Defense Secretary James Mattis used his first NATO meeting to warn European governments that the U.S. could scale back its pledge to defend Europe if ally nations don’t increase military spending.
“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 support for our common defense,” according to a transcript of his remarks at the gathering in Brussels.
A month after President Donald Trump described the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as “obsolete,” ministers from the 28 alliance countries met on Wednesday to suss out what role the new administration will play in the allies’ common defense. Mattis’s strong words will echo into Thursday as foreign chiefs assemble in Bonn, Germany, for the Group of 20 meeting, which will be Rex Tillerson’s inaugural European foray as secretary of state.
During his election campaign and in interviews since his victory, Trump demanded that European nations contribute a larger share to their defense. Currently, the U.S. accounts for about 70 percent of the alliance’s overall defense expenditure.
In a bilateral meeting on Wednesday with French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian, Mattis discussed “how allied commitments to NATO contribute to the unity of the alliance,” according to an e-mailed statement from his spokesman. France’s military spending falls short of NATO targets.
To be fair, 70% of NATO's spending is a hell of a lot of leverage, but it looks like Trump wants to use that leverage as loudly and as inelegantly as possible. This is an ugly shakedown, and the problem with bullies who do that is once you start giving in to them on that, they'll keep shaking you down. I'm fairly sure there will be lots of resistance to this from more nationalistic forces in Europe, ironically it might help elect the kind of European leaders who think NATO is obsolete as well.
Of course...maybe that's the point.