U.S. Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis just issued a sharp ultimatum to NATO — start funding your own defenses, or else.
Mattis delivered the harsh news Wednesday in Belgium, telling the NATO allies they must start increasing defense spending by year’s end or the Trump administration will “moderate its commitment” to them.
The news sent shock waves through the numerous countries whose defense has been largely paid for by U.S. taxpayers for decades.
Echoing a demand made repeatedly by President Donald Trump, Mattis said NATO must adopt a plan this year that sets milestone dates for governments to meet a military funding goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product.
The Pentagon chief called it a “fair demand” based on the “political reality” in Washington.
“No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values,” Mattis told the alliance’s 27 other defense ministers, according to a text of his remarks. “Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do.”
Attending his first NATO defense ministers’ meeting, Mattis made his case by citing the threat from Russia, noting Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and the Islamic State group’s hold over parts of Iraq and Syria, and said 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.
The warning reflects Trump’s wish for greater sharing of military costs. Trump has rattled European nations by suggesting the U.S. might not defend allies unwilling to fulfill their financial obligations as NATO members.
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British’s defense chief, Michael Fallon, said Mattis also appeared to welcome a British proposal to create a road map for increased spending by other countries.
Along with the U.S. and Britain, the only other countries that reach NATO’s minimum for military spending are Estonia, Poland, and debt-ridden Greece.
“I have called today in the plenary session for those countries that haven’t met 2 percent to agree to at least increase their budget annually,” Fallon said. “An annual increase that we’re asking them to commit to would at least demonstrate good faith.”
The United States is by far NATO’s most powerful member. It spends more on defense than all the others combined. The U.S. spent 3.61 percent of American GDP last year, according to NATO estimates — more than the rest of the world combined.
Germany, by contrast, spent only 1.19 percent of its overall budget on defense. Ten countries spend even less, and seven — including Canada, Italy and Spain — would have to virtually double military spending to reach the target. One, Luxembourg, would require a four-fold increase to get close.
In a brief public statement, made while standing alongside Stoltenberg, Mattis called the alliance “a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the trans-Atlantic community.”
The allies’ interest and concern about the latest furor in Washington was evident as officials crowded around televisions at the NATO meeting to watch Mattis’ initial appearance with Stoltenberg. Ministers immediately clustered around the retired Marine general as he entered the meeting room.
Stoltenberg said he has spoken to Trump twice by telephone, and received similar reassurance from Mattis and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“They have all conveyed the same message,” he said, adding: “That is, that the United States will stay committed to the trans-Atlantic partnership.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article