Former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that European leaders are “scared to death” that President Donald Trump will make good on his campaign pledge to withdraw American forces from the continent if host countries fail to pay their fair share for its defense.
Panetta told the California-based McClatchy newspaper company that European authorities are “scared to death” and are “increasingly worried [Trump] is going to do things not based on what’s in the best interest … but based solely on his vision of ‘America First,'” Fox news reported Saturday.
The development came amid Trump’s persisting complaint that the US bears too large a financial burden for European defense, but has yet to act. While the issue is not expected to come up at the upcoming summit of the NATO military alliance in Brussels, uncertainty over the issue remains.
A G-7 summit in Canada turned sour last month when Trump harshly criticized allies and refused to sign a joint statement. The US president’s upcoming summit with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, has aggravated concerns as well.
According to the report, Eastern Europe, which sits at Russia’s doorstep, has been particularly eager to keep American troops. Poland, for instance, has offered a proposal for the American military to build permanent military bases there.
The report further cites Pew Research Data as showing that more than 60,000 US troops are currently stationed in Europe, including 35,000 in Germany, 12,000 in Italy, 8,500 in Britain, and 3,300 in Spain, with thousands more rotating into other European nations as needed.
Despite Trump’s rhetoric, however, his administration has maintained tactical support for Europe, having dispatched military hardware, participated in regional war games, and signed military agreements with Finland and Sweden.
Yet, any moves to permanently withdraw American troops from Europe would ultimately require congressional authorization.