Merkel Criticizes Trump Over North Korea; Germany Won’t Provide More Troops for Afghanistan

By James Carstensen | August 24, 2017 | 6:28 PM EDT

President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany in July. (Photo: White House/Flickr)

Berlin ( – German Chancellor Angela Merkel sharply criticized President Trump on Wednesday, declaring that Germany would not blindly follow the U.S. into a war with North Korea and denouncing the president’s “America First” policy.

Despite the unusual public criticism from the chancellor, her government has voiced support in principle for Trump’s newly-announced Afghanistan strategy – although it says Germany does not plan to increase its troop numbers there.

Addressing a panel in Berlin Wednesday, the chancellor said, “I do not agree that all diplomatic means have been exhausted [with North Korea]” and called the escalation in tensions “wrong.”

Merkel insisted there was “no military solution” to the standoff over the regime’s nuclear and missile programs, and that diplomacy was the only option.

She added that Germany was prepared to help find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

While Merkel acknowledged that Trump was democratically elected and deserved respect regardless of local opinion, she questioned his approach to international relations.

“Each of us represents the interests of our countries and our citizens and we have to try to do as much as we can to advance these interests,” she conceded.

However, “an America that does not care about the rest of the world and just thinks about itself does not make for a big and great country.”

German-U.S. relations have been strained since Trump’s inauguration. His withdrawal from the Paris climate accord prompted Merkel to say last spring that the U.S. can “no longer” be relied upon.

The president has also slammed Germany’s trade surplus, accused Germany of owing NATO “vast sums” of money, and pressed it to spend more on defense.

Against that background, Trump’s newly-announced approach to Afghanistan, incorporating calls for more backing from NATO allies, drew mixed reactions in Germany. 

“We will ask our NATO allies and global partners to support our new strategy, with additional troop and funding increases in line with our own,” Trump said in his announcement on Monday. “We are confident they will.”

Merkel’s government called the strategy the “right thing to do” and in a statement agreed with Trump that “that the end of operations there [must] be based on realities on the ground” rather than pre-announced timetables.

At the same time, however, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Germany would not be boosting troop numbers in Afghanistan.

“We increased our troop numbers by 18 percent last year when other countries were cutting theirs,” she said during a visit to a submarine base in northern Germany. “So we don’t see ourselves in the front row of people who should be asked for more.”

Germany currently has a little fewer than 1,000 troops committed to NATO’s roughly 13,570-strong Resolute Support mission to “train, advise and assist” Afghan forces, making it the third largest contributor after the United States and Italy.

German Marshall Fund senior fellow Bruno Lete voiced skepticism that Europe would fully back Trump’s call for increased deployment.

“Nearly a thousand European soldiers have died in Afghanistan to date,” Deutsche Welle quoted him as saying. “Europe sees little result and a country with an uncertain future. Hence, neither politicians or the public opinion in Europe feel much appetite to go down the military road again.”

Meanwhile Merkel reaffirmed Wednesday that Germany would work towards reaching the NATO goal of spending two percent of its GDP on defense by 2024.

Her pledge drew criticism from Social Democrat Martin Schulz, the chancellor’s main opponent in next month’s national election.

He accused Merkel of bowing to pressure from the president. “It can’t be that Germany, without comment and without action, continues to take part in an armament spiral as Trump wants,” he told an SDP meeting.

Schulz also called for the removal of any U.S. nuclear weapons stored in Germany, saying the recent tension between the U.S. and North Korea “shows more than ever before how urgently necessary it is to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to promote disarmament.”

Schulz stepped up his criticism of Trump at a rally Wednesday, accusing Trump of contributing to the “brutalization of morals” and comparing him to Germany’s far-right Alternative for Deutschland party.

Merkel has pushed back against the defense spending criticism, noting that the four percent of GDP pledge was made by all NATO partners three years ago and “has absolutely nothing to do with the current president.”

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