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