Germany to US: we’ll spend more on defence, you stay involved

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen talks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Germany’s defence minister pledged to spend more on its military and the United Nations, but she called in return for other countries not to turn away from mulitlateralism.

Ursula von der Leyen’s remarks came days after US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reiterated President Donald Trump’s demand that European countries spend more on their militaries.

In a speech on Friday to the Munich Security Conference, von der Leyen said Germany was prepared to play a bigger international role, by increasing its military spending and its contributions to the United Nations. But she urged the United States to stick to a multilateral path.

“We are concerned when we see that some partners keep cutting funds for diplomacy, development cooperation and the United Nations,” she said. The US State Department has been subject to deep cuts under Trump’s presidency.

Germany’s memories of Nazi crimes in World War Two have generally made it reluctant to take a leading role in international security.

But in their deal for another four years of a “grand coalition” government, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats have agreed to boost spending on the armed forces after years of post-Cold War decline.

The deal, which must still be ratified by the Social Democrat membership, comes as Germany reluctantly takes on the role of the continent’s pre-eminent political power-broker, a role generations of post-war politicians have shied away from.

Von der Leyen said Germany wanted to work with France on deeper European cooperation and called on “all Europeans” to participate. But deeper cooperation would need a move toward majority voting in foreign policy, she said, acknowledging that not all European countries would want to participate.

“Europe has to up its pace in the face of global challenges from terrorism, poverty and climate change,” she said. “Those who want to must be able to advance without being blocked by individual countries.”

The newly assertive posture, coming amid growing tensions with Russia and Turkey and uncertainty over the future role of a Trump-led U.S. in the international order, reflects a growing sense in Berlin that Germany has to accept more of a leadership role.