- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Germany's defense minister yesterday announced cuts in the country's military budget, despite long-standing complaints from the United States and other NATO allies that Berlin already spent too little on defense.
Defense Minister Peter Struck told reporters in Berlin yesterday the cuts reflected the tight budget facing the government of recently re-elected Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, as well as the evolution of Germany's defense forces from a Cold War defensive posture to an international role in the global war on terrorism.
The cuts come at a delicate time in U.S.-German relations. Mr. Schroeder infuriated the Bush administration during his re-election campaign with pointed criticisms of the U.S. policy on Iraq, vowing that Germany would not take part in any military action against Baghdad.
In Brussels yesterday, NATO military officials began consideration of a new U.S. request for contributions to a war with Iraq.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, briefing NATO's executive council Wednesday, said the Pentagon was looking for NATO support in surveillance, logistics, humanitarian aid and defense of NATO member Turkey in the event of an attack on Iraq.
Despite repeated prodding by the Pentagon, Germany has long had one of the tightest defense budgets in Europe. Even before the latest cuts promised by Mr. Struck, Germany spent just more than 1 percent of its gross national product on defense, second-lowest behind Luxembourg in NATO.
The cuts come as both Britain and France are increasing their military spending and NATO has been pressuring new alliance members in Central and Eastern Europe to boost their own budgets.
"Germany is not even in the same league, and that's going to rankle the United States," Kenneth Payne, an analyst at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, told the Associated Press yesterday. "If you don't make the effort in terms of capabilities, your views don't carry much weight."
U.S. defense spending totals more than 4 percent of gross domestic product.
On Wednesday, Mr. Struck told the German Parliament that the government would be scaling back purchase orders for several systems, including the A400M military transport aircraft, the Meteor air-to-air missile for the proposed European fighter plane, and the Iris-T missile. The defense minister said the government was "reviewing" the status of the Tiger combat helicopter, a Franco-German venture.
"Budget restrictions have forced us to take this step," Mr. Struck told lawmakers. "It's pointless building castles in the sky in view of our stretched budget."
Mr. Struck did not put a figure on the coming defense cuts, but Germany's nominal military budget was expected to stay at about $24 billion per year through 2006. Dietrich Austermann, defense spokesman for the opposition Christian Democratic Union, called the new defense budget "a sad affair" that would kill any prospect of investment for the armed services for the next four years.
The Schroeder government, whose popularity has plunged in the wake of the September election as budget woes have mounted, argues it has contributed substantially to the global war on terror while managing the costly transition from a Cold War force to a modern army capable of deployments far from Europe.

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