The article originally appeared on India Today.
Here it is bit modified.
Though describing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as the ‘bedrock of the US’s defense policy’, US Defense Secretary James Mattis had some tough words for his allies in the world’s most powerful military alliance.
James Mattis is on his first Europe visit after becoming the US Defence Secretary. Mattis was speaking during a meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels yesterday when he sent this stern message to other members of the grouping that include 28 countries including Germany, France, Canada, Italy, Norway, Spain and the UK.
According to Washington Post, Mattis said, “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. 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.”
Mattis is following what his boss has always said that the US would no longer be the big daddy if other member countries don’t fulfil the financial obligations expected from them. While speaking at the US Central Command headquarters on February 6, Trump had reiterated his line from the campaign days, giving clear indications that it indeed was going to be the US policy on NATO. He assured the continued US role in NATO affairs but added the rider that other countries must scale up their spending and share the burden first. Trump has said that the US may not rush to defend the Baltic countries in case of a Russian attack if they don’t meet the financial obligations.
Mattis, a former US Marine Corps General and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Transformation, who has been picked by Donald Trump to head the US defense establishment, put before the NATO leaders the US demand in unequivocal terms.
And Trump’s demand is not part of any rhetoric here. NATO expects its member countries to spend 2% of their GDPs on defense but only five of 28 member countries meet this basic criteria, a CNN report says.
Trump feels that NATO has many problems and foremost of them is that it has become obsolete. During his London visit last month, before his inaugural on January 20, Trump had said in an interview that NATO had become obsolete because it was designed a long time ago and it was being unfair to the US as most other countries were not paying what they were supposed to pay.
Taking a cue from Trump’s demands, especially after his victory in the US presidential polls on November 8, 2016, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had made a strong pitch for increased defense expenditure by the member countries while delivering keynote address at the NATO-Industry Forum on November 9, 2016. Since then he has been on it. A CNBC report published yesterday quotes him, “In my two phone calls with President Trump defense spending has been a main topic and he has strongly expressed his strong commitment to NATO, to the transatlantic bond but at the same time President Trump has in both the phone calls also underlined the importance of a fairer burden sharing. And I agree with him.”
Bulk of the NATO spending comes from the US and NATO admits that it is over-reliant on the US, another CNN report says. There has always been a gap between the US and other countries’ contribution owing to the huge US defense budget, that stood at $650 billion last year. It widened significantly after the 2001 terror attacks on the US. But Donald Trump wants to end that. No more largesse. Instead, he wants every member country to shoulder the financial burden in a revamped NATO with no appendages from past. The CNN report says that the combined GDP of other 27 NATO members is more than the US GDP, still the US defense spending is more than double of them.
So, the message is loud and clear. NATO will remain the bedrock of the US and the transatlantic community’s defense strategy if it mends its ways. Otherwise, Trump has already declared it obsolete.