“Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do,” Defence secretary James Mattis said in his first speech to NATO allies in Brussels.
Mattis openly warned allies on Wednesday that Donald Trump’s administration would “moderate its commitment” unless members met their spending pledges. “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 defense,” he said.
“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.”
Mattis also called for a fixed date plan to meet 2 percent spending. The “milestone dates” set for this year would track NATO member contributions, he said.
“America will meet its responsibilities,” Mattis told NATO defense ministers, but he made clear that American support had limits.
The US spends more of its gross domestic product on defence than any other NATO member — 3.61 percent, or $664 billion in 2016. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in response that any non-compliance with the treaty was of “serious concern”.
The mood in the heavily fortified NATO compound was tense, one NATO official said. It soon became clear that Russia looms large as Donald Trump’s defence secretary warned the US will no longer “carry a disproportionate share of the defence of western values”.
Certain NATO partners are worried about the Trump administration’s thawing relations with Moscow.
Figures released a day earlier show that military spending among European NATO countries and Canada had increased 3.8 percent in 2016 — around $10 billion.
“This is significant, but not enough,” Stoltenberg said. “We have to continue to increase military spending across Europe and Canada.”
NATO countries spent a total of $892 billion in 2015, while Russian military spending in 2015 rose to 66 billion dollars, the SIPRI institute in Stockholm said.
In response to Russia’s referendum on Crimea in 2014, Barack Obama reversed US troop withdrawals from Europe and began the biggest deployment since the end of the Cold War. During the previous administration, NATO agreed to send four multinational battalions to Poland and each of its three Baltic state members.
But while Mattis mentioned Crimea is passing, he also pointed to the Islamic State’s hold over parts of Iraq and Syria, 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.
Ahead of the meeting in Brussels, the New York Times reported that Moscow had deployed a new type of cruise missile, to heighten fears of a “possible violation” of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
Stoltenberg expressed his concern over news of the new Russian cruise missile that “violates a landmark arms control treaty” but did not offer explanations regarding NATO’s troop deployment on Russia’s border.
It appears that the Micheal Flynn story too may be about to fade from the news cycle, after it was revealed that The New York Times presented “alternative facts” or fake news about Flynn. Mattis brushed off the Flynn resignation as mainstream reporters tried go gain anti-Russian mileage from it.
CNN’s Jim Sciutto reported that the FBI was not expected to pursue charges against Michael Flynn because of his conversations with a Russian ambassador, even though Flynn was forced to resign because of a media storm supposedly ignited by these telephone discussions.
Instead the new Trump administration is prodding NATO to step up efforts to counter terrorist threats from North Africa and the Middle East.
NATO will set up “as soon as possible” a hub with 100 staff at the alliance’s Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy, which will coordinate intelligence on crisis countries like Iraq and Syria, Stoltenberg said.
Trump is expected to visit NATO headquarters in May when the alliance holds its leaders’ summit meeting.
Meanwhile Jean-Marie Guéhenno, CEO of International Crisis Group, an independent conflict resolution organisation, warned NATO’s European members before the meeting in Brussels: “NATO is about North America’s engagement in Europe, and Europeans, working with Canada, must take the initiative in proposing a vision adapted to the 21st century.
“Otherwise, they run the risk that a president who has little time for the Continent will see his European allies simply as adjuncts to an ‘America First’ strategy — and blatantly ignore their interests.”