U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis warned NATO defense ministers Wednesday their countries must increase defense spending, or the U.S. would decrease its own contributions to NATO.
Mattis’s warning echoes a major theme of President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, which repeatedly emphasized burden-sharing within the military alliance. “I owe it to you all 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,” Mattis said in Brussels.
“America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense,” Mattis continued. This theme is consistent with Trump’s comments days before taking office to a German publication calling NATO “obsolete.” He also doubled down on his call for alliance members to up their defense spending at a visit to U.S. Central Command Feb 6.
U.S. secretaries of defense have long tried to get other NATO member countries to increase defense spending relative to their GDP, as required by the North Atlantic Treaty. More than 20 countries in the alliance disregard this requirement.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates similarly told NATO in 2011, “The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”
Trump himself will travel to a full meeting of NATO leaders in May where he will also likely demand increased defense spending along with commitments to the fight against the Islamic State.
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