March 14, 2019

Ben Hodges: Washington Is Serious About Asking Allies to Pay More for Hosting Us Troops

AFP/Scanpix
US soldiers take part in a massive amphibious landing during the Exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS), a NATO maritime-focused military multinational exercise, on June 4, 2018 in Nemirseta on the Baltic sea in Lithuania.
US soldiers take part in a massive amphibious landing during the Exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS), a NATO maritime-focused military multinational exercise, on June 4, 2018 in Nemirseta on the Baltic sea in Lithuania.

Lt Gen (ret.) Ben Hodges, Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at CEPA and a non-resident fellow of the ICDS, takes very seriously the idea that the US wants its allies to pay the full cost of American soldiers, or even more. But Hodges said that, if the Trump administration proceeded with the proposal, he “hope[d] the Congress will find ways to prevent it from implementation”.

Bloomberg reported that the White House would ask allied host nations to pay more, in some cases five to six times as much as at present, under the so-called “Cost Plus 50” formula.

Hodges said that this seemed to be a continuation of the Trump administration’s “transactional approach” and it was “not a good way to treat important allies who give us access”.

Hodges pointed out that allies would start charging the US for things which they currently do for the US but don’t show up in the 2% framework. “The US surely doesn’t pay for the cyber protection of the Port of Bremerhaven or the skies over Europe—yet these are essential for our national security strategy and ability to project power,” he said.

The former Commander of US Army Europe added that EUCOM and AFRICOM in Stuttgart were not there to protect Germany.

“They’re there as forward deployed headquarters to work with allies and partners and to enhance relationships that are essential for our own security,” he observed. “Where would we be without Ramstein AFB or Incirlik AFB? Or the Navy bases in the Med? Or the ability to deploy troops rapidly to trouble spots in Europe, the Middle East or Africa? The US does not have the capacity by ourselves to do everything we need to do to ensure our own security and the security of critical spaces and assets. We need allies, and our most reliable allies come from Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea. Why do we constantly bash them?”

Hodges said, however, that some Allies should do more, and the US should keep pressuring them.

“But the 30,000 US Army personnel in Europe are not there to protect Germany or Italy, where they are based and where they train. They are there to protect our interests, which includes a strong Alliance that we’ll surely need when the inevitable war with China happens in the next few years,” he said.

“If it is in fact a requirement from the White House, then I think it is a colossal mistake—and the Russians and Chinese will be astounded at their good fortune at the continued damage we are doing to our Alliance,” said Hodges.

However, he denied that the proposal had anything to do with NATO’s approaching 70th anniversary and summit. “The timing is not about that. They have been thinking about [it] for a while.”

Hodges did not believe the proposal would be accepted by the Allies. “I don’t think this will be appreciated anywhere except in some domestic audiences in the USA,” he commented.

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