Handelsblatt Exclusive Defense Minister Skeptical of 3-Percent Target for Defense, Development Aid

Ursula von der Leyen said calculating defense and development aid together wouldn't necessarily help Germany meet its international obligations.
Picture source: Reuters

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has expressed skepticism toward a proposal that Berlin should count both defense and development expenditures together under the rubric of security spending.

Under the proposal, Germany would aim to spend a combined 3 percent of its economic output on defense and development aid.

“We can’t paint a rosy picture of the world with two plus one [spending], because we haven’t reached the defense or development goals,” Ms. Von der Leyen told Handelsblatt in an exclusive interview.

In 2017, Germany is projected to spend 1.22 percent of its economic output on defense, which falls short of NATO’s 2-percent target for member states. Ms. Von der Leyen said underfunding defense could jeopardize development work.

“If we don’t close the gaps with the military, then they will not be able to protect the needed development experts in Mali, Afghanistan or Iraq,” Ms. Von der Leyen said.

The Trump administration has upped the pressure on NATO members to spend more on defense. But German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has expressed skepticism about Germany increasing its defense budget. Ms. Von der Leyen, on the other hand, has been an outspoken proponent of more defense spending.

Mr. Gabriel has said Germany spends more on development aid and refugee assistance than other NATO states, which also contributes to security.

Wolfgang Ischinger, head of the Munich Security Conference, suggested a 3-percent target for defense and development aid to highlight that crisis prevention is broader than just military expenditures.

German President Joachim Gauck, who in the past has called for Germany to play a greater role in the world, expressed support for Mr. Ischinger’s proposal on Sunday.

But Germany also falls short on development aid. The United Nations has called for states to spend 0.7 percent of their economic output on development, but Germany spent just 0.52 percent in 2015.

Even if Germany calculated both defense and development aid together,  it would amount to 1.74 percent of the country's economic output, still short of NATO's 2-percent target.

Ms. Von der Leyen, whose ministry stands to gain from increased military expenditures, said both defense and development are critical.

“We need both and for both Germany has international obligations,” Ms. Von der Leyen said.