The new defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis told NATO members that the U.S. would “moderate its commitment” to the alliance if defense spending is not increased, although he didn’t clarify what he meant by “moderating” support.
The comments from General Mattis are a repetition of what Mr. Trump said in an interview last month; he demanded that members of the alliance raise the spending to meet the 2% of their GDP target. Only five out of twenty-seven countries meet this mark.
Mr. Mattis had earlier hailed NATO as the “fundamental bedrock” of Trans-Atlantic cooperation.
Here’s what he said at the NATO headquarters in Brussels:
“No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values. Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do.”
This was one of the strongest criticisms of the allies in years for not meeting their spending goals. Mr. Mattis said that members should make improvements this year and adopt a plan to increase their contributions, even if slowly.
Out of the twenty-seven countries, only U.K., U.S., Greece, Poland, and Estonia currently meet the 2% GDP target, with the rest of the countries on course to reach that level. According to 2016 NATO figures, the U.S. spends 3.6% on defense. Other prominent members of the alliance who do not meet the 2% mark include France (1.7%), Germany (1.1%), Italy (1.1%), and Spain (0.9%). The U.S. Defense Secretary said:
“America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense.”
He also that it was imperative to invest in common defense, and cited new threats to the alliance that have emerged since 2014, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the rise of so-called Islamic State on the southern border of member Turkey, specifically in Syria and Iraq.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, stated that the members of the alliance were already increasing their contributions.
Michael Fallon, UK Defense Secretary, however, backed Mr. Mattis’ remarks and said that he had urged the members to increase their spending, even if they couldn’t meet the 2% target. “We’re asking for an annual increase” commitment that would demonstrate good faith, he added.
Many European nations had been worried – especially the ones close to Russia – when Trump commented during the election campaign that U.S. might not defend allies who are not contributing their “fair share” to NATO. Europe’s low expenditure has been a sore point for the U.S., which puts up close to 70% of the alliance funds. Mr. Trump has changed the policy by voicing his concern about other nations being “unfair” to the U.S., and he even called the military alliance “obsolete.”
But Mr. Mattis has shown strong support for the alliance; for its ability to respond to security challenges.
“The alliance remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States and the trans-Atlantic community, bonded as we are together.”