German foreign minister skeptical on defence spending boost

German foreign minister skeptical on defence spending boost

TALLINN, Estonia — Germany’s foreign minister said Wednesday he is skeptical about plans for the country to increase defence spending to meet NATO targets, saying it could raise concerns in Europe by turning Germany into “a military supremacy.”

Sigmar Gabriel, whose Social Democratic Party is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner, said if Germany raises its defence spending from around 1.3 per cent of its gross domestic product today to meet NATO’s target of 2 per cent, it could cause angst elsewhere in Europe, given the country’s militaristic past.

“This would be a defence supremacy, a military supremacy in Europe,” he said during a visit to the Estonian capital of Tallinn. “I think our neighbours wouldn’t like to see this in 10 to 15 years.”

NATO has for years urged members to increase defence spending to reach targets, and the issue has been seized upon recently by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Merkel has said Germany is committed to the 2 per cent goal, but Gabriel has sought to make defence spending an election-year issue, and has suggested that German commitments to development aid and humanitarian moves — such as taking in nearly 900,000 asylum seekers in 2015 — should be part of the calculation.

Estonia is one of a handful NATO members meeting the defence spending target, though the 2.2 per cent of GDP expenditure from the tiny nation equates to around 477 million euros, far less than the 35.1 billion euros ($38 billion) that Germany spent last year.

Like its Baltic neighbours Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia is increasingly worried over what it says is Russia’s aggressive and reckless military behaviour in the region. That prompted it to boost this year’s defence budget by a record 28 million euros including extra spending for hosting NATO troops in the country.

Germany is a lead nation in NATO’s effort to reassure the Baltics, commanding a brigade that has recently been stationed in Lithuania. Britain commands a similar multi-national brigade in Estonia, while Canada has command of one in Latvia and the United States another in Poland.

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David Rising contributed to this story from Berlin.

Jari Tanner, The Associated Press

Canadian Press