Pressed by Trump over defense, Germany says can pay more for NATO running costs

RIGA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany is willing to contribute more to NATO’s running costs as long as other allies also step up to help reduce the United States’ share of funding, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Friday.

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President Donald Trump has long accused European allies, especially Germany, the biggest economy in Europe, of taking U.S. security guarantees for granted and says they need to spend much more on their own defense.

With a meeting of NATO leaders looming in December, some allies now see reform of financing for the U.S.-led military alliance as a way to preempt another round of criticism from Trump and show that they are listening to his concerns.

At some $2.5 billion a year, the budget for North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters, international staff and the limited number of military assets under NATO command is a small sum compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars that allies spend on their armed forces each year.

Under a proposal now being considered by NATO, the U.S. contribution to the alliance’s annual budget would fall to 16% from the current 22%, while Germany’s would rise, also to 16% from 14.8%, from 2021. Other countries would also pay more.

“We are ready to provide more money, as long as it is the same contribution as the United States,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told reporters during a trip to Latvia to meet NATO soldiers there.

She said she wanted “an agreement that covers all European countries”, though she also cautioned that some allies still had some reservations about the proposal.

All 29 NATO members currently contribute to the budget on an agreed cost-share formula, based on gross national income.

Germany’s willingness to pay more is not about “appeasing President Trump”, Kramp-Karrenbauer said, adding that it was important for all NATO allies to play their part in financing the 70-year-old transatlantic alliance.

However, Germany is far from meeting a pledge by NATO members to move towards spending 2% of their national output on defense by 2024. It has set a target of 1.5% of GDP by then, although even that is not assured.

Only seven NATO countries currently meet or exceed the 2% target - the United States, Britain, Greece, Poland and the three Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Trump has made defense spending a priority for the United States after years of cuts following the end of the Cold War. He has openly questioned NATO’s value to Washington.

Additional reporting by Gederts Gelzis; Editing by Gareth Jones