MUNICH – German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen opened the Munich Security conference here today admonishing the United States, without mentioning Washington by name, for dialing back its spending on foreign development.
Her comments attempt to turn the tables somewhat on the Trump administration’s argument that European countries are freeloading on security by spending way less than the Pentagon. While von der Leyen acknowledged that Germany must increase its military expenditures, she made the case that Berlin’s budget for non-military assistance programs is an important calculus in the country’s security-policy mix.
“Germany stands by the agreement it has with NATO,” von der Leyen said, referring to the alliance’s goal that all members spend 2 percent on the military by 2025. Berlin is still far away from that objective, however, currently spending 1.25 percent.
The German defense chief warned against creating a two-tiered, transatlantic security environment in which the United States brings the guns and Europe brings soft power to resolve future conflicts. All NATO members must have a similar balance in those capabilities, she urged.
Washington, von der Leyen said, has a “precious obligation” that goes beyond military prowess alone.
Her comments come as President Trump has proposed a federal budget for fiscal year 2019 that cuts key foreign development and diplomacy accounts. For the State Department and USAID, for example, the White House is requesting $37.8 billion, down from the $53.1 billion enacted for FY17. And although there is no enacted figure for FY18, that request slashed State and USAID to the point where the Republican-controlled Senate worked to put funding back in for the two agencies.
Meanwhile, the State Department remains understaffed, with key ambassadorial positions such as those in South Korea, Turkey and Saudi Arabia unfilled.
In her speech, von der Leyen walked the fine line of talking up recent efforts by the European Union to bolster its defense capabilities while stressing the continent’s bond with the United States.
Her French counterpart, Defense Minister Florence Parly, argued similarly against the perception that developments toward a EU military would weaken NATO.
Aaron Mehta contributed this report from Munich.
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.