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Trump slams Germany on defense spending

Lewis Sanders IV
March 8, 2018

The US president has claimed Germany and other NATO members "owe billions" for falling short of spending targets. German politicians have previously addressed his views of how NATO funding and defense spending work.

A German Tornado jet at the al-Asrak airbase in Jordan
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

US President Donald Trump on Thursday singled out Germany for failing to meet a defense spending target of 2 percent of GDP agreed upon between members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Speaking ahead of a Cabinet meeting, Trump said "some friends and enemies" had "taken advantage" of the US "on trade and on military."

Read more: How does Germany contribute to NATO?

"If you look at NATO, where Germany pays 1 percent and we are paying 4.2 percent of a much bigger GDP – that's not fair," Trump said.

Last year, Germany spent 1.13 percent of GDP, far below the NATO target agreed upon between member states in 2014 in Wales. In the agreement, member states were given until 2024 to reach that goal. Berlin has vowed to follow through on that commitment.

Politics at play

How Germany achieves this target is a contentious subject domestically, with arguments that often fall along party lines.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have backed a straightforward interpretation of the NATO target and promised to meet that goal by 2024.

Read more: Germany mulls a real, but unrealistic, pledge on defense spending

Outgoing Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel of the Social Democrats (SPD) has argued that the target should be revamped to include other factors, such as humanitarian aid and stabilization programs, which he says also contribute to defense and security.

Map showing defense spending across NATO


Trump's latest criticism is not new though. Last year, he claimed Germany owed "vast sums of money to NATO and the United States."

Von der Leyen responded to that allegation, saying: "There is no account where debts are registered with NATO." It is unlikely that he meant NATO's "common-funder budgets and programs," of which German is the second-largest funder behind the United States.

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

Despite earlier clarifications, Trump on Wednesday renewed his claim that several NATO member states "owe billions," adding that "they haven't made payment."

Of NATO's 29 member states, only five have met the target as of last year, including the US, Estonia, Greece, Poland and the UK.

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