May 14, 2018 / 1:55 PM / a year ago

NATO spending target not some 'fetish' for Germany: Merkel

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday it was important for Germany to stand by its commitments to NATO, including moves to boost military spending toward an alliance target of 2 percent of economic output.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks after she received a "Peace Lamp" award from the Catholic monks at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

The target was not some fetish, but reflected changing security requirements in the world, she told senior officers at her first appearance at a biennial meeting of military top brass since 2012.

Merkel said her appearance was meant to underscore the importance of the military at a time when some lawmakers are worried that boosting defense spending could lead to a militarization of German society.

Dissent is growing within Merkel’s “grand coalition” between her conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats over how quickly to boost military spending towards the NATO target.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, told reporters last week that tax estimates offered limited scope for additional fiscal spending up to 2022 and available money would be used to boost investment in digitization and lower income taxes.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the officers that military spending would expand to around 1.3 percent of gross domestic product by 2019 and should reach 1.5 percent by 2025.

That would mark an increase from the current level of 1.2 percent of GDP, but still falls short of the 2 percent target that NATO members have agreed to move toward by 2024.

Von der Leyen, deputy leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, had objected in writing to Scholz’s budget plans. These currently call for spending on the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces, to rise in 2019 as a percentage of economic output but fall thereafter.

Merkel told the officers that German military needed to rebuild after years of declining spending, and said there had been no objections when the former West Germany spent 2.3 percent of its GDP on the military during the Cold War.

“The 2 percent is not a fetish that has nothing to do with the Bundeswehr, but it is necessary to allow us to fulfil the requirements of our international deployments, plus the need for homeland and alliance defense,” Merkel said.

Germany’s internal debate about military spending had already raised questions about its credibility, Merkel said, adding that she often faced tough questions about the issue.

Critical ministry and parliamentary reports this year showed that missing spare parts and quality defects had curtailed the readiness of German submarines, warplanes and other key weapons after years of declining spending after the end of the Cold War.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Michelle Martin and David Stamp

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