The US defence secretary has told America’s NATO allies that they must honour military spending pledges to ensure the US does not “moderate” its support for the alliance.
“I owe it to you to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States, and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” said General James Mattis during closed door talks in Brussels, where he was speaking on his first visit to Europe since taking up his job.
“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 defence.”
Mattis had earlier expressed strong support for NATO, describing the transatlantic alliance as a “fundamental bedrock” of his country’s defence policy, in an apparent attempt to try to reassure European allies unnerved by Donald Trump’s description of NATO as “obsolete”.
Trump “has strong support for NATO”, he said, against a backdrop of fresh scrutiny over the new US administration’s alleged links to Russia.
But Mattis also told a meeting of defence ministers: “No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defence of western values. Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do.”
Trump has long argued that the US bears too large a share of the NATO financial burden and that the other member countries should at least meet the target of spending at least 2% of their national GDP on defence. NATO says only the US, UK, Poland, Estonia and Greece have met the target
Mattis tried to make his case by citing the threat from Moscow, noting Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and Islamic State’s hold over parts of Iraq and Syria, and saying that “some in this alliance have looked away in denial of what is happening”.
“Despite the threats from the east and south, we have failed to fill gaps in our NATO response force or to adapt,” he added.
Mattis will attend the Munich security conference at the weekend on a visit that will offer another opportunity for European defence and security ministers to try to gauge the Trump administration’s plans.
Briefing defence correspondents during a flight from Washington to Brussels, Mattis adopted a more sceptical line towards Russia than Trump has so far. He spoke about the need for NATO to adapt to what he called the “watershed” year of 2014, when Russian involvement in Ukraine meant that “many of our hopes for some kind of partnership with Russia were finally shown to be unavailing”.
But he shared Trump’s call for an increase in European defence spending.
“A number of European nations already meet the 2.0 [%]. A number of others are clearly on a trajectory to get there and we have to have an open conversation among friends and allies about where we’re going and turn to that level of commitment.”
On Tuesday, the International Institute for Strategic Studies thinktank said in its annual military balance report that UK defence spending had fallen to 1.98% in 2016. The UK Ministry of Defence disputed this.
Trump created alarm among other NATO members last year when he said the US might not automatically come to the defence of a fellow member under attack.
Source: The Guardian