Tillerson Gives NATO Deadbeats Two Months To Start Contributing

REUTERS/Yves Herman

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
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At its annual foreign ministers meeting on Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told NATO’s deadbeat members to start contributing to the alliance or come up with some plans to do so.

He’d like to see some action by the time President Donald Trump next meets with NATO leaders in less than two months, on May 25.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quick to avert the challenge, insisting that Canada is already doing enough for the alliance. “Canada has always been one of the handful of countries that has always been ready and capable of stepping up on important missions of participating and of punching well above their weight,” he said in Toronto on Friday.

Canadian Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was seemingly oblivious to the suggestion that Canada might be required to spend more on defense, slipping into the current Liberal government talking points and telling reporters that “it’s also really important to look at capabilities and what countries are actually doing.”

“We really feel that we’re doing our share,” she said, highlighting Canada’s troop deployment to Latvia to help deter Russian aggression.

Canada agreed with other NATO leaders in 2014 that it would halt defense spending cuts and begin implementing a military budget that constitutes two percent of it national GDP. At present, only four NATO members have achieved that target besides the U.S., which spends 3.61 percent of its GDP on defense: Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland.

Canada spends barely one percent of its GDP on defense, and last week’s federal budget heralded worse, not better, days ahead for the military. The Liberal government has postponed various multi-billion dollar equipment procurement programs, some for decades in the future.

Speaking with his NATO counterparts in Brussels for the first time since becoming secretary of state, Tillerson said the U.S. is saddled with a “disproportionate share” of the NATO budget because other member nations refuse to spend more.

“Our goal should be to agree at the May leaders meeting that by the end of the year all allies will have either met the pledge guidelines or will have developed plans that clearly articulate how, with annual milestone progress commitments, the pledge will be fulfilled,” Tillerson told the ministers.

Though the secretary of state suggested he meant business, he did not spell out what might happen as a result of Canada and the most European nations exercising continued defense spending penury. Though President Trump has sometimes suggested grave consequences, Tillerson said the U.S. remains unequivocal in its support for NATO, insisting that “we understand that a threat against one of us is a threat against all of us, and we will respond accordingly. We will uphold the agreements we have made to defend our allies.”

Trump recent singled out Germany as a NATO debtor; it spends a mere 1.19 percent of its overall budget on defense last year.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel continued to suggest his country could not spend more and it would be “unrealistic” to expect them to do so. It would mean a spending increase of 35 billion euros ($37 billion) a year to over 70 billion euros.

“I don’t know a politician in Germany who believes that this would be achievable or even desirable,” Gabriel said.

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