Outrage and debate about defense spending after Trump’s comments on NATO

After former US President Donald Trump’s statements about not wanting to defend defaulting NATO allies if he were re-elected, the outrage in Germany has not subsided. The Union warned on Tuesday of the Republican’s increasing aggressiveness. The SPD’s top candidate for the European elections, Katarina Barley, even brought up an EU nuclear umbrella in view of Trump’s threat. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) had previously said that “any relativization of NATO’s guarantee of assistance” would be “irresponsible and dangerous.”

At a rally over the weekend, Trump threatened not to come to the aid of NATO allies in an attack if they did not spend enough on their defense. In doing so, he triggered international debates about military spending and the NATO support guarantee.

According to a new estimate by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, around two thirds of NATO member states want to spend at least two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defense this year. Alliance employees announced this on Tuesday in Brussels. The NATO heads of state and government had set this lower limit. So far it has only been met by eleven of the 31 member states.

Germany’s defense spending of 1.57 percent has so far been below the agreed limit. However, Chancellor Scholz announced that he now wants to meet the two percent target every year.

Trump, meanwhile, defended his controversial statements. “I made NATO strong,” he wrote in the online service he founded, Truth Social. “When I told the 20 countries that hadn’t paid their share that they had to pay or they wouldn’t get US military protection, the money started flowing,” he argued. During his first term in office from 2017, Trump had already accused the European NATO partners of investing too little money in defense and of allowing themselves to be protected at the expense of the USA. The right-wing populist is now a promising candidate for the November presidential election in the USA.

According to CDU foreign policy expert Norbert Röttgen, Trump is primarily targeting Germany with his attacks against NATO. That was already the case in his first term in office, said Röttgen on Tuesday on the Phoenix station. He also warned against a second term in office for the Republican. “Trump 2” is even more aggressive than “Trump 1”. CDU leader Friedrich Merz said, referring to the Russian president, that if the threats were to come true, there would only be one winner – “and his name is Vladimir Putin.”

Previously, Chancellor Scholz had also criticized that statements like those made by Trump were “solely in Russia’s interest.” “Any relativization of NATO’s guarantee of assistance is irresponsible and dangerous,” said Scholz on Monday evening at a joint press conference with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Berlin. He said that Trump’s threats should act “like a cold shower” and encourage Europe’s states to invest more in their own security.

The SPD’s top candidate for the upcoming European elections, Barley, told the “Tagesspiegel” that in view of Trump’s recent statements, the protection of Europe by the US nuclear umbrella “can no longer be relied upon.” When asked whether the EU needed its own nuclear bombs, the SPD politician replied: “So that could also become an issue on the way to a European army.”

In Germany, the former US president’s controversial statements also fueled the debate about higher long-term defense spending. The SPD budget politician Andreas Schwarz called in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” for defense and civil defense spending to be permanently excluded from the debt brake in the Basic Law. The CDU defense politician Roderich Kiesewetter, for his part, can imagine an increase in the special fund for the Bundeswehr from 100 to 300 billion euros.

According to experts at the British International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), global military spending could rise to a record level this year. Last year, due to the war in Ukraine and growing tensions with China, spending increased by nine percent to a value of 2,200 billion US dollars (2,000 billion euros), according to the annual report on the military balance. These could increase further in the face of further crises and wars. In any case, the current military and security situation with wars in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip and conflicts in Asia and Africa is the harbinger of a “probably even more dangerous decade”.