Germany on the defence over military spending shortfalls

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas . EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN [EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN]

Germany restated its commitment to higher defence spending on Wednesday (3 April), seeking to defuse tensions between Berlin and Washington after a storm of criticism from the Trump administration over Germany’s shortfalls in NATO contributions.

Speaking at an event in Washington to mark NATO’s 70th anniversary, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reaffirmed Germany’s plan to honour its commitments and increase defence spending by 2024.

“We have reversed the falling defence expenditure trend,” he maintained, adding that “since 2014, we have increased our defence expenditure by almost 40%.”

He pointed to the fact that “burden sharing is more than defence expenditure. Anyone asking about burden sharing must look at the entire spectrum of resources, capabilities, and contributions to NATO operations and Alliance defence.”

Germany has been the second largest contributor to NATO forces in Afghanistan. It is currently part of the forward presence on NATO’s Eastern flank and has taken over the command of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.

“You can rely on Germany,” said Maas. “We stand by NATO because we need it.”

During the 2014 Wales summit, NATO members pledged to reach a target of 2% of GDP in defence expenditure by 2024. However, in May 2018, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen indicated that Germany would commit to 1.5% of GDP by 2024.

However, a recent medium-term budget draft proposal by German finance minister Olaf Scholz (SDP) has poured cold water over the commitments made to NATO as it provides at best for only 1.26% as of 2023.

According to projections, between 2023 and 2024 Germany’s defence spending would have to increase by tens of billions if the NATO target is to be achieved, but that will have to be decided by a new government following the elections in 2021.

But true is that the currently released German budget which Pence is referring to, speaks of spending targets for the year 2020.

The suggestion that Germany might deliberately miss its own defence spending target, which is already short of the NATO goal, has triggered harsh responses from Washington.

US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, then stated that Berlin’s consideration of “reducing its already unacceptable commitments to military readiness is a worrisome signal to Germany’s 28 NATO allies.”

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump once again criticised Germany over defence spending shortfalls, though he praised Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany does not pay its fair share within NATO, he said after a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House. The US paid a large share, which was “very unfair,” Trump then added.

Stoltenberg said NATO member countries have in general added 41 billion to their defence spending in the last two years and he expected that figure to rise to 100 billion next year.

Later on Wednesday), US Vice President Mike Pence again singled out Germany for not paying enough into NATO coffers and also criticised its decision to proceed with building the controversial Russian-backed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

“NATO is a mutual defence pact, not a unilateral security agreement,” Pence said in remarks at a conference on the occasion of NATO’s 70th anniversary in Washington.

“More of our allies are now meeting their commitments, but still others are falling short. And, as we all acknowledge, Germany is their leader,” Pence said.

Germany is Europe’s largest economy and leading exporter and has “benefited for generations from the protection of the United States,” Pence said.

“And yet, while we stand here, Germany still refuses to invest the necessary two percent of its gross domestic product for our common defence. Germany must do more,” he said.

Defence spending is not the only issue over which Germany will face criticism as NATO foreign ministers meet in Washington (4-5 April) to discuss burden sharing, relations with Russia and Black Sea security.

“We cannot ensure the defence of the West if our allies grow dependent on Russia,” Pence said referring to Germany’s relationship with Moscow.

Pence said that if Germany persists in building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would bring gas from Russia to Germany, it could “turn Germany’s economy into literally a captive of Russia.”

“It is simply unacceptable for Europe’s largest economy to continue to ignore the threat of Russian aggression and neglect its own self-defence and our common defence at such a level,” said Pence, “and it’s also wrong for Germany to allow itself to become energy dependent on Russia.”

Responding to the accusations, Maas said Germany is “aware of the concerns of eastern and central European partners in particular and we take these concerns seriously.”

At the same time, however, he argued that this does not “mean breaking off all channels of dialogue with Russia.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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