Soldiers are taught to respect their enemies

US general Hodges in an interview. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, huge military convoys are rolling through Western Europe.

The US is rebuilding its presence, bringing tanks and material to the continent, and is present with 30,000 soldiers. The goal: a deterrent strategy against Russia, a strengthening of NATO. The undertaking is commanded by Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the most senior US military in Europe. We met Hodges in Munich for an interview. The 59-year-old will retire at the end of the year. In Washington, too, some in the Trump administration could breathe a sigh of relief: Hodges is well known there for his sometimes very clear critical words.

-30,000 US soldiers are currently providing stability in Europe. What to do if your president suddenly loses interest?

President Trump is doing exactly what Obama announced. It will stay at the 30,000 for a long time, maybe a little more - I hope so. I can't see why Trump should ever lose interest in Europe. Our economic future is closely linked to stability in Europe - these are our most important trading partners. Even the Congress, every party, supports this course 100 percent.

-Is President Trump still bound by the NATO assistance obligation? Or does it really bother him that Europeans contribute too little to collective security?

It's not mutually exclusive. The President has said publicly more than once: We are committed to the assistance obligation in Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. But we also remind our partners of Article 3: Every member must do everything to protect themselves as best as possible. Most member states are well on their way to increasing defense spending, some have at least stopped dismantling.

-Putin has started his big Sapad maneuver, eyes suspiciously. Is Russia still a dangerous neighbor?

Yes sure. There is no immediate threat of a crisis or attack. But the danger becomes greater if NATO does not give the impression that it is acting as one. Russia only respects strength. Otherwise, wherever possible, Russia will try to split NATO and the EU.

- There have recently been internal reports of massive logistical problems at NATO, problems with borders, transport routes, and the gauge of the trains. Isn't the bureaucracy the biggest enemy in Europe?

The last US tank left Europe three and a half years ago. We brought the heavy equipment back home. We thought we no longer need it - that was a mistake, as the Russian annexation of Crimea taught us. Now we come back and have to readjust the infrastructure. Incidentally, these investments are also part of defense spending.

-The Jamaica negotiators are negotiating in Berlin. Why don't you give them some advice: What would be particularly important in defense policy?

I already have faith. I am encouraged that more and more Germans are ready to take on international responsibility. The Bundestag has now mandated 16 missions abroad worldwide. People know: economic growth is not a gift, freedom is not a gift - it has to be protected and sometimes fought for. This is not a philosophical debate, but a very real one when we think of the threat of attacks, terror, disinformation campaigns.

-The NATO goal is to invest two percent of economic output in defense. Germany is far from that. Would you accept if we just add up spending on military and development aid?

What is directly related to the military - infrastructure for large deployments of troops, training of foreign armies - can be factored in. But I cannot imagine that we can seriously include traditional development aid in defense spending.

-You came to Germany in 1981 as a lieutenant in the Cold War. You will retire as a general at the end of 2018. Is the world safer today?

Good question. When I came in 1981 there was already terrorism. There was a huge Russian army with nuclear weapons three hours away in East Germany. Even so, we had a kind of stability in the face of the large armies. Today we find an enormous number of trouble spots in all parts of the world - Iran, Korea, Syria, plus the flow of migrants, which will increase massively in the next few years. Perhaps we don't have any more direct danger than we did then - but more uncertainty.

Interview: Christian Deutschländer