Mattis to NATO allies: cough up the money for defence or else

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 12:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 12:33am

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis issued an ultimatum Wednesday to allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), warning that if they do not boost their defence spending to goals set by the alliance, the United States may alter its relationship with them.

“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. “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 defence.”

The statements came during a closed-door meeting with defence ministers from other NATO countries, and provided to media travelling with Mattis to Brussels. It marks an escalation in Washington’s long-running frustration that many NATO countries do not spend at least 2 per cent of their gross domestic product on defence as they have pledged.

“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 defence”
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to NATO ministers

President Donald Trump often made that point during his upstart run for the White House, at various times calling the alliance “obsolete” while grousing that all of its 28 members need to pay “their fair share.”

Mattis, a retired Marine general, recalled Wednesday that when he was NATO’s supreme allied commander of transformation from November 2007 to September 2009, he watched as then-Defence Secretary Robert Gates warn NATO nations that Congress and the American people “would lose their patience for carrying a disproportionate burden” of the defence of allies.

That impatience, Mattis added, is now a “governmental reality.”

“No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defence of western values,” Mattis said. “Americans cannot care more for your children’s security than you do. Disregard for military readiness demonstrates a lack of respect for ourselves, for the alliance, and for the freedoms we inherited, which are now clearly threatened.”

Currently, just five of NATO’s 28 countries spend at least 2 per cent on defence: the United Kingdom, Estonia, Poland, Greece and the United States.

Major members that do not include France (1.78 per cent), Turkey (1.56), Germany (1.19), Italy (1.11) and Canada (.99), according to NATO figures.

The remarks from Mattis come as NATO nations confront how to handle Russia following its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and US intelligence assessments that Russia hacked Democratic Party officials during the presidential campaign between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, resigned under pressure Monday night after revelations that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about secret communications with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, about sanctions put in place in response to the alleged hacking.

British Prime Minister Theresa May insists Donald Trump ‘recognises importance of Nato’ despite his previous dismissal

Mattis’ ultimatum could have wide-ranging implications in Europe, but the biggest might be for Germany. If it were to meet the 2 per cent bar, it would boost its defence spending to about US$75 billion per year, resulting in a military larger Britain’s.

That would amount to a profound shift for a country that has long had a pacifist tradition that held it back from embracing a global defence presence as big as its economic might.

Mattis’ demands were echoed by British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who met head-to-head with the US defence chief before the main NATO conclave. Fallon said that Britain - which spends the second-largest amount on defence in the alliance - is proposing that countries that spend less than NATO guidelines commit to an annual defence budget increase.

“An annual increase would at least demonstrate good faith,” Fallon told a small group of reporters in Brussels. Fallon said that Mattis had underlined a “100 per cent commitment” to NATO.

Britain has generally attempted to ally itself with the Trump administration as London negotiates an exit from the European Union. But British leaders have worked to push Trump to maintain his military commitment to NATO and to Europe.