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Report: Trump wants Germany, Japan and others to pay full cost plus a premium for US troops

President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks at the Meeting of the Ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 6, 2019. (Ron Przysucha/U.S. State Department)

President Donald Trump is pushing a plan that demands allies pick up the full cost of hosting U.S. troops in their countries, plus a 50 percent premium for the privilege of American protection, according to a news report.

Called “Cost Plus 50,” the plan would cost five or six times more for countries like Germany, Japan and South Korea, Bloomberg news reported Friday.

Trump has been championing the idea for months, Bloomberg reported, citing about a dozen unnamed administration officials. Trump even tested the idea during recent negotiations over a cost sharing agreement with South Korea, which was on the brink of collapse before a deal was finally reached in February.

“We want cost plus 50,” Trump demanded at one point during the talks, as quoted by the media organization.

While the U.S. eventually backed off the demand, the idea hasn’t gone away and could be used to pressure allies to increase their own defense budgets. For two years, Trump has railed against allies, especially in Europe, who Trump has described as security free riders unwilling to pay for their own defense.

It isn’t clear how close the Cost Plus 50 idea is to becoming official U.S. policy. Bloomberg reported that Trump’s advisers have pushed back against the idea. But the president’s interest in the proposal has nonetheless sent “shock waves through the departments of Defense and State,” it reported.

The plan would likely face fierce resistance from U.S. allies, especially Germany, which hosts about 32,000 American troops. Unlike South Korea, which relies on a large military presence as a line of protection against the north, the American forces in Germany don’t serve as territorial guardians.

While there were some 300,000 troops in Europe during the Cold War, there are about 70,000 in total on the Continent today. The contingent in Germany consists mostly of enabling forces and headquarters. The Army has just one infantry brigade in the country.

While allies like Japan see the U.S. military presence as a bulwark to an expansionist China, Germany generally doesn’t see an immediate threat to its own security. As such, Berlin is likely to balk at demands to pay all the costs for U.S. bases, which are widely viewed domestically as serving Washington’s foreign policy interests. For example, Ramstein Air Base — the largest in Germany — has been used as a vital staging post for the U.S. military interventions in Iraq and Libya, which Berlin either opposed or did not participate in.

And Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the largest overseas military hospital in the world, is a stopping point for troops injured in Afghanistan and other missions abroad. It offers no direct benefit to Germany’s security. Similarly, Marines crisis response forces in Spain and Italy are tasked with protecting U.S. interests and diplomatic compounds in Africa on short notice rather than Europe’s territorial defense. It’s unclear whether Italy or Spain would feel obliged to pony up more for their presence.

Still, with a more assertive Russia, allies in Europe have been eager for more U.S. forces, especially along NATO’s eastern flank, which could give the Trump administration leverage. Poland has offered $2 billion to establish a permanent U.S. base in its country.

Germany spends about $1 billion or roughly 20 percent of the cost of hosting U.S. troops at various installations in the country, according to Rand Corporation data. But Germany’s payments for U.S. troops are almost entirely in kind — the provision of services or facilities.

Bloomberg reported the White House was also considering a measure to ease the financial burden — a discount for countries whose policies were in line with Washington’s.

That could be problematic for Germany, which has resisted demands from Trump to ramp up defense expenditures. By 2024, all NATO allies are expected to dedicate 2 percent of GDP to military matters. While the majority of alliance members are on track to reach the spending target, Berlin has balked at the idea and is expected to fall well short of the benchmark.


© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

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