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Germany challenges NATO spending

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson once again asked European counterparts to pay for Washington's commitment to NATO on Friday, but Germany is not buying it.

Published: April 1, 2017, 10:29 am

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    Tillerson called on alliance members to submit new defense budget plans by May during a meeting of NATO’s foreign ministers in Brussels.

    “As President Trump has made clear, it is no longer sustainable for the US to maintain a disproportionate share of NATO’s defense expenditures,” Tillerson said. He urged progress toward the agreed goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense, agreed on at the 2014 Wales summit. Only five countries at present are above the 2 percent spending mark.

    While US defense expenditure makes up about 70 percent of the total NATO allies’ defense spending, only four European NATO members – Estonia, Greece, Poland and Britain – meet the two-percent target.

    Tillerson’s suggested that the Americans would prefer to micromanage the process, by setting annual milestones that would ensure the defense investment pledge is implemented by the 2024 deadline, the WSJ reported.

    German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, also present, said quite bluntly however that Germany has no intention of meeting the 2 percent goal. “I don’t know a politician in Germany who believes that this would be achievable or even desirable,” Gabriel said. He called the goal “totally unrealistic”, because to meet the US target, he said, Germany would have to increase spending by some €35 billion.

    “The United States will realise it is better to talk about better spending instead of more spending,” he said, pointing out that humanitarian, development and economic aid to stabilise countries and regions should also count.

    He added dryly that Germany already has a “national plan” and “it’s called the budget”.

    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, said the US needed Europe as well. “Two World Wars and the Cold War have taught us all that stability in Europe is of course important for Europe, but it’s also important for the United States,” he said, “and the only time we have invoked Article 5 was after the attack on the United States. Hundreds of thousands of European soldiers and other partner nations have served in Afghanistan alongside US soldiers, and more than a thousand have lost their lives in Afghanistan in an operation which was a direct response to an attack on the United States.”

    Stoltenberg rejected Gabriel’s call to include non-military spending toward the goal, he said Germany was moving “in the right direction” with more military spending after years of cuts.

    Trump said during his presidential campaign that NATO member countries should increase defense spending to support the organisation.

    The Times of London reported last month that Trump apparently had handed over a bill for NATO during Merkel’s visit to Washington DC for $375 billion, an invoice for “overdue” defense expenses.

    Per The Hill, Merkel ignored the invoice but it has ruffled German feathers. In response to the claims, German defence minister Ursula Von der Leyen rejected the notion the European nation owed the US or NATO.

    She issued a statement noting that: “There is no debt account at NATO. Defence spending also goes into UN peacekeeping missions, into our European missions and into our contribution to the fight against [Isis] terrorism.”

    “The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side,” a German minister told the newspaper.

    A senior NATO official told the Financial Times in London that there was no consensus among ministers about the division between spending, military capabilities and operational commitments.

    Meanwhile the German military, the Bundeswehr, a high-value target for hackers and foreign spy agencies due to its IT-supported weapons systems, has launched its own cyber command.

    “Cyber and Information Space Command” (CIR), which will become operational today, on April 1, becoming the sixth branch of the German military. The Bundeswehr says it sees itself “at the international forefront”.

    German Air Force General Ludwig Leinhos, was a cyber warfare specialist and responsible for “Cyber Defense” at NATO’s Brussels headquarters until early 2016, but is now leading the German “Cyber Cluster”, aiming to be capable of comprehensive defense in cyberspace, by 2021.

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