Commitment Issues
Germany on 2 Percent Spending Target: Not So Fast

The Trump administration has made burden-sharing a key pillar of its NATO policy, asking allies to accelerate their efforts to reach the 2 percent of GDP defense spending target. A top German official, however, is casting doubt on Berlin’s commitment. Deutsche Welle:

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Wednesday said NATO‘s defense spending target for member states of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) was not a rigid rule agreed upon by every nation in the alliance.

“I am concerned that politicians make public promises that they can’t fulfill later on,” Gabriel said after meeting with Estonia’s foreign minister in Tallinn. “There is no apodictic 2 percent goal, but rather … we should be moving in that direction.”

Gabriel’s public line differs from Angela Merkel and her defense secretary, who are at least rhetorically committed to the 2 percent target. Part of the disagreement is a matter of domestic politics: although they work together in a coalition, Gabriel’s Social Democrats (SPD) have traditionally taken a more skeptical view of defense spending than Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Still, Gabriel’s view is hardly an outlier, and there are reasons to question whether even a Merkel-led government has any real intention of accelerating its budget hikes. Most Germans remain hesitant to increase military commitments, seeing such efforts as a relic of a militaristic past. And the Germans face a steep climb to achieve the NATO targets, which would require an additional 25 billion Euros, or a 60 percent increase to the existing defense budget.  Merkel, for her part, has said that Germany should reach the target by 2024, but has offered little clarity about how to get there and shows no intention of accelerating the trend despite recent U.S. pressure.

Defense Secretary Mattis recently warned that the U.S. would “moderate” its NATO commitment if other allies don’t pay up, clearly echoing orders coming from above; President Trump considered the burden-sharing issue significant enough to mention it during his joint address to Congress on Tuesday. How much time the Trump Administration is willing to give its allies—Germany especially—to get up to 2 percent before it “moderates” is the big unknown.

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