Hundreds of decision-makers from around the world met in Germany this weekend to discuss security policy at the Munich Security Conference (MSC).
The annual event is a massive think tank conference during which heads-of-state and other officials discuss threats and reaffirm the transatlantic bond that will keep us safe from said threats.
This year’s meeting was a little different.
US President Donald Trump set off alarm bells when he called NATO “obsolete” last month. Now, the Trump Administration is putting serious pressure on members who aren’t paying their fair share for defense.
According to NATO guidelines, member nations must spend 2% of their GDP on defense. Only five members actually do this. Some nations, like Spain and Italy, don’t even spend 1%.
Speaking last week in Brussels, US Defense Sec. Jim Mattis warned that the US might “moderate its commitment” to NATO of European members don’t increase defense spending.
His message seemed to be aimed at Germany.
Germany is Europe’s largest economy, but has developed an aversion to military power following WWII. It currently spends about 1.2% of its GDP on defense.
In 2014, Germany made plans to increase its defense spending to 2% by 2024. Chancellor Angela Merkel agrees that Germany needs to start pulling its own weight, but doesn’t plan to speed up the current timeline.
“We must do more here, no question, but the matters of development aid and crisis prevention are also important,” she said. “No country can solve problems alone,” she continued, suggesting that increased spending should be tied to joint efforts.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen agrees that increased spending should be accomplished through partnerships, mentioning current military efforts with France and future partnerships with Romania and the Czech Republic.
Von der Leyen admitted that Germany wouldn’t always be able to rely on America for protection: “From the German point of view, our traditional reflex of relying above all on our American friends’ vigor and ducking away when things really get tight…will no longer be enough.”
She also warned Trump not to put European allies on equal footing with Russia. America has a “direct influence on the cohesion of our continent,” she said. “A stable EU is just as much in the American interest as a united NATO… There cannot be a policy of equidistance to allies and to those who openly question our values, our borders, and international law.”
Others, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pushed back against Trump’s demands.
“I don’t like our American friends narrowing down this concept of security to the military,” he complained, adding that Germany would lose its budget surplus if it raised defense spending to 2%.
Editor’s note: Trump’s prediction that other NATO members would start paying their fair share is coming to fruition. This is another area where Trump is keeping his campaign promises.
Is this enough to please the Germen conservative demographic and keep Merkel in power? I guess we will see.