One day, Germany will have had enough

Reply Tue 30 Mar, 2004 03:16 pm
One day, Germany will have had enough
By Mark Steyn
(Filed: 30/03/2004)

In the old days, the headline "Germans Go On Offensive" would have caused palpitations among Czechs, Poles, Belgians, etc. But, in the case of this weekend's AP headline, Germans going on the offensive refers not to sending German troops to foreign countries, but keeping foreign troops in Germany. And it's the Germans having the palpitations, after press reports that the Pentagon plans to pull out half its troops.

Right now, Germany plays host to 175,000 Americans - military personnel plus their families - and reducing that number to 80-90,000 would leave a big hole in an economy that's already looking like a Swiss cheese. See the recent story in Bild: "Can't We Do Anything Any More in Germany?" Also the cover of Der Spiegel: "Germany: A Joke."

The joke keeps getting better. Karl Peter Bruch, a state official in Rhineland-Palatinate who's lobbying the Americans to change their minds, put it this way: "We realised that our installations are in grave danger. And then came the question, what can we do to make us more attractive?"

"Our" installations? As Daffy Duck famously remarked after losing yet another verbal duel with Bugs Bunny and getting his bill shot off: "Hmm. Pronoun trouble." As to what Germany can do to make itself more attractive to the Yanks, how about this? Spend less time running around playing Mini-Me to Jacques Chirac's Doctor Evil. Just a thought. And it seems to have occurred, somewhat belatedly, to Gerhard Schröder.

Last March, there were plenty of takers for it. My Spectator colleague Matthew Parris indulged himself in one of his elegant scoffs about the Bush doctrine: "We should ask whether America does have the armies, the weaponry, the funds, the economic clout and the democratic staying power to carry all before her in the century ahead. How many wars on how many fronts could she sustain at once? How much fighting can she fund? How much does she need to export? Is she really unchallenged by any other economic bloc?"

My confrère was falling prey to theories of "imperial overstretch". But, as I wrote at the time in an article on "the death of Europe", "if you're not imperial, it's quite difficult to get overstretched. By comparison with 19th-century empires, the Americans travel light."

America's main "overstretch" lies not in Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa, but in its historically unprecedented generosity to its wealthiest allies. "The US picks up the defence tab for Europe, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia, among others," I wrote. "If Bush wins a second term, the boys will be coming home from South Korea and Germany, and maybe Japan, too."

Well, the second term is not quite here. But America has already quit Saudi Arabia, and plans for South Korea and Germany are well advanced. When scholars come to write the final chapter in the history of the European continent, the six-decade US security guarantee will be seen as, on the whole, a mistake. Not for America, but the Continentals.

The so-called "free world" was, for most of its members, a free ride. Absolving wealthy nations of the need to maintain credible armies softens them: they decay, almost inevitably, into a semi-non-aligned status.

Even now, the likes of Mr Bruch see the US military presence in Europe in mainly economic terms - all those German supermarkets and German restaurants that depend on American custom. But, looked at in defence terms, if Don Rumsfeld wants a light, mobile 21st-century military, the last place to base it is the Continent: given that the term "ally" is now generally used in the post-modern meaning of "duplicitous obstructionist", it's not unlikely that any future Saddamesque scenario would see attempts to throw operational restraints around the use of US forces in Europe.

This weekend, for example, nearly 60 per cent of French electors voted Socialist, Communist, Fascist or Green. Most of the rest voted for the "ruling centre-Right" - ie, Chirac. Does that sound like an "ally" that's ever again likely to grant overflight rights to the USAF? Better a nice clean flight plan direct from Missouri or Diego Garcia.

What happens when a country becomes just as militant and aggressive about the virtues of "soft power" as it once was about old-fashioned hard power? Germany has a shrinking economy, an ageing and shrivelling population, and potentially catastrophic welfare liabilities. Yet the average German worker now puts in over 20 per cent fewer hours per year than his American counterpart, and no politician who wishes to remain electorally viable would propose closing the gap.

Germany, like much of Europe, has a psychological investment in longer holidays, free healthcare, early retirement, unsustainable welfare programmes, decrepit military: the fact that these policies spell national suicide is less important than that they distinguish Europe from the less enlightened Americans.

Where did all the money go? In a recent speech in Washington, the Oxford historian Niall Ferguson recalled German objections 80 years ago to their First World War reparations bill of $132 billion - why, such a sum would bankrupt the country!

Ferguson pointed out that Germany has paid $132 billion and then some to France, Belgium, Italy and co in net EU contributions. And, as predicted, bankruptcy looms. From Belgian steel to Italian agriculture to French colonial subventions, the entire European project has been financed by Germany.

Even a rare fellow contributor such as Britain owes its brief romance with the Common Market to German success: in stagnant pre-Thatcher Britain, the business community looked enviously across the Channel and figured that yoking the British economy to Europe would cut 'em a little piece of that rich German stollen.

But there's no stollen left to steal: Germany is the sick man of Europe, and too risk-averse to try any cure other than sugary placebos such as the dismal "Year of Innovation" Mr Schröder has declared 2004 to be. He has appointed an Innovation Council. The first sign of a genuinely innovative culture is that it's too busy innovating to have an Innovation Council. An Innovation Council is just more of the same-old same-old.

The Germans get 11 per cent of the votes in the Council of Ministers and pony up 67 per cent of the EU's net contributions. And sooner or later, they'll figure out that pandering to a pampered populace at home is one thing, subsidising it Continent-wide is quite another. Then they really will go on the offensive.
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Craven de Kere
Reply Tue 30 Mar, 2004 03:18 pm
German economy will not be nearly as hurt by an American withdrawal as that (rather smug) article implies.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Tue 30 Mar, 2004 03:22 pm
Just wondering, how many Americans had had these ideas, when the Canadians, Belgians, French and later the British withdrew their troops - alltogether a lot more than the US troops now.

And not to mention the Soviets.
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Reply Tue 30 Mar, 2004 03:39 pm
Walter Hinteler wrote:
Just wondering, how many Americans had had these ideas, when the Canadians, Belgians, French and later the British withdrew their troops - alltogether a lot more than the US troops now.

And not to mention the Soviets.

The Brits, Belgians and French even added together, never had as many troops defending Germany as the United States had. The United States military shielded Germany for over 40 years and paid for it in those years with:
Thousands of Americans killed in that time in training accidents to practice defending a land not even their own.

Massive dollars for base leasing, training grounds and improvements of Germanys defenses.

Monies spent by those hundreds of thousands of troops and families into an economy of a, for the most part, ungrateful people.

Germany would have needed a military at least FIVE times the size of the one they fielded during the Cold War, to have any chance of stopping the 80+ Warsaw Pact divisions that were facing them across the border.

The Germans may not have loved us, they may have barely tolerated us, but they should at least admit to themselves the true identity of the shield that defended them for all those years.

(15-Echo Pershing Missile Crewman ... Cold War veteran)
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Tue 30 Mar, 2004 03:46 pm
Fedral wrote:
The Brits, Belgians and French even added together, never had as many troops defending Germany as the United States had.

You've got the numbers?

(250,000 British, Canadian, Dutch, Belgian and French troops left Germany between 1980 and 1994)

Besides, I mentioned the Canadians and Soviets as well, who left Germany. (Didn't do so with the Dutch and Danish, since both are kind of back again in the joined brigades.)
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Reply Tue 30 Mar, 2004 04:15 pm
Ooh, what's a "joined brigade?"
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Reply Tue 30 Mar, 2004 04:30 pm
(250,000 British, Canadian, Dutch, Belgian and French troops left Germany between 1980 and 1994)

The organization known as U.S. Army, Europe, traced its origins to the establishment of the European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army, in 1942, during the war against Nazi Germany. USAREUR had, by 1990, focused for forty years on deterring aggression and defending Western Europe against threats emanating from the Soviet Union and its Communist allies in Eastern Europe. Through those decades USAREUR strength and force structure had been repeatedly built up or reduced in response to the military and political crises and detentes of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

After the drastic reduction of Army personnel in Europe from almost 2 million in 1945 to 86,000 in 1950, the United States quickly built up U.S. Army personnel strength in Western Europe to over 250,000 in 1952 in response to Communist threats and a new NATO strategy for the defense of the region. Personnel strength then dropped slightly through the mid-and late 1950s, but rose again to a peak of 277,000 in 1961 in response to the building of the Berlin Wall. Through the Vietnam War years of the late 1960s, USAREUR personnel strength fell, reaching a low of about 169,000 in 1970. As new weapons systems were introduced in the 1970s and 1980s, strength grew again to about 200,000 and remained there.1 Nevertheless through these four decades, whatever USAREUR's strength, whatever the perception of the Soviet threat, and whatever changes occurred in U.S. foreign and military policy outside Europe, the U.S. commitment to maintain the freedom of its allies in Western Europe remained steadfast.

From USAREUR (US Army Europe) history: HERE

So you can see the United States Army alone (without Airforce, Marine or Naval personnel) numbered between 169,000 (at a low) to 277,000 troops. Add in the Air Force, Marines and Navy(checking those numbers now) and you will see that the United States has provided the lions share of the troops defending Germany.

Not trying to be an ass Walter, just want y'all to understand the truth of the matter.

I have still got to look up the components of the other services, but I believe that the other forces will put the number well over 300,000 ... more than the other nations COMBINED.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Tue 30 Mar, 2004 11:23 pm
I don't doubt those figures at all, Fedral.

But all these (German) complains come only from regions, where nothing similar happened before - although quite some US troops already left.

I just know about the facts here in my state, especially in my county.
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