German foreign minister skeptical on defense spending boost

AP News
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Posted: Mar 01, 2017 10:41 AM

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Germany's foreign minister voiced his skepticism Wednesday about plans to increase the country's defense spending to meet NATO targets, saying it could raise concerns in Europe by turning Germany into "a military supremacy."

Sigmar Gabriel, whose Social Democratic Party is Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partner, said a decision by Germany to raise defense spending from around 1.3 percent of its gross domestic product today to NATO's target of 2 percent could cause angst elsewhere in Europe, given the country's militaristic past.

"This would be a defense supremacy, a military supremacy in Europe," he said during a visit to the Estonian capital of Tallinn. "I think our neighbors wouldn't like to see this in 10 to 15 years."

NATO has for years urged members to increase defense spending to reach targets, and the issue has been seized upon recently by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Merkel has said Germany is committed to the 2 percent goal, but Gabriel has sought to make defense spending an election-year issue, and has suggested that German commitments to development aid and humanitarian moves — such as taking in nearly 900,000 asylum seekers in 2015 — should be part of the calculation.

The head of the European Union's executive Commission said later Wednesday that it is clear European states will have to increase their military spend.

"But stability isn't just a function of the size of military budgets," Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament in Brussels. "Stability on whatever level also depends on the size of development aid budgets and funding the fight against climate change."

Estonia is one of a handful NATO members meeting the NATO target, though its spend is clearly dwarfed by Germany's. Estonia's spend of 2.2 percent of its GDP amounts to around 477 million euros, far less than the 35.1 billion euros ($38 billion) that Germany spent last year.

Like its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia is increasingly worried over what it says is Russia's aggressive and reckless military behavior in the region. That prompted it to boost this year's defense budget by a record 28 million euros including extra spending for hosting NATO troops in the country.

Germany is a lead nation in NATO's effort to reassure the Baltics, commanding a brigade that has recently been stationed in Lithuania. Britain commands a similar multi-national brigade in Estonia, while Canada has command of one in Latvia and the United States another in Poland.

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David Rising contributed to this story from Berlin.