Esper arrives in Europe, hints he may prefer more money from NATO...

Esper arrives in Europe, hints he may prefer more money from NATO allies

Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrives in Germany today on a three nation swing to meet with NATO allies (TMN photo by Tom Squitieri)

STUTTGART, Germany — Defense Secretary Mark Esper will work with NATO leaders to urge increased financial commitments for allied members, beyond the current 2% of a nation’s gross national product spent on defense by 2024.

He also said that plans were moving forward toward a larger deployment of U.S. troops to Poland on a rotational basis. Early reports say those U.S troops will be in at least six locations in Poland.

“I will continue to make the point with all allies that two percent is the minimum, and particularly Germany because Germany’s a wealthy country and they’re paying one of the lowest — making one of the lowest contributions in NATO and they really don’t have any viable plans to hit the two percent within the timelines prescribed,” Esper told Pentagon reporters en route to Germany.

“So yes, two percent’s critical and it’s not just, again, allies in NATO, it’s allies in Asia, as well. And in my mind, two percent’s the floor. I think given the threats and challenges we face in both regions, it should be higher than that. The United States is contributing well over three percent.”

Germany now contributes 1.3% of its GNP to defense, with plans to increase it to 1.5% by 2024.  France, which Esper visits Friday and Saturday, is now at 1.8 percent and expects to hit 2% in 2025.

The United Kingdom, which Esper visits Thursday and Friday, is over 2%, one of eight NATO nations to reach that threshold.

Esper declined to delve into the situation in Afghanistan because of ongoing efforts to find a political solution to the 18-year conflict, other than saying the U.S. is “on the cusp” of a possible peace deal.

“I will take a pause on that and do not want to comment on that,” Esper said. “We went into Afghanistan making sure it would not be a safe have for terrorists. We want to make sure when we come out it is not a safe haven.”

Esper did elude to the idea that the Trump administration still has not signed off on a plan being reported in the media, which would reduce the U.S. troops’ footprint in Afghanistan from the current 15,500 to about 8,500 personnel.

He did not address the question of whether what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan is a “surrender.” Instead, he said the best way forward is “a political agreement” since the current state of warfare is not practical to continue.

Esper declined to respond to bipartisan questions and concerns on Capitol Hill over the use of military construction funds going to the border wall, citing ongoing notifications to lawmakers. On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced it is going reprogram $3.6 billion in funds appropriated for military construction projects to pay for 11 projects covering 175 miles; the first $1.8 billion will come from overseas projects.

Although Esper would not comment on the matter, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released a statement criticizing the move.

“It is a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces who serve our country that President Trump is willing to cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego, and for a wall, he promised Mexico would pay to build,” Schumer said in a news release. “The president is trying to usurp Congress’s exclusive power of the purse and loot vital funds from our military.”

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