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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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  • Suzy Dixon

    Mattis is only 5000 percent correct. Germany, like much of Europe, it’s pretty pathetic. Imports Third World migrants that actually ARE a threat to Germany. Then it has the nerve to complain about Russia, yet fights spending a meager 2% GDP on defense.
    The German regime is full of amateurs that can’t keep their statements even somewhat congruent with their bad actions.

  • leoj

    Steinmeyer (SPD) was complaining about our ‘saber-rattling’ last year and now Gabriel is warning against an arms race. Clearly the question is not about the US commitment to NATO (after all, we meet our obligations and then some), but of German commitment to our common defense. I wonder what other sort of defense pacts could be formed with members we see eye-to-eye with, so that we can allow the Germans to go on their merry way.

    I’m sure the Russians have forgotten about or forgiven the Germans for their violent ways from Nevsky to Hitler. Of course they will come to respect and cherish German ‘soft power.’

    • Proverbs1618

      They need the money to spend on Muslim invaders. The idea that spending money on defense vs. spending money on feral Muslims is crazy talk.
      You know, this Muslim infestation, refusal to spend money on defense, etc etc…. It seems almost Biblical to me. Now, being a religious man I tend to see the Hand of God in a lot of places, but this is, I dunno, almost begs to be seen in those terms. Anyway, this is just my opinion, I could be wrong.

    • Disappeared4x

      Have you read Spengler’s latest, on the different political parties in Germany? The AfD “stooges for Moscow”. Perhaps the Germans have forgiven Russia, or something…but this does seem to mean we have to rethink what ‘populist’ means in Europe:

      Yes, ‘perhaps’ is my new starter word. Seems normal, enough.

      • leoj

        Yeah, I don’t agree. Schulz has said that he would look to form a centrist coalition government with CDU/CSU and not a left government with the Greens and Linke. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but I think this is part of the appeal of SPD at the moment. It wouldn’t differ that greatly from the present government, Merkel would be gone (that’s the important thing for a lot of people), and the center right party could act more like a party of the center right. AfD would likely go away or remain a minor, regional party.

        The people you usually hear touting Russia is Wagenknecht and sometimes the SPD. At any rate, I don’t expect AfD to be a major factor in this election. Behind Spengler’s rambling seems to be this conceit: Germany has not learned how to assert its national identity except through an atavistic nationalism that must inevitably try to reinterpret Germany’s past in a vicious and dangerous fashion. I wonder why he thinks that. How can he be certain? And when will they have the chance to learn? It was only a few years ago that Germans were finally comfortable with displaying their flag at soccer matches and feeling a slight degree of national pride. Fundamentally it is this view that keeps politicians, media, and public from reconsidering the policies that have contributed to an increasingly disastrous situation for the EU and especially the common currency. It has also driven the migrant crisis.

        Do you remember Project Fear against Brexit? This is the continental version. Now, German nationalism may be less savory than the English version. But then again maybe not. From my perspective, perhaps its time to give it a chance. After all, even if Petry were to gain in prominence, she isn’t likely to take decisions that profoundly affect the course of the whole continent on her own counsel and seemingly at the drop of a hat. And if she did, how would that be any different from Merkel? How could it possibly be worse?

        • Disappeared4x

          You deserve a better reply than this. I have now decided to ignore European political parties, at least until they have elections. Guess I learned my lesson trying to explain why Likud is Israel’s center past few years. TY for the Spengler review.

  • Beauceron

    If there Germans can’t be bothered to spend a mere 2% on there own defense– a number they have agreed to for years– I don’t see why we should be worried about their defense. Close down the US bases in Germany.

  • Disappeared4x

    Perhaps Germany can be persuaded to shift their UNRWA funding to supply to Hamas and Fatah the same textbooks that re-educated post-WW2 Germans into renouncing militarism and Jew-hatred ?

  • Andrew Allison

    Surely the issue is not whether of not some political hack in Germany thinks that the 2% target is real, but whether President Trump does. It does seem clear that the Europeans not carrying their weight will never do so until forced to. Quick solution would be to reduce US NATO spending to 2% and enter into bilateral agreements with countries meeting the target.

    • Disappeared4x

      POTUS might send Germany an itemized invoice first, starting with the 1948-49 Berlin airlift. Before he attends the May NATO meeting in Brussels.

      • Andrew Allison

        Nah, what’s done is done (and it was arguably in the interest of the USA to carry NATO until the fall of the Evil Empire (a.k.a. USSR). We need to look to a future wherein we have no particular reason to defend Europe at our expense. It’s very simple: you’ve been freeloading for long enough; that stops now.

        • Disappeared4x

          Germans respond to itemized detailed data. During the 2009 Greek crisis, we learned that paying taxes in Greece was flexible. Greece wanted reparations from Germany for WW2. My thought: Germany should offer to deploy a battalion of tax collectors.
          TY again – about to start the Cold War Vol 3 tomorrow.

        • D4x

          Ha! I knew it! “Germany slams ‘intimidating’ £300bn White House bill” Bojan Pancevski March 26 2017, 12:01am, The Sunday Times “Donald Trump handed the German chancellor Angela Merkel a bill — thought to be for more than £300bn — for money her country “owed” Nato for defending it when they met last weekend, German government sources have revealed.

          The bill — handed over during private talks in Washington — was described as “outrageous” by one German minister.

          “The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations,” the minister said.

          Trump appeared to go one step further during his meeting with Merkel. Taking 2002 as a starting point, his officials calculated the extent to which German defence spending had fallen short of the 2% target each year, added the amount together — and then put interest on top.

          US officials told their German counterparts they chose 2002 because, they claim, that was the year Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, committed his country to higher defence spending.

          Neither side revealed the total, though official figures suggest a cumulative shortfall of more than £250bn. Addition of compound interest would take the amount past £300bn. According to diplomatic sources, Trump had his staff prepare similar calculations for all other Nato members below the 2% target.

          A source close to Merkel was dismissive. “The president has a very unorthodox view on Nato defence spending,” the source said. “The alliance is not a club with a membership fee. The commitments relate to countries’
          investment in their defence budgets.”

          Merkel is said to have “ignored the provocation”, but did commit to raise German defence spending gradually, although she asked for spending on international development to be taken into consideration.”

          [Imagining the bill if POTUS had started in 1948!]

    • Boritz

      The German political parties are constantly jockeying for position on what they will pay for retirement, children, and the unemployed. Refugees too, but they usually discuss that at a different meeting. Those are the elements they care about. Distraction from this is an annoyance.

  • Jim__L

    Could Germany be playing a long game here?

    Say Germany would like to see American bases removed from German territory. Say, further, that Germany isn’t worried about Russian aggression in the near term.

    It seems to me that keeping defense spending (ostensibly) low in the near term, and make plans to raise it once American bases get closed down (or if Russia becomes a real threat), is a good strategy, if what they really want is independence from both the Russia AND the US.

    If Germany is pursuing strong technology acquisition programs — both through native research and through international acquisitions, both above-board and sub-rosa — that would be evidence they could be pursuing this strategy.

    Darmstadt has been beating the US at subatomic physics for quite some time; they’ve almost certainly got the technical chops to start a nuclear weapons program if they so desired. The move away from nuclear energy is a piece that doesn’t fit certainly, although it could be a matter of misdirection — replacing their aging reactors with modern ones would be a good reason to pour lots of money into nuclear research without raising too many eyebrows.

    Eh, interesting to think about.

    • leoj

      There’s a lot of talk about an EU army in which Germany would of course play an outsized role. Hard to see how any of this would redound to the benefit of a Eurocratic left that remains thoroughly committed to ‘soft power’ fixes. And how would the SPD square their support for nuclear weapons with their refusal to use nuclear for power generation? It seems much more likely that if Europe rearms outside of NATO, it will spell the end of a certain cosmopolitan left. I think it’s delusional to think that a union as dysfunctional as the EU could successfully build a unified military, but these people are not known for their keen sense of predicting the likely effects of their own actions.

  • WigWag

    The Germans have the fourth largest GDP in the world yet they believe that they should be defended by working class boys and girls from South Carolina, Georgia, upstate New York, Ohio and Texas. To make matters worse, they think the working class families that those kids come from should pay for it all with their tax dollars.

    The Germans are not our allies; in many ways they are more venal adversaries than the nations we usually think of as our adversaries.

    I just hope that Trump doesn’t go soft on NATO and the rest of Europe in the interests of political expediency. Mattis and Tillerson are both card-carrying members of the Uniparty. I don’t trust either of them.

    • Angel Martin

      I don’t think this issue is going away. Trump has bipartisan support on this one. Even liberals like Obama are sick of european defence freeloading.

      Right now NATO is like a carriage pulled by 5 horses, with 23 other loafers riding in the wagon who do nothing but complain about the speed, direction and behavior of the horses doing the pulling.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I’m sure Trump means what he’s saying. He’s honored more of his promises in a month than any politician in living memory. Since most of them lately have been over promising and then not delivering (not even trying most of the time). I think he knows he will have to crack the whip hard to get NATO back to viability, if it can be brought back at all. Personally I think it best to get rid of it. Turkey for one isn’t even democratic, and hasn’t been helpful since Erdogan came to power. Bilateral allies seems like a better fit for America for the future. Britain, Poland, the Baltic States, and maybe a few others. The level of Socialism, other Leftist policies, and the Big Government Monopolies necessary to implement them, are an excessive burden for European States, and they’re all in decline because of this fact. Nations which are steadily getting weaker, make poor allies.

  • Proud Skeptic

    So Germany, the strongest economy in Europe, can’t manage to spend about one half (in terms of percent GDP) what the US spends on defense? I have a friend in France who told me that all of his income until August goes to pay taxes. I imagine Germany is about the same. Apparently taking until the end of September is the magic break point at which taxation becomes a burden.
    God Bless America

  • Boritz

    Time to go Art of the Deal on them and demand they spend 6%.

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