German government feuds over military spending increases after NATO summit

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives want more money for Germany's military. But their Social Democratic coalition partners have pushed back, warning that Germany should not cave into demands made by Donald Trump.

A feud over how quickly to increase German defense spending has erupted within Germany's coalition government, days after US President Donald Trump blasted Germany at NATO summit for failing to invest quickly enough in its military.

Germany most recently spent 1.24 percent of its GDP on defense and plans to increase the rate to 1.5 percent by 2024 as part of a broader effort to reach a NATO target of 2 percent.

But the parliamentary leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc (CDU/CSU), Volker Kauder, said the government should meet its stated target by 2021.

"We need to reach the 1.5 percent target ideally within this electoral term," he told German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Thursday. He added that the proposal had nothing to do with Trump, but was instead a response to the poor state of the military.

Read more: German military draws up €450 million wish list

Trump's pressure

The US president reportedly demanded that all NATO countries meet the alliance's 2 percent target by January 2019 during a closed-door NATO summit meeting in Brussels on Thursday. The call broke with a previous pledge by alliance members to meet the target by 2024.

Merkel appeared to respond to the president's pressure when she told reporters after the summit that her government should "talk" about increasing military investments beyond what was already planned.

But leading figures in the CDU/CSU's coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), have hit back against speeding up military spending.

"Angela Merkel cannot let herself be exploited by Donald Trump's rearmament mania," SPD General Secretary Lars Klingbeil said. The party's deputy leader, Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, told the Rheinische Post daily that Germany "should put every available euro in social housing" instead of "investing billions into the military."

Germany's NATO missions

Germany's role in NATO

West Germany officially joined the trans-Atlantic alliance in 1955. However, it wasn't until after reunification in 1990 that the German government considered "out of area" missions led by NATO. From peacekeeping to deterrence, Germany's Bundeswehr has since been deployed in several countries across the globe in defense of its allies.

Germany's NATO missions

Bosnia: Germany's first NATO mission

In 1995, Germany participated in its first "out of area" NATO mission as part of a UN-mandated peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the deployment, German soldiers joined other NATO member forces to provide security in the wake of the Bosnian War. The peacekeeping mission included more than 60,000 troops from NATO's member states and partners.

Germany's NATO missions

Keeping the peace in Kosovo

Since the beginning of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, some 8,500 German soldiers have been deployed in the young country. In 1999, NATO launched an air assault against Serbian forces accused of carrying out a brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists and their civilian supporters. Approximately 550 Bundeswehr troops are still stationed in Kosovo.

Germany's NATO missions

Patrolling the Aegean Sea

In 2016, Germany deployed its combat support ship "Bonn" to lead a NATO mission backed by the EU in the Aegean Sea. The mission included conducting "reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings" in Greek and Turkish territorial waters at the height of the migration crisis. Germany, Greece and Turkey had requested assistance from the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Germany's NATO missions

More than a decade in Afghanistan

In 2003, Germany's parliament voted to send Bundeswehr troops to Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Germany became the third-largest contributor of troops and led the Regional Command North. More than 50 German troops were killed during the mission. Nearly a thousand soldiers are still deployed in Afghanistan as part of Resolute Support.

Germany's NATO missions

German tanks in Lithuania

Forming part of NATO's "enhanced forward presence" in the Baltic states, 450 Bundeswehr soldiers have been deployed to Lithuania so far in 2017. The battalion-size battlegroups there are led by Germany, Canada, the UK and US to reinforce collective defense on the alliance's eastern flank. It forms the "biggest reinforcement of Alliance collective defence in a generation," according to NATO.

Germany's NATO missions

Taking over the leadership

The Bundeswehr is due to take over leadership of NATO's multinational Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the start of 2019. The rapid reaction force has been set up to counter potential Russian aggression on the alliance's eastern flank.

Germany's Social Democrat finance minister, Olaf Scholz, also poured cold water on any immediate uptick in defense spending, saying a draft 2019 government budget already included a "substantial increase" for the military. Future increases, he added, would depend on whether extra government revenue was available.

Read more: German army to get €4-billion spending boost

No subs, no transport planes

Military experts have in recent years documented significant equipment shortfalls in the military amid major budget cuts and mismanagement.

In February, the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, Hans-Peter Bartels, said Germany's lack of military preparedness was "dramatic." In a report to the German parliament, he said no submarines or transport aircraft were operational at the end of 2017.