German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday rejected US President Donald Trump’s claim that Germany owes NATO and the United States “vast sums” of money for defense a day after the US president met German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House.
“There is no debt account at NATO,” von der Leyen said in a statement, adding that it was wrong to link the alliance’s target for members to spend 2 percent of their economic output on defense by 2024 solely to NATO.
“Defense spending also goes into UN peacekeeping missions, into our European missions and into our contribution to the fight against ISIS terrorism,” von der Leyen said.
She said everyone wanted the burden to be shared fairly and for that to happen it was necessary to have a “modern security concept” that included a modern NATO but also a European defense union and investment in the United Nations.
Trump said on Twitter on Saturday that Germany “owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”
Trump has urged Germany and other NATO members to accelerate efforts to meet NATO’s defense spending target.
German defense spending is set to rise by 1.4 billion euros to 38.5 billion euros in 2018 – a figure that is projected to represent 1.26 percent of economic output, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said.
In 2016, Germany’s defense spending ratio stood at 1.18 percent.
During her trip to Washington, Merkel reiterated Germany’s commitment to the 2 percent military spending goal. Trump and Merkel showed little common ground over a host of thorny issues, including NATO and defense spending.
“Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS,” he tweeted, “I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”
That appeared to be far from the case on Friday, when the veteran German leader arrived hoping to reverse a chill in relations after Trump had said during his campaign last year that her decision to allow refugees into Germany was a “catastrophic mistake” and suggested she was “ruining Germany.”
A German government spokesman declined to comment about Trump’s tweets on Saturday, referring AFP to Merkel’s statements on the subject during Friday’s news conference.
Trump had made European defense spending an issue during his campaign, saying the United States — which spends just over three percent of its GDP on defense — carries too much of the financial burden for supporting NATO.
However, critics pointed out on Saturday that NATO members don’t pay the United States for security, but contribute by spending on their own militaries.
“Sorry, Mr President, that’s not how NATO works,” tweeted Ivo Daalder, a former US ambassador to NATO. “This is not a financial transaction, where NATO countries pay the US to defend them. It is part of our treaty commitment.”
“We fought two world wars in Europe, and one cold war,” he added. “Keeping Europe whole, free, and at peace, is vital US interest.”
US defense spending — $679 billion in 2016 — accounts for nearly 70 percent of the total defense budgets of NATO’s 28 members.