This is going to get very ugly. Germany is openly defying US President Trump's demands to spend more on its NATO budget. Already the American ambassador to the country is crying foul, prompting German calls for his expulsion.
Of all the countries in the European Union, it is Germany that's been mostly on the receiving end of Trump's wrath since he entered the White House. In two years, the bilateral relation between Washington and Berlin has plummeted under the weight of Trump's withering verbal attacks.
The American president has assailed Germany for unfair trading practices over its lucrative auto exports; and he has virtually accused Berlin of treason in its dealings with Russia for natural gas supply, threatening to slap economic sanctions on German firms over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project under the Baltic Sea.
Germany has vehemently rejected Trump's accusations, saying its auto industry is a big investor in creating American jobs, and that its energy policies are a sovereign matter based on objective market principles.
But above all his complaints, Trump has continually rebuked Germany for not spending enough on NATO commitments, sniping that the country is freeloading on American military protection. At a NATO summit last year, Trump hectored German Chancellor Angela Merkel to raise her country's annual military budget to the designated NATO target of 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
For many years, especially after the end of the Cold War, German military spending has lagged at around 1 percent of GDP. Trump contends that, as Europe's largest national economy, Berlin should at least double its defense budget.
Latest figures, however, show that German military spending is nowhere near reaching the 2 percent target that Trump has been fulminating about. Indeed, the trend appears to be one of declining expenditure by Berlin on military, not increasing.
That caused earlier this week US ambassador Richard Grenell to decry Germany's "failure" to live up to its NATO commitments.
Grenell is something of a Trump cypher. It is not the first time the envoy has harangued Germany in terms that his boss in the White House could have almost written for him. Grenell has been slamming Berlin over the Nord Stream 2 gas project with Russia and in its dealings with Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.
His condemnations this week regarding Germany's military budget have again sparked furor among the country's politicians and media, eliciting further public calls for the envoy to be expelled owing to his alleged gross interference in Berlin's internal affairs. "An ambassador is not supposed to act like the spokesman of an occupying power," said Wolfgang Kubicki, the deputy leader of the Free Democrat Party.
The New York Times this week reported "the timing couldn't be worse" for US-German relations. Next month marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the NATO alliance. A major celebration is due to take place in Washington DC for the occasion. The atmosphere will be severely chilled by Germany's truculent defiance of Trump to boost its commitment to NATO.
Out of some 30 members in the US-led NATO bloc, only seven countries have managed to raise their military budgets to the 2 percent of GDP target that Trump has clamored for. That target figure predates Trump's presidency. But since the end of the Cold War, many European members of NATO have reduced military spending. Trump has made it an obsessive issue and has even threatened to pull the US out of NATO if European members don't pull their financial weight.
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