Europe must ‘urgently’ ramp up ‘mass production of arms’ with the continent no longer living ‘in times of peace’, Germany warns, after Trump encouraged Russia to attack NATO allies who ‘don’t pay their dues’

Europe has to ‘urgently’ increased the ‘mass production of arms’ as we no longer ‘live in times of peace’, Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned, just days after Donald Trump encouraged Russia to attack NATO member states. 

Scholz became the latest leader on the continent to push for more defence spending, following comments made by the leaders of France and Poland that called for stronger defence ties among EU nations in light of the comments made by the presidential hopeful. 

Speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new munitions factory run by German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall in Unterluess, Scholz, 65, warned that European nations must pool orders and financing to provide the defence industry with purchase guarantees for the next decades.

‘This is urgently necessary because the painful reality is that we do not live in times of peace,’ he said, pointing to Russia’s war on Ukraine, adding: ‘Those who want peace must be able to successfully deter aggressors.’

Rheinmetall’s boss, Armin Papperger, told the BBC that Europe will need at least 10 years before it is able to fully defend itself, as current ammunition stocks across the continent are ’empty’ after many nations gave their supplies to Ukraine to help defend itself against Russia for the last two years. 

Olaf Scholz (pictured) became the latest leader on the continent to push for more defence spending

A Ukrainian soldier of an artillery unit fires towards Russian positions outside Bakhmut

A leading arms manufacturer said it would take 10 years for Europe to be properly armed

European weapons supplies are at an all time low, after many EU nations donated them to Ukraine to help its fight against Vladimir Putin's (pictured) forces

European weapons supplies are at an all time low, after many EU nations donated them to Ukraine to help its fight against Vladimir Putin’s (pictured) forces

Donald Trump said he was happy to see Russia take NATO nations on if they did not cough up the money

Donald Trump said he was happy to see Russia take NATO nations on if they did not cough up the money 

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Germany spent decades pulling away from its defence obligations, weighed down by its heavily militaristic past, and the consequential role it played in the early 20th century. 

But the invasion changed Germany’s post-WW2 policy of pacifism, and has since become the second biggest contributor of weapons to Ukraine. 

Germany, and other European nations, this week pledged to increase their defence spending and develop the military relationship between themselves. 

Yesterday the governments of Poland, France and Germany pledged to strengthen ties with each other. 

Donald Tusk, the current president of Poland and the former president of the EU, directly challenged Russia, telling reporters gathered in Paris: ‘There is no reason why we should be so clearly militarily weaker than Russia, and therefore increasing production and intensifying our cooperation are absolutely indisputable priorities.’

Tusk, 66, also referenced Alexander Dumas’ classic, ‘The Three Musketeers’, when discussing the relationship between the European Union, a largely economic bloc, and NATO, primarily a defence pact between nations. He said the relationship was based on the principle of ‘one for all, all for one.’

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (L), CEO of Rheinmetall Armin Papperger (C) and German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius (R) with artillery ammunition before the groundbreaking ceremony for a new munitions factory of German defence contractor Rheinmetall on February 12, 2024 in Unterluess, Germany. The war in Ukraine has been a boon to Rheinmetall as Germany seeks to provide Ukraine with munitions, including artillery shells, and also increase its own supply

Germany has become the second biggest contributor of weapons to Ukraine

Germany, and other European nations, this week pledged to increase their defence spending and develop the military relationship between them

Germany, and other European nations, this week pledged to increase their defence spending and develop the military relationship between them

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (L) and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (R) review a guard of honor upon Tusk's arrival for talks at the Chancellery on February 12, 2024 in Berlin, Germany

One senior NATO diplomat, speaking like others on condition of anonymity, called the comment an ‘attack on the soul of the alliance’

The diplomatic push across the continent comes after Donald Trump, former US president who is currently leading the race for the Republican nomination for the 2024 election, said earlier this week that he did not believe European nations were paying enough money to NATO. 

At a campaign rally in the US state of South Carolina, the volatile former reality TV star said on Saturday he told the leader of a ‘big’ European power he wouldn’t step in if Russia attacked an ally not meeting its financial obligations.

‘No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want,’ Trump told his supporters. 

US President Joe Biden – who has pledged iron-cast backing for the alliance – slammed the comments from his likely opponent in November’s presidential election as ‘appalling and dangerous’.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg issued an unusually strong-worded rebuttal to Trump, saying ‘any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the US’.

The outburst was the most extreme from the Republican frontrunner, casting doubt among diplomats on his commitment to NATO’s collective defence umbrella that has safeguarded Europe since World War II. 

One senior NATO diplomat, speaking like others on condition of anonymity, called the comment an ‘attack on the soul of the alliance’ for casting doubt on its Article 5 vow to protect an ally if attacked.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius and CEO of Rheinmetall Armin Papperger pose by Leopard 2 tanks

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius and CEO of Rheinmetall Armin Papperger pose by Leopard 2 tanks

A Ukrainian soldier leaves the driver's cab of a tank in the direction of Bakhmut

A Ukrainian soldier leaves the driver’s cab of a tank in the direction of Bakhmut

Fire and burnt-out cars are seen after a missile strike in Kyiv on January 2,2024

Fire and burnt-out cars are seen after a missile strike in Kyiv on January 2,2024

NATO countries missing 2% GDP defence spending target 

  • France (1.9 %)
  • Montenegro (1.87 %)
  • North Macedonia (1.87 %)
  • Bulgaria (1.84 %)
  • Croatia (1.79 %)
  • Albania (1.76 %)
  • Netherlands (1.7 %)
  • Norway (1.67 %)
  • Denmark (1.65 %)
  • Germany (1.57 %)
  • Czech Republic (1.5 %)
  • Portugal (1.48 %)
  • Italy (1.46 %)
  • Canada (1.38 %)
  • Slovenia (1.35 %)
  • Turkey (1.31 %)
  • Spain (1.26 %)
  • Belgium (1.26 %)

Officials have privately admitted that Trump’s choice to sow doubt about the US’ commitment to NATO benefits Putin, who may look to other European nations if Ukraine falls.  

Trump has previously been accused of cosying up to Putin and has cast doubt on sending more aid to Kyiv.

But multiple diplomats said that, despite his bluster, the ex-US leader does have a point on spending and has actually helped strengthen NATO by getting others to spend more.

‘Worrying statement – but at the same time many allies have not reached minimal two percent of GDP for defence,’ said another NATO diplomat.

‘The goal seems to be obvious in current geopolitical situation, but still not yet become a reality. Europe should do more in this regard.’

Moscow’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 already pushed European nations to up defence budgets. The full-scale invasion in 2022 saw NATO turn the two percent into a floor not a ceiling.

Trump’s goading sped up the process, but still in 2023 only eleven of the 31 allies were predicted to hit the target and the US still accounts for the vast bulk of combined defence expenditure.

‘Forget the rhetoric, follow the money,’ said one NATO diplomat.

Another pointed out that, while many had feared the worst during Trump’s term, his moves then resulted in a strengthened NATO.

A woman reacts as she stands in front of a house burning after being shelled in the city of Irpin, outside Kyiv

A woman reacts as she stands in front of a house burning after being shelled in the city of Irpin, outside Kyiv

This aerial picture shows burned Russian armoured vehicles in the outskirts of Kyiv

This aerial picture shows burned Russian armoured vehicles in the outskirts of Kyiv

A Ukrainian soldier in a tank in the direction of Bakhmut, where clashes between Russia and Ukraine continue to take place

A Ukrainian soldier in a tank in the direction of Bakhmut, where clashes between Russia and Ukraine continue to take place

NATO countries hitting 2% GDP defence spending target 

  • Poland (3.9 %)
  • US (3.49 %)
  • Greece (3.01 %)
  • Estonia (2.73 %)
  • Lithuania (2.54 %)
  • Finland (2.45 %)
  • Romania (2.44 %)
  • Hungary (2.43 %)
  • Latvia (2.27 %)
  • United Kingdom (2.07 %)
  • Slovakia (2.03 %)

Iceland and Luxembourg do not hit the 2% GDP defence spending target, but these nations are not counted in this list.

Luxembourg’s size means it is not held to the same target, and Iceland does not maintain an armed forces.

‘He invested more in the Eastern flank, basically made Europe invest more in defence, was quite calm at the summits, kept the forces in Europe,’ the diplomat said.

‘It seems it may be just a way to make us do more. But do we have a guarantee? No.’

This isn’t the first time Trump has flirted with the idea of pulling out of the bloc.  

During his term in office Trump reportedly mulled pulling Washington out of the alliance and rounded on members such as Germany for falling well below a target of spending two percent of GDP on defence.

But since the commitment was pledged in 2014, just 11 out of the 31 member states currently meet that target. 

Of the three EU and NATO nations whose governments met in Paris yesterday, only Poland spends more than the two percent pledge on defence. 

The nation spends 3.9% of its annual GDP on defence, while France and Germany spend, respectively, 1.9% and 1.57%. 

German officials have been quick to point out they expect to meet the 2% target this year, partly thanks to a special 1-billion-euro fund established in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

But even though Germany is ramping up its defence spending, that leaves nearly two dozen countries lagging behind their commitments.

Former US President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump attends a "Get Out the Vote" Rally in Conway, South Carolina, on February 10, 2024

Former US President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump attends a “Get Out the Vote” Rally in Conway, South Carolina, on February 10, 2024

The lowest spenders as a share of national GDP were Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg, at just 1.26%, 1.26% and 0.72% respectively, according to the NATO figures.

Given Luxembourg’s miniscule size and resources compared to other NATO countries, it is not expected to meet the same requirements. Iceland meanwhile isn’t included in the list, because it doesn’t have its own military despite being a founding NATO member.

NATO is expected to release updated figures in the coming days that will show more allies meeting the 2% target, according to people familiar with the data.

The security bloc is also set to expand to 32 countries in the near future, with Sweden awaiting ratification of its application amid obstacles presented by Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

But according to the existing figures, there are seven member countries whose defence spending remains less than 1.5% of GDP, non-inclusive of Iceland and Luxembourg.

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