US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reassured his nervous European counterparts over Washington’s commitment to NATO on Friday and pressed them again to spend more on defense, triggering a rebuke from Germany.
“Two percent would mean military expenses of some 70 billion euros. I don’t know any German politician who would claim that is reachable nor desirable,” Gabriel told the first meeting of NATO foreign ministers attended by Tillerson.
“The United States will realize it is better to talk about better spending instead of more spending,” he said, noting that humanitarian, development and economic aid to stabilize countries and regions should also count, Reuters reported.
In his first remarks to NATO ministers, Tillerson said allies needed to pay up or outline plans for meeting that target when NATO leaders meet on May 25 for the first top-level summit of the alliance to be attended by US President Donald Trump.
Trump has criticized NATO as “obsolete” and suggested Washington’s security guarantees for European allies could be conditional on them spending more on their own defense. He has also said he wants NATO to do more to fight terrorism.
“Our goal should be to agree at the May leaders meeting that by the end of the year all allies will have either met the pledge guidelines or will have developed plans that clearly articulate how…the pledge will be fulfilled,” Tillerson said.
“Allies must demonstrate by their actions that they share US government’s commitment.”
In Berlin, German government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the government was committed to increasing defense spending and would continue to do so “because we know it is necessary and makes sense to further strengthen our armed forces”.
US defense expenditure makes up about 70 percent of the total NATO allies’ defense spending. Only four European NATO members – Estonia, Greece, Poland and Britain – meet the two-percent target.
NATO head Jens Stoltenberg rejected Gabriel’s call to include non-military spending toward the goal, but said Germany was moving “in the right direction” with more military spending after years of cuts.
He said NATO ministers on Friday discussed national plans for arriving at the target as they prepared for the May summit.
In London, Britain’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that other European NATO allies must “raise their game, and those failing to meet the two-percent commitment… should at least agree to year-on-year real terms increases.”