Germany’s New Defense Minister Says Military Budget Hike is Insufficient

By James Carstensen | September 11, 2019 | 8:16pm EDT
Incoming German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, right, and her predecessor Ursula von der Leyen review an honour guard in Berlin in July. (Photo by Axel Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Berlin (CNSNews.com) – Amid ongoing tensions with the U.S. over German defense spending, new Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told lawmakers here Wednesday that the government’s latest defense budget increase was “not sufficient” to meet its needs.

“Germany cannot and should not step back from playing a prominent role in the world,” said Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is also leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats party.

She added that Germany should take a more decisive role in both foreign policy and as part of multilateral defense organizations. “The country should not let decisions be taken over our heads which go against our own interests in particular the money for the security and foreign policy,” she said.

The Bundeswehr has long grappled with equipment problems, with the latest scandal arising last week following the revelation that troops would have to wait eight years for new boots.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said the draft budget of 44.9 billion euro ($49.4 billion) for the defense ministry in 2020 – an increase of 1.7 billion euro ($1.87 billion) – was “good news.” But, she added, the increase would not be enough to fund projects such as a successor to Tornado fighter jets, or to maintain contributions to missions such as a peacekeeping operation in Mali.

The latest budget increase will lift defense spending from 1.2 to 1.37 percent of the country’s GDP – still well below the two percent of GDP which NATO allies agreed in 2014 they would aim to reach by 2024.

In fact, current finance ministry projections forecast the defense budget to drop rather than increase, dipping to 44 billion euro ($48.4 billion), or 1.24 percent of GDP, by 2023.

The U.S. has repeatedly called on Germany to increase spending toward the NATO target.

“We have made clear that meeting the NATO obligation of paying two percent of your GDP for defense is important for the largest economy in Europe,” U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell said in an interview last month.

Despite pledging that Germany was committed to meeting the NATO target, Merkel acknowledged recently that its current aim was only 1.5 percent.

“We want to achieve 1.5 percent by 2024. And that is our common will,” Merkel said at a panel discussion last month, then added that this would not violate the pledge, as the agreement was technically “toward two percent.”

“So this means in the direction of two percent, and we will continue to go in this direction also after 2024,” she said.

On Monday, President Trump claimed he had successfully pushed European allies in NATO to “pay an additional $100 billion in the last year and a half that they weren’t paying.”

“They were delinquent,” he told supporters at a rally in North Carolina. “Now we’re finally making immensely wealthy countries pay the cost of their defense.”

As a result, Trump added that NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg was his “biggest fan.”

A Pew Research survey in 2018 found that 80 percent of Germans felt relations with America had declined under the Trump administration.

At Monday’s rally, Trump attributed his unpopularity in Germany to his insistence that Germany increase its defense spending.

“I read where [President] Obama is more popular in Germany than Trump,” he said. “He's got to be: I’m making people pay their bills.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer in July succeeded Ursula von der Leyen, who has been elected as the next president of the European Commission.

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