Germany 'not spending enough' on defense, US ambassador says

Ambassador Richard Grenell has accused Berlin of failing to meet its defense spending commitments under the alliance. While the German government has backed plans to gradually increase spending, some see it as a waste.

US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell on Sunday criticized Germany's pledge to incrementally raise its defense spending to 1.5 percent until 2024 in an interview with German Sunday newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

"Germany's NATO promise to raise defense spending to 1.5 percent is not enough," Grenell said. "Again, it is not US standards that have to be met here but NATO commitments that Berlin has already agreed to. The US is simply reminding its great German ally that now is not the time to undercut or weaken NATO."

Defense spending is a contentious subject that has strained relations between Washington and Berlin since Donald Trump assumed the US presidency in 2016. Trump has repeatedly accused the German government of failing to meet its defense spending commitments.

Read more: How does Germany contribute to NATO?

Polarizing debate

In 2014, NATO member states agreed to meet the alliance's defense spending target of 2 percent by 2024. The German government has pledged to follow through with its commitment.

But some German politicians are increasingly against it in its current form, saying other factors should be added to the calculation, including humanitarian aid and stabilization programs in conflict zones. Others have suggested alternative routes for Germany.

"I fully understand that the German public wants more domestic spending instead of increasing their military budget," Grenell said in the interview. "The US taxpayer would like to spend more domestically as well. But the US taxpayer is paying for 33,000 US troops in Germany. This debate of domestic spending versus defense is happening in the US too."

Read more: Germany cautious as France leads European defense initiative

Broken alliance?

Under Trump, the White House has warned NATO allies that it would "moderate" its commitment to the alliance if member states failed to spend more for defense.

"The US is totally committed to NATO," Grenell said. "Donald Trump has made that clear, but he also seeks to improve it. And what is wrong about wanting to fix something that you believe in?"

Read more: Opinion: Europe caught in a dangerous nuclear trap

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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.