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Von der Leyen promises more military spending

February 16, 2018

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Germany is ready to step up globally in her opening speech at the Munich Security Conference. Speaking to DW, she said Berlin would increase its defense budget.

A German flag on the shoulder of a Bundeswehr soldier
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K.-J.Hildenbrand

Munich Security Conference - DW talks to Ursula von der Leyen

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen hailed recent European efforts to bolster military cooperation and pledged increased German defense spending in an interview with DW on Friday.

Von der Leyen's comments followed her speech opening  this year's Munich Security Conference. In it, she criticized US cuts in funding to foreign aid and the United Nations.

Read more: Is Europe bold enough to counter US ambivalence?

What von der Leyen said:

  • European Union countries already achieved much by agreeing to establish Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO),  a pact agreed to in December to develop common defense equipment and improve military decision-making. "We made a huge step forward ... we have a legal frame around the European Defense Union for the very first time," she said.
  • Von der Leyen said PESCO was not a rival to the NATO alliance, but would allow Europe to act on its own when needed: "NATO will always be collective defense, but there are other tasks ... where Europe is needed."
  • She also cited the government coalition agreement between Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democratic Party in which both sides pledged more money for the German military after years of decline. "There will be billions for defense ... because we said we would raise the budgets one by one."

Read more: Changing Europe revives interest in an EU military

NATO reacts: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told DW he welcomed Germany's promise to increase its military budget and EU efforts to strengthen the bloc's defense cooperation. But Stoltenberg said EU cooperation was "not an alternative to NATO," but would "strengthen the European pillar within NATO."

Germany will do more: Von der Leyen said in her opening speech that Germany was willing to take on more international responsibility. In addition to increased defense spending, Germany would also pay more into the United Nations budget.

Read more: Eight facts about the Munich Security Conference

Europe must do more: Opening the conference with French Defense Minister Florence Parly, von der Leyen also said EU countries needed to build on the momentum of PESCO and consider a similar type of agreement for EU foreign policy decision-making.

Read more: MSC chief Ischinger warns of high global danger of war

Criticism of US aid cuts: The 59-year-old minister also criticized planned US spending cuts for foreign aid and the UN. "It is a point of concern to us to see that some of our partners continue to roll back spending on diplomacy, international aid and the United Nations," she said. She added that the US and European countries needed to invest in both military and non-military capabilities to tackle modern threats.

amp/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)