‘Total diplomatic failure’: US Ambassador sparks anger in Germany

US Ambassador Richard Grenell has come under fire for criticizing Germany's military spending plans.

'Total diplomatic failure': US Ambassador sparks anger in Germany
US Ambassador Richard Grenell. Photo: DPA

It came after the United States on Tuesday labelled as “worrisome” budget plans by NATO ally Germany that project a fall in military spending in coming years.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly accused the biggest EU economy of freeloading on US military might with defence spending far below the NATO member target of two percent of GDP.

Germany's finance ministry had on Monday presented its budget planning for coming years, which signalled a drop.

SEE ALSO: What you should know about Trump's new ambassador to Germany

It said defence spending would first rise to 1.37 percent of gross domestic product in 2020 but then likely fall back to 1.25 percent by 2023.

US Ambassador Richard Grenell — who has criticised Germany on issues from its Iran policy to proposals to use telecom equipment by China's Huawei — was quick to comment on the projection.

“NATO members clearly pledged to move towards, not away from, two percent by 2024,” he said, referring to a goal set at a 2014 alliance summit.

“That the German government would even be considering reducing its already unacceptable commitments to military readiness is a worrisome signal to Germany's 28 NATO Allies.”

But Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Germany will not cut foreign aid to raise military spending, and rejected the US criticism of its defence outlays.

Merkel said “we will continue our effort” in terms of raising defence spending, “but not at the expense of development aid”.

'Total diplomatic failure'

Grenell's latest reprimand sparked anger in Berlin. A senior lawmaker of the Social Democrats, Carsten Schneider, labelled Grenell a “total diplomatic failure” and the liberal FDP party's Wolfgang Kubicki even demanded the envoy be expelled.

SEE ALSO: Should Germany expel the US Ambassador?

Merkel, speaking more diplomatically at a Berlin conference, pushed back against the criticism by arguing that Germany was as focused on foreign aid as on military spending.

“We have always said that we're headed in the direction of two percent, and that by 2024 we will reach 1.5 percent,” she said.

“I can understand that this is not enough for the American president, it's not enough for many European allies,” she conceded, speaking at the Global Solutions Summit in Berlin.

But Merkel stressed that Germany had already raised military spending as a proportion of GDP despite a growing economy, and that future spending will likely be higher than current projections.

While German defence spending went up from $45 billion to $50 billion last year, the growing economy meant the figure relative to GDP stayed flat at 1.23 percent.

Merkel also pointed out that Germany is one of the biggest donors to help Syrian refugees, and one of the largest recipients of Syrians seeking safe haven — which, she noted, Trump had also criticized.

Trump's regular outbursts about European defence expenditure have caused some to question the future of the alliance, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.

US military spending dwarfs that of the rest of the alliance. In 2018 Washington spent nearly $700 billion on defence, compared with just $280 billion for all the European NATO allies combined.

Member comments

  1. People often get pissy when they’re told the truth.

    The free ride is over, Europe. Grow up and pay your share.

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Germany welcomes US troop withdrawal freeze under Biden

The German government on Friday welcomed a decision by President Joe Biden to put on hold plans to reduce US troops in Germany, saying their presence was in the countries' mutual interest.

Germany welcomes US troop withdrawal freeze under Biden
An American soldier stationed in Germany, in front of Dresden's Military History Museum in 2016. Photo: DPA

“We have always been convinced that American troops being stationed here in Germany serves European and transatlantic security and hence is in our mutual interest,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.

As part of a major foreign and security policy overhaul presented Thursday, Biden announced a freeze on plans set in motion by his predecessor Donald Trump to reduce the US troop presence in Germany, a cornerstone of NATO security since the start of the Cold War.

READ ALSO: What could Joe Biden as US president mean for Germany?

Trump's decision was seen as linked to his tense relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and his frequent complaints that Europe's top economy spent too little on defence.

The United States has had US troops stationed in Germany since World War II but their numbers have declined since the fall of the Berlin Wall from some 200,000 soldiers in 1990 to 34,500 today.

Although the prospect had been looming for years, Trump's decision in July to redeploy 12,000 soldiers from Germany still came as a shock, particularly to towns that have built strong economic and cultural ties to the US military.

READ ALSO: Trump to withdraw 'thousands of US soldiers from Germany' under Biden

“We strongly value the close, decades-long cooperation with the American troops stationed in Germany,” Seibert said.

He said the communities hosting GIs appreciated their presence, calling the bases “part of the lived transatlantic friendship”.  

Seibert said German officials were in “consultations” with the US administration about “further planning” but that the decision how to shape the future American military footprint in Europe was a “US domestic issue”.