WASHINGTON (AFP) - United States President-elect Joe Biden could reverse course - at least partially - on the Trump administration's move to withdraw some 12,000 US troops from Germany, according to Mr Biden's defence advisers.
Ms Michele Flournoy - former number three at the Pentagon and a favourite to lead the Defence Department under the new administration - nearly predicted as much during a conference in August.
"If you have a new administration, the first thing they'll do is a posture review globally," she said at the Aspen Security Forum when asked about the withdrawals.
"My hope is that this (withdrawal plan) will not be fully executed because I don't think it's in the strategic interests of the United States and it's very damaging to our alliance relationships," Ms Flournoy said.
Some 34,500 troops are currently deployed in the country.
Under the Trump administration's plan, about 6,400 would be sent home to the US while 5,600 others would be re-deployed to other Nato countries, especially Belgium and Italy.
'Doesn't make sense'
Mr Esper framed the re-deployment as strategically necessary, especially as part of efforts to counter Russian influence, but Mr Trump immediately contradicted that explanation, saying the manoeuvre was actually in response to Germany's refusal to "pay the bills".
"We don't want to be the suckers anymore... We're protecting Germany, so we're reducing the force because they're not paying the bills," Mr Trump said at the time.
"I don't think it makes sense," said Ms Flournoy, who was set to be the first woman to direct the world's most powerful military if Mrs Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2016.
The removal "was seen as sort of punishing... and it underscores the narrative in Europe, unfortunately, that the United States cannot be relied upon, that we can't be counted on to sort of stick with them, that we don't value the Nato alliance relationships", she lamented.
Another Biden adviser, Ms Kathleen Hicks, also critiqued the Germany troop removal, writing in the newspaper The Hill in August that the move "benefits our adversaries".
The move "comes at the cost of readiness" and "will be expensive", said Dr Hicks, director of the International Security Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Moving is expensive
And Dr Hicks was sceptical of the money-saving powers of Mr Esper's assurances that the troops withdrawn from Germany would be replaced with rotations of new units.
"Relocating 11,900 forces, dependants and equipment, and securing new capacity for living, working and training take more money," she pointed out.
Dr Hicks was nominated on Monday to head the Democrats' team managing the presidential transition at the Department of Defence.
Germany, which hosts more US troops than any other European country - a legacy of the Allied occupation after World War II - is ready to turn the page on the Trump years.
But during a September interview with AFP, the German head of transatlantic relations, Mr Peter Beyer, hedged on the removal plan.
"The controversial issues won't go away overnight, but with Biden, the transatlantic friendship would become more reasonable, calculable and reliable again," he said.
Ms Flournoy didn't say whether she would be in favour of keeping all of the troops in question in Germany, but she did explain that she foresees a re-deployment of some forces farther east.
"And maybe we need more in the Baltics or in Poland or somewhere else, Romania, but that was not what was driving this (move in Germany)," she said.