German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen Discusses Defence and Security Priorities with NATO Parliamentary Assembly Delegation

08 April 2019

Brussels, 9 April 2019 - Germany remains committed to defending the core values of the Atlantic alliance, including democracy, the rule of law and the rights and dignity of the individual, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen assured a delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly during a recent visit to Germany.  While she emphasised that Germany continues to increase its military investments towards meeting the Wales investment pledge which stipulates that each NATO Ally should spend 2% of GDP on defence by 2024, she also noted that additional resources will be necessary.

In a meeting with parliamentarians from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Ursula von der Leyen pointed out the difficulties in achieving this target. Germany’s defence spending, she said, had fallen as low as 1.1% of GDP after the fall of the Berlin Wall and only began to rise as the security situation in Europe began to worsen. German leaders recognise that spending on the military has to rise, but progress on this front has been complicated by several factors.  When an economy is growing quickly, achieving the 2% of GDP target becomes more difficult as the target itself is also growing. 

The Defence Minister told members of the NATO PA’s Sub-Committee on NATO Partnerships and its Sub-Committee on Trans-Atlantic Economic Relations that Europe must make efforts in reducing the fragmentation of European armed forces. This is precisely why the European Union is pushing for a more “homogenous development” of its armed forces through the European Defence Union and Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) through which 25 of the 28 national armed forces in the EU are pursuing a higher level of structural integration. She added that the Union is putting significant financial resources behind these projects to develop incentives for national militaries to develop together to make these forces collectively more consequential and cost effective.  She stressed that greater cooperation among EU member countries must not come at the expense of NATO. The Minister also underlined that Germany is the second most important troop contributor to NATO missions. 

Russia was another important theme of the discussions during the visit. German officials denounced Russia’s aggressive behaviour towards allies and partners, and Ukraine in particular.  As the Russian leadership is very dedicated to recovering the capacity to project power, it seems unlikely that it will change its current policies in Ukraine and Syria. Nonetheless, this should not prevent the West from conducting dialogue with Russia on those matters of mutual interest. This is why Germany continues to participate in bilateral discussions with Russian officials and supports military to military contacts including those between NATO and Russian officers, the delegation was informed.

Germany has also supported EU sanctions on Russia and believes that these should remain linked to progress on implementation of the Minsk process in Ukraine. As Mr Michael Siebert, Director for East Europe at the German Foreign Ministry stressed, sanctions are a political instrument and must be linked to a political objective regarding Russian behaviour. In order to be successful, they should be targeted, proportionate, and gaged to incentivise a change in Russian behaviour. German officials expressed concern that some US sanctions seem less clear in their objectives and thus fail to provide a clear roadmap for the target of those sanctions. In several instances, US sanctions are doing more damage to European firms that to Russian interests and as a matter of principle, Germany like many other European governments, believes that secondary sanctions are unacceptable. Mr. Siebert urged members to look into this matter. Christian Tybring-Gjedde, the General Rapporteur of the NATO PA’s Economics and Security Committee, is in fact producing a report on these issues that will be presented at the NATO PA’s spring session in Slovakia early June.

The delegation also visited US Africa Command (AFRICOM) located in Stuttgart to discuss security and stability in Africa. Although AFRICOM is the command centre for U.S. military operations, it also engages a number of European liaison officers to ensure that the command is well aware of the work of other security forces operating in the region and is positioned to share experiences among allied and partner countries. 

AFRICOM is working to help African partner countries build up their capabilities, counter a range of threats and conduct crisis response.  AFRICOM’s partners on the continent include the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the South African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC), and the United Nations, among others. This year, the General Rapporteur of the NATO PA’s Political Committee, Julio Miranda Calha is producing a report on Security and Stability in Africa. The briefings provided by senior U.S. AFRICOM officials focused on the factors driving instability in Africa and the implications of this instability for the security on NATO’s southern flank. In addition to the threat posed by violent extremist groups economic issues, poor governance and migration were high on the agenda in the discussions at U.S. AFRICOM. Read the full press release here

The NATO PA delegation was led by Miro Kovac, a Croatian MP and Chair of the Sub-Committee on NATO Partnerships and Jean Luc Reitzer, a French MP and Vice Chair of the Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Economic Relations.  In addition to meeting senior government and military officials it also held discussions with the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. In addition, members visited two large German companies:  Systems, Applications and Products in Data Processing (SAP) in Walldorf and Audi in Neckarsulm. The visit took place 18-21 March 2019.

Photos of the visit are available for public use on Flickr.

Read also