The Trump administration’s ambassador to NATO said Thursday that no discussions are underway regarding withdrawal of U.S. troops in Germany, which she said remain an integral part of U.S. and alliance security strategy.
“There is nothing being said at all about the troop alignment in Germany or anything that would change” the basing arrangements there, Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters in a briefing about next week’s NATO summit. “I’ve heard nothing on that score.”
The Pentagon has undertaken a cost analysis of the 35,000 U.S. troops based in Germany as part of NATO and other missions, following expressions of concern by President Trump about the size and expense of their presence there.
European leaders are in a state of anxiety about the two-day NATO meeting, to be followed by Trump’s bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. The president has long spoken disdainfully of NATO and other multilateral institutions, including the European Union, and has been especially critical of Germany for not spending a bigger portion of its own budget on defense.
But Hutchison, and the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, gave upbeat assessments of the upcoming meetings.
While noting that “we need to do more” on defense spending, Hutchison said that more than half of NATO’s members were on track to achieve the target set by the alliance of 2 percent of gross domestic product spent on defense by 2024.
“We will talk about the biggest increase in defense spending by our allies since the Cold War,” she said. “Every one of our allies — 100 percent — are increasing defense spending.”
She said she expected unanimous agreement among NATO’s 29 members on proposals to reform the alliance command structure, increase readiness for possible threats from Russia on NATO’s eastern flank, add a new training mission for Iraq and increase counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan.
“The overall theme of this summit is going to be NATO’s strength and unity,” Hutchison said.
Asked about possible concrete outcomes from Trump’s meeting with Putin, Huntsman said that “the fact that we’re having a summit at this level, at this time in history, is a deliverable in itself,” he said, although “I don’t exclude that there will be some concrete agreement.”
Huntsman cited Trump’s meeting last month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as having “reduced tension on the Korean Peninsula,” and said that any reduction in tension with Russia “would be on a much bigger scale.”
Regional experts have questioned the success of the Trump-Kim meeting, in which the president agreed to suspend U.S. military exercises with South Korea but appeared to get little in return. A vague promise in a joint communique to work toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula was hailed by Trump as having ended North Korea’s nuclear threat, although recent reports have indicated that Pyongyang has continued to expand its nuclear weapons capabilities.
Huntsman stressed the importance of going into any meeting with Russia “with eyes wide open. And you need to make sure that we’re willing, on our side, to hold Russia responsible for the many activities that they are responsible for, whether that is election meddling; malign activities throughout Europe, including the Balkans, U.K. and Brexit, France, and Italy, just to mention a few; and to hold them responsible for” the destabilizing use of social media.
Administration officials have also said that subjects discussed with Putin would include Syria, where the administration is looking for a political settlement that would allow the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Huntsman’s description of Russia’s “malign” activities was far sharper than characterizations from Trump, who has indicated his admiration for Putin and said that he takes Putin at his word in his denial of election interference.
Asked whether Trump shared his sharper perspective, Huntsman said, “The president will drive the discussion on malign activity and election meddling. He knows the facts and the details, and he’s discussed it. We all talk about it a little differently, but the president has talked about it in his own way.”
The two ambassadors laid out a preliminary schedule for Trump’s travels. The president will arrive in Brussels the evening of July 10 and meet with other NATO leaders the following morning for a discussion of “defense and deterrence issues.” He will hold a working dinner later.
The leaders will meet again on July 12 with their counterparts from Ukraine and Georgia, both of which are on track for NATO membership, followed by a meeting of alliance members that are part of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
Other than with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump has no other bilateral meetings scheduled.
From Brussels, Trump will travel to London, where he will hold government meetings before reportedly spending the weekend at the golf course he owns in Scotland. He is due to arrive in Helsinki the evening of July 15 for meetings the next morning with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. In the afternoon, he will have a one-on-one meeting with Putin, followed by an expanded bilateral meeting and a working lunch before he departs for Washington.