COLOGNE, Germany – German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is pushing for a new yardstick to measure Berlin's contributions to NATO, suggesting the country could shoulder 10 percent of alliance requirements.

The figure is meant to reflect the share of NATO’s total “planning targets,” which are tabulated periodically, a defense ministry spokesman told Defense News. Such math would be able to more accurately capture Germany’s efforts across the categories “cash, capabilities and commitments” than the current defense-spending objective of 2 percent of GDP, according to the spokesman.

Kramp-Karrenbauer has tried to sink the 2-percent target for some time, buoyed by the expected economic aftershocks of the coronavirus crisis. With global economies taking a major hit, any objectives tied to national economic output are too volatile to express members’ actual utility to the alliance, her argument goes.

Defense officials outlined their thinking in a written response to members of the FDP party last month, as reported by the TAZ newspaper here. A follow-up request by the far-left Die Linke failed to bring clarity, however, about exactly how much money the defense ministry's vision would translate into, the paper reported.

Germany’s defense spending was almost $50 billion in 2019, following consecutive years of sizable increases. The figure amounts to roughly 1.3 percent of GDP, possibly hitting 1.6 percent once the post-pandemic economic damage has fully set in.

Berlin distance from the official NATO goal has been a thorn in trans-Atlantic relations for years. Most recently, U.S. President Donald Trump justified the planned withdrawal of almost U.S. 10,000 troops from Germany as a means to punish the country.

Proponents of the 2-percent target have praised the yardstick for its unforgiving impartiality. No other measure is so immune to bartering and interpretation, the thinking goes.

So far, it appears that defense officials in Berlin are hard-pressed to answer to that argument, acknowledging that because NATO planning targets extend so far into the future, matching the process up with concrete numbers would be a squishy endeavor.

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.

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