what he saw as buckpassing by America’s European allies in NATO and German defense spending, the German trade surplus with the US, and Germany’s energy dependence on Russia.
In 2018, German Chancellor Merkel admitted that German – American friendship was under pressure because of Trump’s tirades.
The Biden Administration is hoping to reassure nervous US allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East shaken by the former Trump Administration’s tone considered “unorthodox” at best by America’s long-time diplomatic and security partners.
According to a statement by the US Department of Defense, Austin’s meeting with German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) and other German defense and security officials, aims to “reinforce the value the United States places on the bilateral defense relationship with one of our closest NATO Allies.”
The statement makes it clear that the US is hoping to cooperate further with Germany on “combating the malign influence of our shared strategic rivals,” a seeming allusion to Russia.
Not unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, the new US President Joe Biden is adamantly opposed to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas transit pipeline connecting Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea.
In one of the very issues that Biden has seen eye to eye with Trump, the former has called Nord Stream 2, which would double Russian natural gas sales on the German market, a “bad deal” for Germany. Biden has thus continued a policy of US sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 project started under Trump.
Germany’s leadership, however, continues to defend Nord Stream 2 as a purely commercial project, and not a geopolitical one.
Against the backdrop of all the criticism Germany endured from Donald Trump during his administration on defense spending, the largest European economy has actually hiked its money for defense by one-third since 2013. Yet, it still spends below the median on defense among NATO members, and remains below the 2% of GDP spending recommendation of the Alliance.
Germany also falls beneath another NATO metric, namely, that 20% of defense spending should go towards military equipment.
After visiting Berlin, the new US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will head to Southern Germany, which is home to the US military’s European and African Commands.
Some 30 years after the end of the Cold War, Germany still hosts one of the largest contingents of US troops abroad. The new US President Joe Biden recently issued an order to pause and review a decision by his predecessor Donald Trump to reduce the number of US forces in Germany by 12,000.