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Defense Secretary James Mattis met in Brussels Wednesday with the defense ministers of our NATO allies. His message was characteristically honest and blunt:
“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.”
…Mattis, a retired Marine general, recalled Wednesday that when he was NATO’s supreme allied commander of transformation from November 2007 to September 2009, he watched as then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned NATO nations that Congress and the American people “would lose their patience for carrying a disproportionate burden” of the defense of allies.
That impatience, Mattis said, is now a “governmental reality.”
“No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of western values,” Mattis said. “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.”
Way to go, Mad Dog.
NATO countries have pledged to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Of the 28 member nations, only five have accomplished this modest goal: Estonia, Greece, Poland, the UK, and the US. That leaves 23 nations leaning on American largesse for their preservation.
Canada only spends 0.99 percent of it’s GDP on defense; Belgium, Hungary, Spain, and tiny Luxembourg are also in the less-than-1-percent club. If even cash-strapped Greece can exceed the goal, is there any reason these first-world countries can’t take care of their own defense? But instead of raising their spending closer to the target, nine nations actually reduced their military budgets between 2014 and 2015.
President Trump has received a lot of flak for criticizing this lopsided financial arrangement, perhaps more for his style than the substance behind it. But I can’t see how anyone can criticize Mattis’s clear-eyed assessment of the situation. It’s the same point Trump has been making, but delivered in the general’s laconic style.
The majority of NATO members are falling down on the job and have been for years. With Russia, China, Iran, and ISIS on the prowl, they have no excuse not to pay their promised share.