Germany's foreign minister has questioned U.S. President Donald Trump's calls for all NATO members to increase their defense spending to the alliance's target of 2 percent of economic output, calling that "completely unrealistic" for Berlin.
On a visit to Estonia on March 1, Sigmar Gabriel said that, while Germany accepts it must increase its defense spending from today's 1.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), 2 percent is too much.
"Germany needs to do more, no question about it," he said, but it is "completely unrealistic to raise expectations in Germany or among our partners that we will add 30 billion euros to our defense spending over the next eight years."
Germany has set a more modest goal of increasing spending by 2 billion euros, to 37 billion euros, with the goal of reaching 39.2 billion euros by 2020.
Gabriel questioned whether NATO members outside the United States would like to see a massive surge in military spending by Berlin.
"We also have to consider whether Europe wants a Germany that invests 60 billion euros a year in the German Army... This would be military supremacy in Europe, and I think our neighbors would not like to see that."
In an address to Congress on February 28, Trump repeated his demand that NATO allies "meet their financial obligations," and expressed satisfaction that many NATO members have moved to comply with his wishes by increasing spending.
"I think it is correct that Europe accepts that those times when the U.S. took on the primary burden of our defense are behind us," Gabriel said. "Europe's GDP is the same as that of the U.S. So there is no reason to demand more of the U.S. than of Europe."
But he noted that NATO's target of each country spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense is not legally binding on members, who pledged in 2014 to "aim to move towards the 2 percent guideline within a decade."
"There is no [mandatory] 2 percent goal, but rather...we should be moving in that direction," Gabriel said.
Moreover, he said, higher military spending would not solve all of today's global problems.
"Most wars and developments in the refugee crisis that we are currently facing can't be solved with more spending on equipment but with protecting people from famine, poverty, and war," he said.
Gabriel's comments highlighted a rift within Germany's ruling coalition, which faces elections in September.
While Gabriel, a center-left Social Democrat, openly questioned the pressure European members of NATO are getting from the White House, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, both conservatives, have said it is Germany's duty to reach the 2 percent target, though they have proposed much lower spending in the near term.
So far, of the 28 NATO member countries, only the United States, Britain, Poland, Greece and Estonia have met the two percent target.
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