BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany should boost defense spending because its security is at stake at a time of heightened threats around the world, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told ruling lawmakers on Friday.
During the Cold War, Germany spent about 2.4 percent of its economic output on the military but outlays fell to a low of just 1.1 percent after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing Germany to make good its 2014 pledge to move toward spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2024.
Germany says it will boost spending from 1.2 percent of GDP to 1.5 percent by 2025 but von der Leyen is lobbying the ruling coalition parties to back more spending beyond 2019 when the budget plan calls for a slight fall.
“The wish for security is indivisible from the willingness to make the necessary investments,” von der Leyen, a conservative, wrote in the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters. “We must act.”
Germany and Europe were working to forge a unified security, development and foreign policy but this required military readiness, she said.
The funds were needed because cuts eliminated spare parts, slashed maintenance, reduced munitions supplies and delayed the modernization of aircraft, ships and tanks, she said.
Germany is scrambling to rebuild its homeland and alliance capacity in the wake of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014, after years of focusing mainly on overseas missions.
Von der Leyen said Germany would fulfill its commitment to lead NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) in 2019, but only with “great effort” as materials were being borrowed from other German military units.
She said the goal was to establish a self-contained unit in 2023 when it is next due to lead the NATO readiness force and this requires investment in the next legislative period.
The Social Democrats, junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grand coalition, are resisting moves to boost defense spending and instead want more focus on domestic spending.
A senior German military source said von der Leyen’s letter was part of a bigger push to build support for higher military spending ahead of the release of a 2019 budget plan next month.
Reporting by Holger Hansen, Sabine Siebold and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg