“There is no absolute two-percent target”

25.05.2017 - Interview

Interview by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel with dpa on Thursday (25 May) on the upcoming NATO summit, Germany’s defence spending and the Bundeswehr base in İncirlik.

Will a decision be made in Brussels to spend more on defence than has been the case so far?

I don’t think that will happen. NATO will reaffirm what it decided in Wales in 2014, namely that the member countries will move towards spending two percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence over a period of ten years. We are already doing that, as we are currently increasing defence spending in order to ensure that the Bundeswehr can do its job properly. This increase is also desperately needed, as the Bundeswehr has not been properly equipped for 12 years now. The aim of the so-called Bundeswehr reform pushed through by zu Guttenberg of the Christian Social Union (CSU), who was Defence Minister at the time, was to save as much as eight billion euros per year. Now his Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) successor Ursula von der Leyen is complaining that the Bundeswehr does not have enough staff or equipment that works properly. She is right. But this is actually the result of having the CDU or CSU in charge of the Federal Ministry of Defence for the past 12 years. Politicians from these two parties have been responsible for the Bundeswehr being seriously under-equipped for all that time.

But that means the Bundeswehr needs significantly more funding.

Providing the Bundeswehr with better equipment is one thing. We Social Democrats also want that to happen. But spending two percent of GDP on defence is an entirely different matter. It’s certainly not realistic. I expressly support what SPD Chancellor candidate Martin Schulz said on this topic: the SPD will not raise defence spending to two percent of GDP, as this would mean a huge increase to 70 billion euros per year by 2024 – in other words, almost twice our current expenditure. France, which, let’s not forget, is a nuclear power, spends around 40 billion euros per year on defence at the moment. That shows us how absurd the debate is.

Wouldn’t it be more honest if NATO dropped the two-percent target?

Once again, there is no absolute two-percent target.

But one thing is true – I’m also amazed which NATO members still think the goal of two percent of GDP is right. Some of these members spend even less on their defence capability than we do in Germany. In this regard, I would welcome greater honesty in the debate.

Trump’s second major goal is to make NATO an official member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS. The German Government was initially sceptical about this, but has now accepted the idea.

All 28 NATO member countries belong to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, so it wouldn’t really be logical to continue having the institution of NATO merely on the sidelines. After all, the European Union is also part of the coalition, so I have nothing against NATO being a political partner at the table. But what is not acceptable is for NATO to be actively involved in combat. Such ideas have been raised, but they will not be accepted. NATO’s role is not to take part in combat. It is a defence alliance of the member countries. No one has anything against training missions like those that have been carried out so far. But we believe it would send completely the wrong message if NATO joined the fighting because what makes the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS so valuable is that it is a joint undertaking by western and Muslim-majority countries. If NATO got involved, there would be a big danger that people would think the West is fighting against part of the Muslim world. But the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS is in fact about joining forces.

What does the arms deal between the US and Saudi Arabia mean for the region’s stability?

I think the Americans are hoping to forge an anti-Iran coalition. However, our advice is to use President Rouhani’s re-election as an opportunity to encourage Iran to open up further – and of course to persuade him to end Iran’s dangerous policies and its involvement in wars in the Persian Gulf. We cannot and must not accept what Iran is doing in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. And the Iranian Government must actually know that Iran will only remain stable if its economy recovers. It needs investments from abroad for this recovery. However, such investments will only be made if Iran changes its policies in the Persian Gulf. So we would be more likely to reach out to Iran in this way than to build a large arms cooperation against it. We simply do not believe that more and more weapons and more and more confrontation are the path to greater stability.

Is the NATO summit the last chance to resolve the dispute on the ban on German members of parliament from visiting the Bundeswehr base in İncirlik?

We expect Turkey to allow Members of the German Bundestag to visit the base. This is a prerequisite of all international Bundeswehr missions. This Bundestag mandate is binding. We very much hope that the NATO summit will bring about an atmosphere in which Turkey will understand that NATO partners cannot put each other under pressure.

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