Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is heading to his first NATO meeting Friday, and he intends to press allies on their meager spending on the military alliance.
A Department of State official said Tuesday that Tillerson will ask foreign ministers how they plan to meet the defense spending goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product, a target required of all members under the NATO charter. He will also pressure NATO contribute more resources to the fight against the Islamic State and terrorism, Reuters reported.
Tillerson is not the first cabinet official to criticize NATO members for their paltry contributions to the mutual defense budget, which gets nearly three quarters of its total funding from the U.S. In February, Secretary of Defense James Mattis told defense ministers that “each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense” if they didn’t want to “see America moderate its commitment to the alliance.”
The U.S. has for many years complained that its NATO allies aren’t paying their fair share. Only five member nations–Britain, Estonia, Greece, Poland and the United States–currently meet the spending threshold, according to 2016 NATO figures. President Donald Trump made the issue a central part of his campaign, promising to to reevaluate America’s commitment to the alliance if certain countries didn’t increase their defense spending levels. (RELATED: If Germany Actually Owe NATO, The Amount Would Be Staggering [GRAPH])
“It is no longer sustainable for the United States to maintain a disproportionate share of NATO’s deterrence and defense spending,” the State Department official told reporters Tuesday, on the condition of anonymity.
Tillerson’s trip to Brussels comes after the Department of State announced he would forego the meeting of foreign ministers in order to attend a U.S. visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in early April. Amid outcries from Democratic lawmakers that the secretary of state’s absence would be an affront to NATO, the department reversed course and said Tillerson would attend a rescheduled meeting on March 31.
The Trump administration has recently moved to reduce fears that it wants to accommodate Russia at the expense of the longstanding NATO alliance. Earlier this month, Tillerson sent a letter to Senate leadership urging the approval of Montenegro as a full NATO member, despite Russia’s position that any further NATO expansion would be considered a provocative act.
Senators overwhelmingly approved Montenegro’s bid on Tuesday by a vote of 97-2.
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