- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday that wealthy countries in Europe and elsewhere must contribute more to regional security and spend more on defense — even more than President Trump’s strict 2% threshold.

Speaking at this year’s virtual Aspen Security Forum, Mr. Esper backed up the White House’s longstanding contention that NATO partners and other key U.S. allies need to dedicate a larger portion of their GDP to defense. His comments come a week after the Pentagon announced a series of sweeping changes to American troop deployments in Europe, including the withdrawal of nearly 12,000 troops from Germany.

Mr. Trump explicitly said that withdrawal was because of Berlin’s failure to meet the 2% defense spending mark.

But Mr. Esper said that some countries can and should do even more than that.

“This has been a historical issue for the United States, getting the European partners to pay more, to pay their fair share,” he said. “We said the fair share is 2%. Frankly, I think it could be, should be, more than that depending on how wealthy the country is. And I’ve come to the point where I’ve kind of put that standard out there for all of our partners.

“If we’re all going to work together, if we’re all going to commit to collective security, in order to protect the international rules and norms, in order to push back against countries that want to infringe upon individual rights or another country’s sovereignty, then we have all got to work together, contribute together,” he continued.

Mr. Esper and other top military officials have avoided saying explicitly that the European troop reconfiguration was solely because of Germany’s level of defense spending. Officials have stressed that the changes announced last week — including moving U.S. European Command headquarters from Germany to Belgium — will enhance NATO security.

German officials, meanwhile, have pushed back on Washington and said they’re ramping up defense spending. They’ve also disputed Mr. Trump’s contention that a nation’s security contributions should be measured by the percentage of GDP spent on defense.

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