Ger­many’s de­fence min­is­ter re­jects Trump com­ment about Nato ‘debt’

The Guardian - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ur­sula von der Leyen, the Ger­man de­fence min­is­ter, has re­jected Don­ald Trump’s claim that Ger­many owes Nato and the US “vast sums” of money for de­fence, in an es­ca­lat­ing row about con­tri­bu­tions.

“There is no debt ac­count at Nato,” Von der Leyen said, adding that it was wrong to link the tar­get for mem­bers to spend 2% of their eco­nomic out­put on de­fence by 2024 solely to Nato.

“De­fence spend­ing also goes into UN peace­keep­ing mis­sions, into our Euro­pean mis­sions and into our con­tri­bu­tion to the fight against [Isis] ter­ror­ism,” Von der Leyen (pic­tured right) said.

Trump, who was spend­ing the week­end at his Mar-a-Lago prop­erty in Florida, said on Twit­ter on Satur­day – a day af­ter meet­ing An­gela Merkel, the Ger­man chan­cel­lor, in Wash­ing­ton – that Ger­many owed “vast sums of money to Nato & the United States must be paid more for the pow­er­ful, and very ex­pen­sive, de­fense it pro­vides to Ger­many!” Although Merkel’s visit to the White House be­gan cor­dially, with the pair shak­ing hands at the White House en­trance, Merkel’s sug­ges­tion of an­other hand­shake in the Oval Of­fice went un­heard or ig­nored by Trump – an awk­ward mo­ment dur­ing what would usu­ally be a highly scripted oc­ca­sion. “I don’t be­lieve he heard the re­quest,” Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer told the Ger­man weekly Der Spiegel, which was pub­lished yes­ter­day.

But Ger­many’s top-sell­ing Bild news­pa­per said that was “im­prob­a­ble”, adding that, through­out the meet­ing, Trump did not once look Merkel in the eye.

Trump has urged Ger­many and other Nato mem­bers to ac­cel­er­ate ef­forts to meet Nato’s de­fence spend­ing tar­get.

Von der Leyen 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 de­fence union and in­vest­ment in the United Na­tions.

Ger­man de­fence spend­ing is to rise by €1.4bn to €38.5bn (£33bn) in 2018 – a fig­ure that is pro­jected to rep­re­sent 1.26% of eco­nomic out­put, Wolf­gang Schäu­ble, the fi­nance min­is­ter, has said. In 2016, Ger­many’s de­fence spend­ing pro­por­tion was 1.18%.

Dur­ing her trip to Wash­ing­ton, Merkel re­it­er­ated Ger­many’s com­mit­ment to the 2% mil­i­tary spend­ing goal.

Af­ter Trump’s words on Twit­ter, crit­ics pointed out that Nato mem­bers did not pay the US for se­cu­rity, but con­trib­uted by spend­ing on their 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 … it is part of our treaty com­mit­ment.”

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