Friday, February 24, 2017

Tension soars in Germany's Bundestag amid NATO spending row

Amid the NATO defense spending row, Germany announced an increase to its defense spending as promised to NATO allies with soaring tension between Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and Gabriel's Social Democrats.

German Foreign Minister Gabriel, a Social Democrat, underscored his concerns about rapidly increasing spending to meet NATO's defense spending target of 2 percent of economic output, arguing that a broader approach was needed to build collective capabilities in Europe.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a conservative, on Wednesday criticized Gabriel for his remarks at the Munich Security Conference, where he warned against focusing solely on defense spending and unleashing a new arms race.

Gabriel was "already part of the government in 2014 when his fellow Social Democratic foreign minister signed off on the commitment" to NATO, von der Leyen told Germany's Stern magazine in an interview published Wednesday.

"It's not good when a government ... doesn't stick to its word after just three years," she told the magazine. "No one will understand if a country like Germany that is doing so well economically says 'We can't do it.'"

Gabriel fired back on Wednesday, saying the defense ministry's first priority should be to tackle delays and technical challenges with existing weapons programs. "Our biggest problem at the moment is that the equipment doesn't fly, sail or drive," he said. For instance, a brand-new German A400M transport plane was grounded earlier this month during von der Leyen's visit to German troops in Lithuania, while other big weapons programs have been delayed.

Henning Otte, a Christian Democratic defense expert in parliament, said lawmakers hoped to make progress on as many new arms projects as possible before parliament's summer recess. "These programs are essential for the continued readiness of the Bundeswehr, especially given the changing security threats," he said in a statement to Reuters.

Germany will increase its defense spending in the coming years as promised to NATO allies, but the government should also keep its military history and fears among European neighbors in mind, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Wednesday.

 "One has to ask whether it would really calm Germany's neighbors if we turned into a big military power in Europe," Gabriel told reporters.

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