, 18 February 2017 • 10:46am
European leaders have pushed back at Donald Trump’s ultimatum that they increase defence spending or risk America scaling back its commitment to Transatlantic protection.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said her country would not accelerate existing, long-term plans to ramp up the military budget by 2024 despite a demand by the US this week that countries increase spending by the end of the year.
The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, also said countries must not cave in to US demands.
James Mattis, US defence secretary, earlier this week warned Nato that a new “political reality” after the election of Donald Trump meant it was no longer possible for allies to shirk their share of the defence burden.
Unless nations began spending more, Mr Mattis said Washington could “moderate” its commitment to them.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Mr Mattis, a retired US Marine general, said Europe now faced “threat on multiple fronts as the arc of instability builds on Nato’s periphery and beyond”.
But Mr Juncker said he was “very much against letting ourselves be pushed into “an increase in defence spending.
He said: “I don’t like our American friends narrowing down this concept of security to the military.” Germany would lose its budget surplus if it increased defence spending to two per cent of GDP from 1.22 per cent, he said.
He went on: “If you look at what Europe is doing in defence, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the United States looks rather different. Modern politics cannot just be about raising defence spending.”
Nato guidelines call for all members of the collective defence alliance to spend two per cent of GDP on military budgets.
But in reality only five – America, Britain, Greece, Estonia and Poland – do so, while some, including Italy and Spain, spend half that.
Mrs Merkel said her country would stick to its long-term commitment to raise defence spending by the middle of the next decade.
She said that “Germany is conscious of its responsibility” to spend more on arms, but added other issues were also important for global security.
Mrs Merkel said Germany had increased defence spending by eight per cent in this year’s budget over last year.
She said: “We must do more here, no question, but the matters of development aid and crisis prevention are also important.”
Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said Mr Mattis had been “uncompromising” in his message to European leaders to “step up”.
Meanwhile Germany’s defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, acknowledged that her country would in future be unable to step back and rely on American protection.
She said: “From the German point of view, our traditional reflex of relying above all on our American friends’ vigour and ducking away when things really get tight … will no longer be enough.”
But she also had a message for Mr Trump, warning that he could not put European allies on an equal footing with an aggressive Russia.
She said: “Our American friends know well that their tone on Europe and Nato has a direct influence on the cohesion of our continent.
“A stable European Union is just as much in the American interest as a united Nato.”
She went on: “There cannot be a policy of equidistance to allies and to those who openly question our values, our borders and international law.”