September 16, 2021

US Plays Chinese Checkers

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By Anil Trigunayat

Image Courtesy : Getty Images

The reasons and repercussions of US’ withdrawal of its troops

Keywords: Trump administration | Germany | Military & Defense | European Union | Troop withdrawal | Reciprocity | NATO | Indo-Pacific

For quite some time it is being surmised that the US is trying to withdraw its forces from theatres of war or conflict which it considers unnecessary or undesirable. President Trump has often spoken about this. In addition, he has also spoken about monetization of security which means if its friends and partners want to enjoy the American security cover, they must pay for it, be it NATO or anyone else. This has induced uncertainty and credibility issues among the US’ European, Asian and Middle Easterner partners. Similar approaches have been adopted in its contribution to various multilateral organisations like the UN, the WHO, WTO and UNESCO and UNRWA etc. as the US seeks to extract pro-rata returns from its investments in these organisations. For instance, Trump recently withdrew from the WHO since his government felt the organisation had fallen prey to the Chinese designs; indeed a questionable decision, especially as the whole world, continues to suffer from the exceptionally adverse impact of COVID-19 and the US itself appears to have been impacted the most.  

In turn, these organisations not only face financial distress but also tend to lose their relevance and capacity to influence the important outcomes since the sole Hyper Power refuses to submit to the collective will of the nations. Consequently, unilateralism becomes the order of the day.

After their Agreement with the Taliban, the US has decided to scale down its presence and withdraw troops from this unending war and conflict zone. In Iraq, it is facing the public ire as well as the wrath of the Shia militias especially after the killing of General Qassem Soleimani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards when he was said to be en route to meet the Iraqi Prime Minister who apparently was working to diffuse the rising tensions between the US and Iran since last December. Iraqi Parliament even passed a resolution asking the US to withdraw its forces from the Iraqi territory as its sovereignty was being compromised. But the fractured polities of these countries find it difficult to reverse the domination of external powers, be it the US or Iran. 

The most recent announcement (June 2020) was of the withdrawal of US troops from its biggest and most powerful base outside of the US, in Stuttgart, Germany. The US Africom taking care of Africa is also located in Germany. Some leaked documents indicated that President Trump had ordered the reduction of troops from Germany by 9500 from the total of 34500 as it was quite expensive to maintain them without any return and as the ‘delinquent’ Germans were paying virtually nothing. It was also reported that some of these troops will be deployed in Poland at the US base for which the Polish government has committed $2 billion, as an insurance policy against Russia.

Germany, as a base had played a significant role in the post-World War II, Cold War scenario as well as thereafter. Apart from that its Ramstein base has been key to counter-terrorism efforts in Africa and the Middle East and most drone operations are managed from there. This has been a key determinant and projection for European security and stability but the equations and outlook of the US Administration are taking a turn as the new autonomous and AI driver weapon systems are developed and warfare techniques undergo revolutionary changes. Moreover, while the deep state might, Trump does not seem to consider Putin an existential threat but China indeed is bracketed there.

Secretary of State Pompeo speaking at the Brussels Forum 2020 of German Marshall Fund did attribute the decision to redeploy given the increasing threat posed by China to Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam. ‘We are going to make sure we are postured appropriately to counter PLA’ he had said. He even called the Chinese Communist Party ‘rogue’. But this does not seem to be a  full story as German autonomous decision making may have something to do with this. US-German relations have had their own dynamic as President Trump said that Germany was not contributing 2% of GDP to meet its financial contribution to NATO. More significantly the German decision to go along with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia which is considered unfair by the US since it would like Germany to buy the expensive American gas. Germany naturally considers it an irrational decision as it might impact the intra-Nato dynamic and the overall US strategy to counter the security threats from Moscow and Beijing which US strategists seem to project and protect against. It seems even Pentagon has not been on board with the new troop withdrawal strategy from Germany, Syria, Afghanistan et al. Some hope that the new US Administration may review these decisions.

During the Trump administration, the pivot to Asia has acquired a greater salience. The focus on China as a major threat has not only led to a prolonged trade war, opposite influences in international organisations, and potential areas of conflict but also has led to providing substantial support and clarity to the Indo-Pacific strategy and Quad +. Already US naval assets have been deployed in the Pacific and the Middle East and some naval exercises are underway. It is imperative that given the conflict and aggression India faces from its unreliable northern neighbour the viable and valuable collaborative elements of our strategic partnerships with friends like the US, Japan, Australia and Russia must be identified and realised to eke out a maximum advantage in the spirit of ‘selective alignment’ and carefully calibrated mutually beneficial objectives remembering there are no free lunches. 

3 comments

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  • Very well written and shows how thoroughly you have been observing and keeping track of the subject.
    People like you must be involved in the Indian Foreign Policy strategies for future growth.
    God Bless You with Best of the world.

  • Americans are cheering us in our military confrontation with China as they face serious challenges from PRC to their own technological and economic primacy so we’ll symbolised by the stunning Chinese lead in 5G technology. There does not appear to have been been any serious move by US to calm tempers on Sino-Indian border confrontation. They may want to hunt the Chinese with Indian knives. Even if it means economic disaster for India and China, not to mention the loss of lives. Even as Mike Pompeo commended India for banning Chinese apps, Trump cleverly tweeted late last month, ‘the China Trade deal is fully intact’, setting at rest any doubts about China making additional purchases of US$200 billion from US over next two years. Similarly China-Japan trade is booming. The QUAD is nothing more than a feel good arrangement, the hollowness of which was revealed during the current border clashes with China, with China refusing to back down. Let there be no doubt, a possible military and economic war, however limited, with China would be fought by us, not the QUAD.
    As for the Russians, militarily they are opposed to the US & to the QUAD, and they are certainly not with us in this confrontation with China. At the most they are equidistant. Much of Chinese military strength over the years is due to sustained Russian transfer of arms, equipment and technology. Let’s not kid ourselves, to fight America’s China War!! Yes, we want to settle our border dispute with China. I’m not sure the Americans want that!

Anil Trigunayat

Amb Anil Trigunayat is a former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta.

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