Pence targets Germany on NATO defense spending

Vice President Pence on Wednesday targeted Germany at event to honor NATO’s 70th anniversary, calling for the nation to increase their defense spending to the alliance and to stop work with Russia on a gas pipeline.

“Germany still refuses to make the necessary investment of 2 percent of its [gross domestic product] GDP to our common defense. ... Germany must do more,” Pence told an Atlantic Council forum in Washington, D.C.

Allies in 2014 set a goal of spending 2 percent of their respective GDPs on defense by 2024, and so far eight of 29 members are meeting or expected to meet that goal this year.

But President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE — who has threatened to withdraw from NATO if countries don’t increase their defense spending — has aimed most of his ire at Germany for its below-guidelines goal of 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024.

Pence said that at Trump’s urging, allies have “stepped up” and have promised to add a combined $100 billion to their defense budgets by the end of 2020, with the majority to reach their 2 percent commitment by 2024.

“Still, too many others are falling short, and as we all acknowledge, Germany is chief among them,” Pence said.

He added that the country “has benefited from U.S. protection of Europe for generations,” and pointed to an annual report to parliament on Germany’s armed forces, saying it showed “glaring deficiencies in Germany’s military readiness.”

Pence also criticized Germany for its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which it is building with Russia in an effort to cut down on nuclear power use.  

“If Germany persists in building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, as President Trump said, it could turn Germany’s economy into literally a captive of Russia,” he said.

“It is simply unacceptable for Europe's largest economy to continue to ignore the threat of Russian aggression and neglect its own self-defense and our common defense.” 

Addressing a crowd largely made up of NATO country ambassadors, member state foreign ministers and supporters, Pence was tepidly received, with his planned pauses receiving only polite applause or outright silence.

Starting the address with a list of Trump’s domestic accomplishments, Pence then pivoted to NATO and said that the transatlantic alliance is stronger because of the “resolute” leadership of Trump, a claim that the audience met with silence.

Pence acknowledged that the administration is “aware that the president’s strong leadership has caused consternation amongst some in our alliance,” but countered that “when President Donald Trump calls on our NATO allies to live up to their word, to live up to the commitments that they’ve made to our common defense, that’s what we call being the leader of the free world.”

Trump a day prior met NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House, taking the opportunity to once again target Germany for not raising its defense spending as high as he wants, bashing the nation for “not paying their fair share.”

“I have a great feeling for Germany, but they're not paying what they should be paying. We're paying for a big proportion of NATO, which is basically protecting Europe,” Trump said in the Oval Office.

Stoltenberg deflected the comment, noting that while defense spending must rise, the 2 percent target was decided by all NATO allies in 2014, before Trump took office, and was not set by the United States.

The secretary-general, when addressing a joint session of Congress earlier on Wednesday, alluded to disagreements between Trump and other NATO members, saying that “questions are being asked on both sides of the Atlantic about the strength of our partnership.”

“Open discussions and different views is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength,” Stoltenberg said to a standing ovation.