BERLIN Feb 23 Two senior members of Chancellor
Angela Merkel's conservatives on Thursday warned election rivals
the Social Democrats (SPD) against politicising Germany's
efforts to increase military spending, saying security threats
made such steps essential.
The strongly worded comments came after Foreign Minister
Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, questioned rapid moves to
meet NATO's defence spending goal, arguing that German spending
to integrate a million refugees also strengthened security.
Germany has come under increased pressure since the election
of U.S. President Donald Trump to boost military spending to
meet NATO's target of 2 percent of gross domestic product, which
was agreed by all members of the 28-nation alliance in 2014.
"The SPD is doing a disservice to Germany's security by
relativising the 2-percent target. The security of our citizens
is too important to make it a political football," said Henning
Otte, military spokesman for Merkel's Christian Democrats and
their CSU Bavarian sister party in parliament, and Juergen
Hardt, the group's foreign policy spokesman.
The issue has caused a rift in Merkel's coalition at a time
when the SPD is making gains against conservatives ahead of
September's national election.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, also a
conservative, issued a statement critical of Gabriel on
Wednesday, but the controversy widened on Thursday.
Otte and Hardt said the entire coalition government,
including then-Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, an SPD
member, had signed the 2 percent goal at the NATO summit in
Wales in 2014.
Merkel underscored Germany's determination to meet the
target during a news conference on Thursday, although she has
cautioned in the past that it will take time to boost spending
from its current level of 1.2 percent of GDP.
Otte told Reuters in a separate statement that it was
imperative to increase the size and equipment of the German
military to modernise the force and prepare it for new security
challenges, not least in the cyber realm.
He said current plans to increase military spending by eight
percent year after year would put Germany on a good path to
achieve the alliance goal.
Several of von der Leyen's biggest procurement priorities,
including a multibillion-euro missile defence programme, a new
multi-role ship and a new unmanned drone, have been delayed
given rigorous new procurement procedures.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Alison Williams)