Why would Trump call out Germany on their spending budget for NATO?

He tweets Germany

owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!"

  • Would he be doing it as a tactic for other NATO members to up their defence spending?

  • or is this something regarding relations between Germany and the US?

  • or is he just unfamiliar with how NATO works?

Germany have rejected these claims with "there is no debt account at NATO" stated by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

I'm just unsure why it would it be necessary seeing as Germany are on target for the 2% GDP defence target by 2024.

A direct comment from the NATO annual address on March 13th, 2017.

OANA LUNGESCU: Financial Times.

Q: Hi, Arthur Beesley here. In your assessment, Secretary General, are efforts by Germany to increase defence spending, which are underway, are those efforts sufficient at this time? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The important thing is that Germany has turned a corner. Because after years of decline in defence spending they have now stopped the cuts in defence spending and actually started to increase. And if you, afterwards you will have the Annual Report, I think its table three, then you will see the real change in defence spending for all individual allies and Germany has an increase in 2016. I of course expect Germany as all other Allies to continue to keep up the momentum and to continue to invest more in defence and of course I expect that from all allies but Germany being the biggest economy in Europe it really matters what Germany does. And therefore I welcome the very clear messages from Chancellor Merkel and from other German leaders that they will now start to invest more in our defence. This is not just about, you know a call from United States and from President Trump, this is also about that it is a decision made by 28 Allies together, it is in Europe’s own interest to invest more in defence and I welcome the fact that Germany has started. Germany as many other Allies has a long way to go but at least after years of decline we have now seen that they are moving in the right direction and this has been my main issue when I met different political leaders in different NATO capitals since I became Secretary General in 2014 and of course I spoke with Chancellor Merkel recently and that was one of the issues we discussed, how can we make sure that we continue to invest more in defense.

  • 8
    You may want to consider linking the tweet or providing the full context of it. I think that it makes it relatively clear that Trump is not talking about "owe" in a legal or practical sense, but in the sense that he feels that Germany should pay more. Honestly, I'm not sure if it's even an actual claim, or just him lashing out because he feels that the media was too negative on his meeting with Merkel.
    – tim
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 19:09
  • 8
    It is fascinating how many apologists are making a science of how we should interpret the words of the Tweejit-in-chief, and how the common meanings of words like "owe" and "tapp (sic)" shouldn't be taken at face value.
    – jalynn2
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 12:55
  • 4
    How is spending 1.23% by the end of the next budget on target for the agreed 2%? The 2% target dates back to 2004. If we extrapolate the budget changes since then, we'd expect Germany to achieve the 2% norm somewhere in the second half of this century.
    – MSalters
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 9:25
  • 3
    Always remember that the Marshall plan considered West Germany a defence investment - in the american interest! Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 18:18
  • 3
    Explain Trump. Seriously. Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 17:08

2 Answers 2


Trump is only calling out Germany in particular because he just recently had a meeting with Merkel and it was topical. It is generally Trump's position that all NATO members should pay a higher amount. Trump has claimed this multiple times.

While Germany is on track for its 2024 target, NATO membership does does dicated that it should be funded at a 2% GDP rate. Part of Trump's argument is that they shouldn't have fallen below 2% in the first place. Of course this is complicated by many circumstances, but the core of Trump's argument remains: NATO membership says 2% and Germany (as well as most NATO members) do not hit that mark.

Trump ratcheting up pressure on defense spending of NATO members is certainly his way of trying to increase their spending. This is his stated goal. I wouldn't go so far as to call it strong-arming since so far it's only been talk and no action, but it is part of a continued effort to put pressure on NATO members to increase spending.

  • 4
    To clarify, the 2% figure was only made mandatory a couple of years ago and Germany, who have a small military, have until 2024 to meet, a goal that, as David says, they are on track to meet.
    – rougon
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 1:31
  • 3
    @rougon: The 2% figure will never be met. Germany is currently at 1.2%; to reach 2% in 2024 Germany would need to more than double current spending (since the GNI will rise till 2024). Nobody (apart from Trump and his cronies) really wants that. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 10:54
  • 8
    @DavidGrinberg thats just plain factually wrong. The USA spends ~3.3% of its GDP on defense. That money is neither send to nato nor is it all spend on nato related stuff. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 14:04
  • 5
    @OHGODSPIDERS Sorry, I was dumb in that comment for some reason. You're right I misrepresented how it is. NATO Guidelines say you need to spend 2% on defense, not necessarily as direct contributions to NATO. Bottom line still remains though: The US and a few other countries meet this target, Germany and others do not, ergo Trump gripes. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 15:25
  • 6
    @gnasher729 Generally, "defense spending" is just a euphemism for "military spending."
    – jpmc26
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 0:38

Many people believe that the current global order is the final form of human government, a natural end point of sociocultural evolution. Others just see it as a world order that emerged after the fall of the soviet union.

Historically every few decades a new deal was forged between the major players:

After WWII the world was basically divided between american and soviet empire. The foundation of the american order was bretton woods system, IMF, world bank and NATO. USA as a naval empire established the global trade system where the dollar was agreed to be used as the global currency. USA kept sea lines secure and shielded it from external treat. All the countries involved in the system benefited from it.

But that has changed. After nixon visited china, Chinese join the system and in a long run it changed everything. Today USA noticed that they cannot longer afford to be the only country that funds the system and keep it safe. China grew to become a big threat to the american world order. Obama noticed that and started the pivot to Asia. The new military doctrine aka. 'the future war with china' was presented in 2010.

What Chinese are doing:

  • America rules the sea and this is not gonna changed for another 50 year. The knowledge needed to operate a carrier group is not something you can buy on open market. It is extremely complicated to develop. Instead Chinese chose to invest in the land communication between china, india and europe. Anticipated cumulative investment over an indefinite timescale is variously put at US$4 trillion or US$8 trillion.
  • they are investing in military defense, Artificial islands in South China Sea, hyper sonic missile. During taiwan strait crisis aircraft carrier was deployed between the taiwan and china, and chinese could not do anything. Today most analytics agree that in case of war, Taiwan will fall to china.
  • China is setting up a competitor to IMF and World bank

What is America doing? Obama's planed to setup an international trade deals between USA and pacific countries and between USA and europe, therefore isolating China. However blue collar american workers were the ones that would have paid the bill, with less work opportunities and lower wages, so Clinton lost the elections.

So what about Germany? Well, Germany is a huge exporter, so many think that they are the ones that benefit from the american world order, but are not willing to pay the bill for it. What's the bill? USA wants to focus on pacific, they cannot longer afford to defend europe and europe is not able to defend themselves. The intervention in Libya was supposed to be carried out by Europeans, but america had to step in, because european armies were out of munition after few weeks. Libya is a country of 6 mln people, if that was too much then what about Russia? USA wants their allies to share the cost and be serious about army.

Does it matter? Is europe under threat? Who knows, it is worth to remember that WWII started in far east in manchuria. The british could no longer afford to be present there, so Japan filled the void. Nobody wants Putin to fill the void.

  • I gave +1 after reading the first 4 lines! Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 10:50
  • Extremely elucidating. Is that going to tell that the main pillar of Trumpism is that the US must fight for the liberal order while assigning the costs of the fight to the allies rather than paying them by themselves (meaning mostly the workers)? You see, in Russia it is perceived that Trumpism is about not fighting for the liberal order at all, which is why he's been so popular in the country...
    – Evgeniy
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 13:07

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