Merkel says Germany must spend more on defense
BERLIN – Reuters
AFP photoGermany will have to increase its defense spending considerably from current levels to deal with external threats, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on June 22, while her cabinet expanded the role of the German navy in the Mediterranean Sea in combatting arms heading to jihadists in Libya.
Speaking at an economics conference in Berlin, Merkel said the European Union was not currently in a position to defend itself against external threats and it could not just rely on its transatlantic partnership with the United States.
“Sure enough this means that a country like Germany, which today spends around 1.2 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, and the United States, which spends 3.4 percent of GDP for defense will have to converge,” Merkel said.
She added that Germany could not expect others to bear the burden of defense in the long term.
In early May, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that the Bundeswehr, the German military, is expected to increase in the next seven years by 14,300 soldiers, while 4,400 civilian officers will also be added to the service.
This move is a first since 1990, ending a quarter of a century of successive cuts in the army since the end of the Cold War.
German soldiers totaled 178,000 last December, hovering close to the cap of 185,000 imposed since 2011.The army has seen a significant reduction in troop numbers since Germany’s reunification and after the Cold War. In 1990, the number of soldiers reached 585,000.
This boost in troop strength is “necessary given the current situation” of increasing tensions with Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, as well as several foreign missions undertaken by the army, Von der Leyen had said.
Meanwhile, Merkel’s cabinet agreed on June 22 to expand the role of the German navy in the Mediterranean Sea to include efforts to stop arms headed to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in Libya, government sources said.
The German decision comes days after the European Union gave its naval force the authority to search suspicious vessels as part of its five-frigate “Sophia” mission, which is also seeking to break up gangs smuggling migrants to Europe.
Parliament is expected to approve the move before it adjourns for the summer at the end of June, the sources said. The mandate also covers work to help Libya build up a coastal patrol and navy.
Germany has thus far participated in the EU mission with a logistics ship, and about 950 German soldiers have helped rescue about 15,000 people at sea since May 2015, according to the German military.
Once approved by parliament, this decision means German ships will be able to stop, search and seize larger vessels used by gangs transporting migrants, and also take suspects into custody, the sources said.
In cases of suspected arms smuggling, they will also be able to search ships transiting to and from Libya, they added.