Wednesday 17 January 2018

Germany balks at call to up Nato spend

US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with US manufacturers in the White House yesterday. Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty
US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with US manufacturers in the White House yesterday. Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty

Nick Allen

Germany last night rejected American demands for Nato members to comply with defence spending targets.

Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, ramped up pressure on allies to uphold a long-held pledge to spend 2pc of their economic output on the military by 2024.

"As President Trump has made clear, it is no longer sustainable for the US to maintain a disproportionate share of Nato's defence expenditures," he told a meeting of 28 foreign ministers in Brussels.

"Allies must increase defence spending. They must demonstrate by their actions that they share the US government's commitment."

Mr Tillerson asked that nations outline concrete plans for payment before Donald Trump attends a meeting of leaders on May 25.

Separately, he said US sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine would remain in force, and the US "will not accept Russian efforts to change the borders of territory of Ukraine".

Boris Johnson, left, and Rex Tillerson attend a meeting at the Nato HQ in Brussels. Photo: AFP/Getty
Boris Johnson, left, and Rex Tillerson attend a meeting at the Nato HQ in Brussels. Photo: AFP/Getty

He also urged Nato to do more to fight Isil, particularly in countering its online propaganda.

Mr Tillerson, the former chief executive of oil giant ExxonMobil, did not say what would happen if European allies and Canada failed to meet spending targets.

In 2014, Nato leaders pledged to move toward the 2pc goal within a decade. Apart from the US, only four other nations - Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland - currently meet it.

The US provides nearly 70pc of Nato's budget and spent 3.6pc of its gross domestic product on defence last year, compared to 1.19pc in Germany.

However, Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's foreign minister, said the target was "unrealistic".

He said that 2pc would mean "military expenses of some €70bn. I don't know any German politician who would claim that is reachable or desirable.

"I don't know where we would put all the aircraft carriers we would need to buy to invest €70bn a year."

He said Germany had spent large amounts on refugees who arrived because military interventions had failed.

In the US election campaign, Mr Trump criticised Nato as "obsolete" and suggested America might not come to the defence of allies who did not pay their fair share.

Mr Tillerson offered reassurances to allies. He said: "The United States is committed to ensuring Nato has the capabilities to support our collective defence.

"We will uphold the agreements we have made to defend our allies.

"We understand that a threat against one of us is a threat against all of us, and we will respond accordingly."

He said the alliance was fundamental to countering Russian aggression, in particular in Ukraine.

Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato Secretary General, said ties between European members and the US were "rock solid".

Meanwhile, Britain has found itself at odds with the US over Syria after Mr Trump's administration announced that American policy would no longer focus on getting Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power.

The UK and the Obama administration spent years saying that Mr Assad's brutal tactics during the Syrian war meant that he had lost legitimacy and must step down to allow for a political transition in Syria.

But the Trump administration appears to have backed away from that position, saying the question of whether or not Mr Assad stayed in power was no longer a priority for the US.

"You pick and choose your battles and when we're looking at this, it's about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out," said Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN.

Her comments echoed those of Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, who said yesterday that "the longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people".

Hours after the new American position was announced, Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary, reiterated that Britain still believed Mr Assad had to go.

"For the long term good of the Syrian people there must be a transition away from the Assad regime, which has dealt so much death and destruction to the people of Syria," he told the Nato summit in Brussels.

Michael Fallon, the British defence secretary, said yesterday that the UK does not "see a long term future in Syria for someone who has been bombing his own civilians".

Also yesterday, Mr Trump has said his summit with Xi Jinping, China's president, will be "very difficult", setting the tone for a tense first meeting between the world's most powerful leaders.

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