German leader, defense chief vow boost in military spending

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel and her defense minister on Wednesday vowed to continue boosting German military spending after years of cutbacks that have reduced military readiness and drawn the ire of some NATO partners, including the United States.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen talk to Interior Minister Horst Seehofer during a budget debate at the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Merkel told lawmakers she welcomed increases already planned in military spending, but said it was “certainly not sufficient” when compared to the percentage of gross domestic product other countries spent on their defenses.

To catch up, Merkel and Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen have pledged to boost German military spending to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024. Both said they remained committed to achieving the NATO target of spending 2 percent at a later date.

“It would be reckless not to prepare for alliance defense,” Merkel told lawmakers.

Germany will boost military spending in 2019 by 4 billion euros to 42.9 billion euros, its fourth successive year increase, von der Leyen told lawmakers. She said the increase would amount to a 30 percent increase from 2014 to 2019.

By 2024, German military spending would have increased 80 percent, von der Leyen said.

The 2019 increase brings German military spending to 1.31 percent of economic output up from 1.24 percent, although the longer-range plan calls for the percentage to drop back to around 1.23 percent by 2022.

Von der Leyen said Germany could be proud of its contributions to the NATO alliance despite recent “tweets and letters” - a reference to recent missives from U.S. President Donald Trump rebuking key allies for spending too little on their militaries.

Trump will tell fellow NATO countries at next week’s summit that the United States cannot be “the world’s piggy bank,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Tuesday aboard the presidential aircraft Air Force One.

“That’s gotta stop,” Gidley told reporters as Trump flew to West Virginia.

Von der Leyen noted that Germany is the second largest net contributor for NATO command structures, and said it was the only country from continental Europe to lead a battalion in eastern Europe as part of a NATO program initiated after Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.

Von der Leyen also rejected media reports suggesting that the United States was planning to pull troops out of Germany, adding, “There is no evidence whatsoever that there are plans to withdraw troops.”

Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Toby Chopra