No, Ger­many doesn’t owe ‘vast sums’ to the United States for NATO

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - AMANDA ERICKSON Rick Noack con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Fresh off the heels of a dust-up with Bri­tain, Pres­i­dent Trump at­tacked an­other key ally — Ger­many. At a news con­fer­ence Fri­day with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, Trump “re­it­er­ated” his “need for our NATO al­lies to pay their fair share for the cost of de­fense.” He fol­lowed up Satur­day with an im­politic dou­ble-bar­reled tweet shot, writ­ing that Ger­many owes Amer­ica “vast sums of money” for NATO. And, he ar­gued, the United States should be paid more “for the pow­er­ful, and very ex­pen­sive, de­fense it pro­vides.”

Se­cu­rity ex­perts quickly at­tacked the flaws in Trump’s logic. On Twit­ter, former U.S. am­bas­sador to NATO Ivo Daalder wrote that in­creased de­fense spend­ing in Ger­many isn’t trans­ferred to the United States. He also pointed out that NATO de­cided to make the 2 per­cent re­quire­ment manda­tory just a cou­ple of years ago. The al­liance gave all mem­ber states un­til 2024 to reach that goal, and Ger­many is on track.

“Trump’s com­ments mis­rep­re­sent the way NATO func­tions,” Daalder told us. “The pres­i­dent keeps say­ing that we need to be paid by the Euro­peans for the fact that we have troops in Europe or pro­vide de­fense there. But that’s not how it works.”

De­spite such cri­tiques, this line of ar­gu­ment has been a nearcon­stant re­frain for Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Since the cam­paign, he’s ar­gued that other coun­tries aren’t con­tribut­ing what they should for the de­fense al­liance. NATO mem­bers are urged to con­trib­ute 2 per­cent of their GDP to de­fense spend­ing. Ger­many pays 1.2 per­cent; the United States kicks in more than 3 per­cent. Four other coun­tries — Greece, Es­to­nia, Poland and Bri­tain — also meet their obli­ga­tion.

Those num­bers, though, don’t tell the whole story.

Since World War II, Ger­many has in­ten­tion­ally kept its mil­i­tary small. The coun­try de­fines it­self by its paci­fism and its com­mit­ment to the idea of “never again.” Ger­many’s de­fense spend­ing — or lack thereof — has fre­quently been crit­i­cized and mocked. In 2014, for in­stance, Ger­man forces made head­lines when they used broom­sticks in­stead of ma­chine guns dur­ing a NATO ex­er­cise, ex­pos­ing the state of the coun­try’s un­der­equipped mil­i­tary.

But, Ger­mans ar­gue, they make up for that in other ways. As Merkel ar­gued in a speech last month, mu­tual se­cu­rity goes be­yond mil­i­tary spend­ing. In­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment aid for hos­pi­tals and schools, for ex­am­ple, does as much for peace as war­heads in Europe. “When we help peo­ple in their home coun­tries to live a bet­ter life and thereby pre­vent crises, this is also a con­tri­bu­tion to se­cu­rity,” Merkel said in Mu­nich. “So I will not be drawn into a de­bate about who is more mil­i­tary-minded and who is less.”

She and other Ger­man lead­ers also point out that they’re bear­ing the brunt of the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis, spend­ing 30 to 40 bil­lion eu­ros a year. If that were in­cluded in the tally, they say, they’d be putting more than 2 per­cent of their bud­get a year to­ward se­cu­rity. (They’re also quick to note that U.S. mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions are one rea­son there are so many dis­placed peo­ple from the Mid­dle East.)

Not ev­ery­one agrees. For the coun­tries on Europe’s eastern bor­der — places such as Poland, Latvia and Lithua­nia — mil­i­tary might isn’t an ab­stract idea but an in­sur­ance pol­icy against Rus­sian in­va­sion. (Rus­sia, for its part, keeps tanks and mis­siles stocked right up against the NATO bor­der.)

At last month’s con­fer­ence, Ar­tis Pabriks, a former de­fense min­is­ter of Latvia, re­sponded curtly: “For me, as a Lat­vian, it sounds a lit­tle bit bit­ter that sup­port for my borders and the se­cu­rity of my coun­try will be chal­lenged be­cause some other Euro­pean na­tions will not pay their share.”

And Jens Stoltenberg, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the al­liance, told Time mag­a­zine last month that “it’s not ei­ther de­vel­op­ment or se­cu­rity. We need both.” He con­tin­ued: “When we live in more chal­leng­ing times, we need to in­vest more in de­fense . . . . We need peace and se­cu­rity to fa­cil­i­tate de­vel­op­ment.”

Ger­many says it will in­crease its mil­i­tary spend­ing by about 3 bil­lion eu­ros per year for the next eight years. By 2024, the coun­try will be meet­ing its NATO com­mit­ment. That plan, though, needs to be ap­proved by the Ger­man gov­ern­ment and Par­lia­ment.

And Trump may be mak­ing that harder. As Mar­cel Dir­sus, a Ger­man se­cu­rity pol­i­tics scholar, ar­gued, the pres­i­dent’s pub­lic crit­i­cism of Ger­man de­fense spend­ing could back­fire, mak­ing it harder for Merkel to in­crease the coun­try’s de­fense bud­get, par­tic­u­larly just months be­fore a tough re­elec­tion cam­paign.

An “in­crease in de­fense spend­ing is un­pop­u­lar, and so is Don­ald Trump. By ‘or­der­ing’ Merkel to in­crease spend­ing, he will make it harder for her to sell that in­crease at home,” he said. “Noth­ing would be worse for Merkel than be­ing seen as tak­ing or­ders from Trump. Ul­ti­mately, I pre­dict Ger­many will in­crease spend­ing — but at the pace it had already com­mit­ted to.”

VALDA KALNINA/EURO­PEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Ger­man sol­diers in Sestokai, Lithua­nia, watch as Ger­man mil­i­tary equip­ment ar­rives as part of a NATO mis­sion in Eastern Europe.

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