US top officials are in Europe this week to support Allied support to counter Iran and China as well as the latest Russian movements on Ukraine’s border. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Berlin on his inaugural tour of Europe, while Foreign Minister Antony Blinken went to Brussels on Tuesday for talks on Ukraine and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Nearly a year after President Donald Trump ordered thousands of troops to leave Germany and curb a series of setbacks for US relations with major allies, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin embarked on an inaugural tour of Europe to strengthen partnerships that are a cornerstone of the post. . World War II order.
Austin arrived in Berlin on Monday in the wake of a recent crisis with Iran, which on Monday blamed Israel for a recent attack on its Natanz underground nuclear power plant. Israel has not confirmed or denied involvement, but the attack still jeopardizes ongoing talks in Europe about Tehran’s shattered nuclear deal.
Also at stake during Austin’s visit is the future direction of US defense commitments in Europe at a time of growing concern over Russia’s military intervention in the NATO periphery, including the build – up of Russian forces near Ukraine’s border. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on his way to Europe to discuss the situation in Ukraine with US allies and the government’s thoughts on further withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The United States is also seeking European support for its strategy to counter China around the world and for efforts to restore an international agreement with the borders of Iran’s nuclear program.
Austin arrived in the German capital on Monday night and will hold talks on Tuesday with senior government officials. He will also visit NATO headquarters later this week in Belgium and meet with British defense officials in London. He began his journey on Sunday in Israel, where he emphasized US defense support in meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Austin, a former four-star army general whose overseas military experience was mainly in Iraq, is likely to reassure German officials of the Biden administration’s intentions to keep troops in Germany, although the number is under discussion as part of a month-long global review of the base of American troops. Last year, Trump ordered the number in Germany decreased by about 12,000 to about 24,000.
On his first visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels since taking office, Austin will meet with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who on President Joe Biden’s inauguration day declared that the arrival of a new administration marked “the beginning of a new chapter for the Trans-Atlantic Alliance. ”
Trump’s departure from the world stage gave the Biden administration an opening to restore a more supportive US stance on Europe and the NATO alliance, but complications will remain. For example, NATO allies are anxious for Biden to decide whether to withdraw from Afghanistan. NATO has more troops there than the United States and Biden’s indecision is bothering them, not least because they count on US military support to remove troops and equipment.
The attack on Iran’s nuclear power plant in Natanz further complicates US efforts to withdraw Iran to a nuclear deal. Austin was asked about this earlier Monday while in Israel, and he only said that he expects the government’s diplomatic efforts with Iran to continue.
“Pivot” to Asia
On the broader horizon, European allies remain uncertain about how their defense and security relationship with the United States will be affected by Biden’s pressure to focus more on China as the main threat to US security. That change in American thinking began during the Obama administration, which announced a “pivot” to Asia that led Europeans to believe that their American allies were turning their backs. Washington adapted diplomatically and rhetorically, assuring Europeans that it was just a “rebalancing.”
Then came Trump. His administration further emphasized China as the main security threat, but of greater concern to Europeans was his frequent, sometimes shocking, humiliation of the transatlantic partnership that has been the basis of US security policy for decades. He fired NATO allies as a free agent, and last summer he ordered the removal of about a third of the US force in Germany, as well as the relocation of the US European Command headquarters from Germany to Belgium.
“We do not want to be sucked anymore,” Trump told reporters in July last year, calling the Germans residents who do not spend enough on defense but expect the United States to protect them from Russia.
Germany has been an anchor for the US military presence in Europe since the early years after World War II. In addition to hosting the headquarters of US European and US African Commands, Germany’s Ramstein Air Base is the headquarters of NATO Air and Missile Defense. The U.S. Army’s largest overseas hospital, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, is located a few miles from Ramstein Air Base. The US Air Force also has a significant presence in Germany, including the 52nd Wing at Spangdahlem.
In his first speech to an international audience, Biden explained to the Munich Conference in February: “America is back, the transatlantic alliance is back and we do not look back. We look forward to working together. ”
Biden suspended the Trump decision on a partial withdrawal of troops from Germany, which had not yet been implemented. It seems likely that the administration will decide not to implement the Trump order.
Jim Townsend, who served throughout the Obama administration as the Pentagon’s leading political official in Europe and NATO, said in an interview that he sees lasting value in Austin’s tour of European capitals in his early days.
“It’s a better way to repair the torn fabric in the transatlantic relationship,” Townsend said.
Even if Europeans can put the tensions behind the Trump era, they will still have questions about Biden’s emphasis on China, which is not a front-burning issue for Europeans. They largely see NATO as a protection against Russia, especially since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its intervention in eastern Ukraine, which is not a NATO member but strives to join.