The Nato alliance is about decency and dependability, not just cash and contributions, Germany’s defence minister has said in a rebuke to Donald Trump over his insistence that European countries rapidly increase their defence spending.
Ursula von der Leyen told a gathering of defence ministers in Munich the alliance was about fairness in collective decision-making, and not just during military missions.
As the conference opened a study was published showing that European Nato members would have to raise their defence spending by £102bn a year to hit the 2% of GDP target set for 2024. That would require a 38% increase in spending, the International Institute for Strategic Studies said in its annual military balance report.
The failure of Washington’s European allies to get even close to that figure has infuriated the US president, who accuses them of freeloading. The US accounts for 70% of Nato states’ defence spending, the report found. It spent nearly $650bn (£506bn) in 2018, compared with around $250bn for all the European Nato members combined.
Trump’s anger over spending has fuelled concern about his commitment to the alliance. At a Nato summit in Brussels last year he made a blistering public attack on Berlin in a televised meeting with Angela Merkel.
Von der Leyen tried to defuse a potential replay of that row on Friday by insisting that calls for Germany to increase defence spending were justified. She also pointed out that the call to hit 2% had been made by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, but added, pointedly: “Yes, Nato is about cash and contributions but it is also about decency and dependability.”
Tensions are also likely to surface at the conference over the unilateral style of US foreign policy. Polls before the gathering found that most French and German respondents had greater confidence in Vladimir Putin’s leadership than Trump’s.
In an index of the damage caused by Trump’s “diplomacy by tweet” approach, defence ministers met to discuss the latest stage in the fight to defeat Islamic State (Isis) in north-east Syria after his unilateral decision to withdraw the 2,000 US troops in the country.