Secretary of Defense James Mattis gave members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization some tough love Wednesday, pushing them to increase defense spending for the sake of their own security.
“No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of western values,” said Mattis during a closed-door meeting with NATO defense ministers. “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.”
The secretary’s comments reflect those of President Donald Trump, who has pushed NATO members to “pay their fair share” of defense costs since his presidential campaign last year.
A significant majority of NATO members are spending well below the required 2 percent of GDP on defense. The most recent statistics show that only five of NATO’s 28 members meet the spending requirement, including the United States, United Kingdom, Estonia, Poland and Greece.
Mattis’s talk seemed to resonate with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who did not consider the secretary’s words a threat, but instead a push for all NATO members to do what they already should be doing regarding defense.
“This is not the U.S. telling Europe to increase defense spending,” said Stoltenberg at a news conference after the meeting. “This is 28 allies, heads of state, that all were sitting around the same table in 2014, and looking into each other’s eyes and agreeing that we shall increase defense spending.”
Other diplomats in the room did not have the same reaction.
“If you take him literally, then the message is indeed that there’s no unconditional guarantee of security any more,” one European diplomat told the Washington Post.
Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert agreed with Stoltenberg’s assessment.
“It’s nothing new, to be honest,” said the Dutch minister. “Mattis asked for milestones, so all of us will go home and work on them.”
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