She might be the hero of western international elites, but by abandoning promises to increase defense spending, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has betrayed the most important of all international alliances: NATO.
The betrayal came on Wednesday, when Merkel's Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats agreed to a coalition deal which fails to recommit to the NATO defense spending target of 2 percent of GDP. Instead, the deal says only that Germany will make "an appropriate contribution" to NATO.
Considering that Germany spends just 1.2-1.3 percent of GDP on defense, and before this week had pledged to reach 2 percent only by 2024, the latest abandonment takes things from the ludicrous to the insane.
Still, in recent years, this farcical approach to shared responsibility has become a German art form. The best example being the German defense minister's 2017 claim that it's unfair to criticize low defense spending because anyone with "a modern understanding of security" would include aid spending in defense expenditures. Here we see the German defense establishment's convenient waltz with idealist delusion: the belief that schools are the best means of defending against Russian tanks and water wells the best way to stop ISIS atrocities.
Unfortunately, none of this is funny.
The strategic concern?
NATO needs greater capability but Germany's military is increasingly impotent. As the Washington Post noted last month, Germany's submarine force is basically nonexistent, its armored forces are a joke and its aviation-strike capability could be taken down by two or three Russian squadrons.
Why does that matter?
Not simply because Russian threats continue to loom large over Europe (and already include shaping operations), but also because of other major threats like that posed by North Korea. This environment necessitates NATO's urgent construction of greater warfighting capabilities. Instead, NATO is basically now a party of six: the U.S., Baltic states, British and Polish militaries (France talks a good game but isn't yet delivering).
Nevertheless, Merkel's "appropriate contribution" deal shows that no amount of U.S. complaining will make things better with Berlin. Only action can do that.
Correspondingly, it's time to begin relocating the U.S. military out of Germany and into Poland.
While the cost and time required to move tens of thousands of U.S. forces to Poland would be significant in the short term, the ultimate dividends would be far greater.
After all, this move wouldn't simply recognize that Germany is no longer committed to NATO, it would reinforce that which makes NATO most credible: forward presence and the reinforcement of an at-threat ally. And both geographically and strategically, Poland is on the front line of the Russian military threat. Equally important, the Polish government is committed to NATO: it already spends 2 percent of GDP on defense and is moving towards 2.5 percent (even though Germany's economy is seven times larger), has proven and aggressive combat forces, and is investing in more advanced armored forces.
In addition, as the map below shows, bases in Poland would put the U.S. military right alongside the Baltic states and the Russian enclave in Kaliningrad. The Russians respect strength and this move would be that.
There would also be peripheral benefits from a move to Poland. Namely, the fact that its living costs are lower than in Germany and its people more pro-American.
Don't get me wrong, I recognize that Germany is an American friend and will continue to be an important economic and diplomatic partner. Yet alliances are ultimately not built on words, but on shared commitments in the context of serious challenges. Germany is only willing to live up to the latter half of that construct.
Indeed, Germany's happy reliance on Putin's energy blackmail suggests it will neglect NATO even more in the years ahead.
Thus, to preserve the most crucial global alliance and extend its credibility to fight and win, the U.S. must recognize reality. Time to head for Poland.