Secretary of Defense James Mattis is taking a tour of America’s closest allies, seeking to reassure them that the United States will meet its international commitments in the era of Trump. But it’s not just that. Mattis is also there to kick some of them in the ass over the issue of collective defense.
Mattis’s latest stop on his world tour was Brussels, which is home to NATO, and while there he did more ass-kicking than reassuring. From the Washington Post:
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued an ultimatum Wednesday to allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, warning that if they do not boost their defense 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 defense.”
The statements came during a closed-doors meeting with defense ministers from other NATO countries and were provided to reporters traveling with the defense secretary to Brussels. It marks an escalation in Washington’s long-running frustration that many NATO countries do not spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product as they have pledged. President Trump often made that point during his upstart run for the White House, at various times calling the alliance “obsolete” while grousing that its 28 members need to pay “their fair share.”
NATO was originally intended to check the advance of Soviet communism and has largely been in search of a mission since the Cold War ended. The alliance is still around, and there’s certainly a need for it to help combat radical Islam and check Russian expansionism. But America cannot and should not be expected to pay the entire bill for the West’s defense.
President Trump was elected on an “America first” pledge, and part of putting America first means NATO allies have to pay their fair share. American taxpayers cannot be expected to subsidize European militaries so their governments can dump billions into their welfare states.
As I reported in November of last year, only five countries spend the 2 percent of GDP on defense required by NATO’s charter. Among those that don’t spend enough are wealthy nations such as Canada, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. If Greece and Poland can muster up 2 percent, there is no excuse for all the rest.
It is refreshing to see an American government interested in putting America first and telling our allies to do more for themselves. It’s time either for Europe to pay up or for the U.S. to pull back our commitments to NATO.