Britain urged Germany on Wednesday to beef up its contribution to European defense and security, in line with its economic might, as the United States focuses increasingly on the Asia-Pacific region.
British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he did not expect Germany, Europe’s largest economy, to spend more money in a time of general belt-tightening but said there was ample scope to improve the effectiveness of its forces.
“Due to Germany’s historic reluctance to deploy and operate overseas, I think it is self-evident that there is still huge potential in German defense structures to deliver more usable firepower to the (NATO) alliance,” he told reporters.
Speaking after talks in Berlin with German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere, Hammond said Germany spent only a little less on defense in absolute terms than France and Britain but that the amount was much smaller in proportion to its economy.
“(It is about) a willingness to pick up the burdens that go with having a globally important economy... Germany recognizing that it can’t continue to be the dominant economy in Europe without also significantly increasing its military capability.”
“This is not about the budget but about turning the forces it is already paying for into a more deployable, more usable force,” Hammond said.
The United States has long complained that most European allies, including Germany, fail to spend the two percent of economic output required by NATO on defense. In Europe, only Britain, France, Greece and Albania meet the target.
But with Germany, Britain and much of Europe focused on reducing public debt, that is unlikely to change any time soon.
Hammond praised Germany’s move to a professional army from one based on conscription and its contributions to overseas NATO missions in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, where the German contingent is the third largest after U.S. and British forces.
Last year, however, demonstrating the limits of its new-found willingness to engage militarily, Germany upset its NATO allies by abstaining in a U.N. Security Council vote authorizing military action in Libya and it stayed firmly on the sidelines during an aerial bombing campaign led by France and Britain.
Hammond played down the Libyan issue as a “minor setback” on the path to what he saw as a more proactive and responsible Germany that has overcome its post-World War Two inhibitions about sending troops overseas.
“I detect a determination here that Germany’s role in NATO should continue to normalize... and that it intends to continue to become a more significant player among the nations in protecting our collective security,” Hammond said.
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