WIESBADEN, Germany ― The head of the U.S. Army has said he wants Germany to “live up to its commitments” within NATO, as the question of defense spending remains unresolved due to the European nation’s ongoing government talks.
“Two percent is the minimum,” Mark Esper told reporters at the U.S. Army Europe headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, on Monday, referring to a common goal by alliance members to increase their defense spending toward 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024.
“It’s important we all live up to our commitments because if not, it weakens the alliance,” Esper said.
Negotiations between the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have yet to hammer out a compromise on the issue of defense-spending levels for the new government. While the SPD supported the NATO defense-spending target when it was adopted by the alliance in 2014, the party campaigned last year on the premise that an increase from the current 1.2 percent or so would be impractical and unnecessary.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU backs the 2 percent target, with its sister party, the CSU, pushing last month that the objective should be explicitly made part of any formal coalition agreement.
U.S. President Donald Trump has bluntly criticized Germany for benefiting from NATO’s security guarantees without paying adequately into the alliance. Opponents of the 2 percent goal in Germany argue that the country, which does not maintain a costly nuclear weapons complex, would be ill-prepared to put such a rapid influx ― from €37 billion now to €72 billion in 2024 ― to good use in its armed forces.
Meanwhile, some European NATO member states, including Germany, are in the process of establishing a separate defense apparatus under the banner of the European Union, which will require its own funding stream.
Asked whether he sees competing priorities in that development, Esper argued that NATO should remain the “foundation” of security on the continent.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.