German ministers pushed back on criticism from the US over Berlin's defense budget. Despite emphasizing the importance of the military alliance, German lawmakers only narrowly passed a motion on strengthening NATO.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas sought to brush off doubts from the United States over Germany's commitment to NATOon Thursday, saying that Berlin is "determined to fulfil our commitments."
"We will do our part to ensure that NATO can meet all the challenges of the future," Maas said in Washington ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
Back in Berlin, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen repeated the government's pledge to spend more on defense, albeit in smaller increments than Washington would like.
Germany plans to increase its defense spending to 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2024 and will then try to hit NATO's 2 percent target at an unspecified point in the future.
Speaking in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, she added that "we cannot allow any doubt to arise regarding our solidarity" from partners in North America to ones in Europe.
The comments came as parliament marked the 70th anniversary of NATO's founding, and amid hefty criticism from US President Donald Trump and others in his administration over Germany's contributions.
"It is simply unacceptable for Europe's largest economy to continue to ignore the threat of Russian aggression and neglect its own self-defense and our common defense," Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday.
NATO motion narrowly passes
Despite attempting to dispel doubts about Berlin's commitment to the military alliance, the German government suffered an embarrassing slip-up on Thursday when a NATO motion barely passed through parliament.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition proposed a motion on the government's NATO strategy, calling for strengthening the military alliance as the backbone of European and trans-Atlantic security.
However, not enough lawmakers from Merkel's coalition were present in parliament during the regular vote, meaning there was no clear majority — with the environmentalist Greens and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) voting against it in large numbers on Thursday. The far-left party, Die Linke, is usually a staunch critic of NATO as well.
Lawmakers then had to split up and vote in what is called a "Hammelsprung" — where they leave the plenary hall and vote by walking through one of three doors which are marked "yes," "no," or "abstention."
The measure then narrowly passed with a vote of 324 to 245.
Amendments to the government's motion that were filed by the Greens, the socialist Left party, and the business-friendly Free Democrats were all rejected.
Read more: Opinion — Don't give up on NATO just yet
2 percent is 'a fictitious number'
Although Germany has pledged to spend more money, it is unsure how the NATO defense budget goal will be reached.
Last year's defense spending was around 1.23 percent, with government officials expecting to bump it up to 1.26 percent by 2023.
Germany is hurting its credibility by not holding to its pledge to significantly increase defense spending, said Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who took over from Merkel as the head of the Christian Democrats in December.
The low rate at which Germany has upped its defense spending is "one of the biggest political open flanks that we have in debates with the United States," Kramp-Karrenbauer told the Heilbronner Stimme newspaper.
Germany's opposition, on the other hand, is reluctant to hold to the 2 percent spending target, which the Greens foreign policy spokesman described as "a fictitious number."
The figure "has nothing at all to do with [defense] needs and certainly does nothing to automatically bring more security," the Greens' Omid Nouripour told German radio Deutschlandfunk.
rs/msh (AFP, dpa)