Germany said on Sunday it did not owe the US or NATO “vast sums” of money as claimed by President Donald Trump in a tweet that tried to put an all’s-well-but-not-so-well spin on a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel that didn’t go too well.
“There is no debt account at NATO,” German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement reported by Reuters. She added that it was wrong to link the target for members to spend 2% of their GDP on defence by 2024 solely to NATO.
“Defence spending also goes into UN peacekeeping missions, into our European missions and into our contribution to the fight against IS terrorism.”
That was a direct response to a tweet from Trump on Saturday in which he wrote that Germany owed “vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”
That claim was called misleading even by critics at home in the US, with experts averring that’s not how NATO works. The tweets were also seen as an attempt to spin an awkward first meeting with a world leader who has differed with him on key components of Western liberalism and who has been called “the leader of the free world”, a title that comes with US presidency.
Merkel, for one, has emerged as a champion of free trade that the Trump administration has challenged with its emphasis on “America First”, a campaign commitment by the president that dominated the recently concluded G-20 meeting in Baden-Baden, Germany.
Member countries, including India, were forced by America to drop the group’s traditional pledge to free trade from the communique summing up the proceedings. They went instead with a commitment to increase the role of trade in their respective economies.
This and other differences came to the fore at the joint news conference Trump and Merkel held at the White House on Friday, which was marked by widely noted awkwardness starting with Trump seemingly refusing her offer to shake hands for the cameras at the top of the meeting. And then he tried to make common cause with her on his controversial wire-tapping allegations.
He tried to fix the narrative taking shape that was clearly not flattering with this tweet: “Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel.”
And then he put forward the misleading claim that Germany own the US and NATO “vast sums” of money.
That’s not how the 28-member NATO military alliance works. Each member is required by the guidelines of the alliance to put aside 2% of their economic output on defence. But that money is not paid into a joint kitty or, as the German defence minister put it, into a “debt account” at NATO.
Germany is among members countries that have come up short — which may be Trump’s point, but made simplistically — and it has announced its commitment will go up from 1.16% of GDP in 2016 to 1.26% in 2017.
(With inputs from Reuters)