Mattis: U.S. Remains Committed to NATO as Alliance Transforms
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Feb 14, 2017)
WASHINGTON --- The United States remains committed to NATO, history's most successful military alliance, as it transforms to match the changing character of war, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters traveling with him to this week's NATO defense ministers conference in Brussels.
In addition to attending the conference and meeting with counterparts from other NATO member nations, Mattis also will host a meeting of ministers from the coalition to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria during his second international trip as defense secretary.
"Our commitment remains to NATO, [which is] ... in the midst of transformation. Why? You've watched as the character of war over this last dozen years has changed itself, and as the character of war changes, so must the character of the militaries that address them," Mattis said.
To underscore the alliance's commitment to change, the secretary noted that the only NATO command with a headquarters in the United States is Allied Command Transformation.
Transformation Must Continue
"The whole point of that command is to transform NATO, so ... we go to Brussels where we all get together, we talk about that transformation, [and] we guide it. NATO has transformed over these last 20 years, and it must continue to transform," Mattis said.
As secretary, he added, his approach to NATO is "full-speed ahead and listen, learn, help and lead."
Listening is first, he said. "Learn what other people face, help them wherever I can, because they've been allies. They stood by us after New York was attacked and so many decades before that. And many of them have lost boys, lost women in fighting the enemy that attacked America. And then lead, ... [because] America has a leadership role."
On Feb. 17, Mattis will attend the Munich Security Conference in Germany, where he will hold a series of meetings with key international counterparts.
The trip will underscore the U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance and to defeating ISIS, according to a Feb. 10 DoD news release announcing the secretary's trip.
NATO Defense Ministers Focusing on Boosting Spending
(Source: Voice of America News; issued Feb 14, 2017)
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday a meeting of the alliance's defense ministers will focus on the need for members to increase the amount of money they spend on defense.
He told reporters in Brussels ahead of the meeting that countries boosted defense spending by $10 billion last year, but that only five of the 28 NATO members are meeting the target of allocating 2 percent of their GDP to defense.
U.S. President Donald Trump criticized NATO members during his campaign, saying not enough were paying their fair share. At one point he suggested those who did not share their part of the burden would not be automatically defended by the U.S.
Since taking office, Trump has expressed his support for NATO, including, Stoltenberg said, in two phone calls with him.
"President Trump has in both the phone calls also underlined the importance of fair burden sharing, and that those countries that spend less than 2 percent have to meet the 2 percent target. And I agree with him," Stoltenberg said.
New U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is traveling Tuesday to Brussels to join the NATO talks.
Stoltenberg said the alliance is looking forward to "be able to sit down with him and to discuss many different topics, including burden sharing, but also NATO's role in fighting terrorism."
The NATO chief noted that some members are struggling with economic challenges, but he said the goal is to begin to with stopping cuts in defense spending and eventually shift to meeting the full target amount.
NATO heads of state are due to meet later this year, and Stoltenberg said exactly what kind of language or proposals may emerge in order to help boost defense spending remain to be seen from that meeting and the one this week.
Stoltenberg also said he was looking forward to an upcoming meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and that NATO needs to be both firm in presenting a credible defense while also keeping diplomatic lines open.
"Especially in difficult times as these we need open political dialogue with Russia," he said.
NATO Secretary General Previews Alliance Defense Ministerial
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Feb 14, 2017)
WASHINGTON --- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg today previewed the meeting of defense ministers that starts tomorrow, saying the leaders will sharpen the alliance's response to a more challenging security environment.
Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters in Belgium that the security challenges are real and complicated, but the alliance is responding and he noted an increase in defense spending by NATO allies.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis leaves today for the meeting in Brussels.
"NATO is founded on the bond between North America and Europe, and in good times and bad, that bond has been unbreakable," Stoltenberg said. "We stand together. We defend each other. And that is good both for Europe, and for North America. I'm confident that defense ministers at our meeting tomorrow and the day after tomorrow once again are going to reconfirm the enduring importance of the transatlantic bond."
The alliance is putting in place the infrastructure to implement the decisions made at last year's NATO Summit in Warsaw. This includes deploying four multinational battle groups to Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland.
"We are also stepping up our ability to anticipate and respond to crises in the south in order to project stability in our neighborhood," Stoltenberg said.
NATO nations have pledged to invest 2 percent of gross domestic product in defense capabilities. The United States, Britain, Poland, Estonia and Greece are the only countries at or above this monetary goal now, defense officials have said, but other countries have reversed the downward trend and have increased defense expenditures.
"NATO's continuous adaptation requires responsibilities to be shared fairly among allies," Stoltenberg said. "Fair burden-sharing and increased defense spending underpins the transatlantic Alliance."
Responding to Threats
The alliance nations have responded to the threats from Russia to the east and the transnational threats of terrorism emanating from the Middle East. "After many years with steep cuts in defense spending, we have turned a corner," the secretary general said. "Today, I can present to you new, updated figures for 2016. Defense spending in real terms has increased by 3.8 percent among European allies and Canada."
The jump is "significantly higher than what we had originally foreseen" and is indicative of the seriousness of the situation. "It amounts to roughly 10 billion dollars more for our defense," he said. "This makes a difference but it is absolutely vital that we keep up the momentum."
The ministers will focus on the fight against extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and other threats stemming from the Middle East and North Africa. NATO is providing support to the Counter-ISIS coalition and working to train partners like Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia, Stoltenberg said.
"But we can and should do more," he added.
The ministers will also launch a review of NATO's command structure, and will examine further steps to resist hybrid warfare, hybrid threats and strengthening cyber defenses, the secretary general said.
The ministerial will end after a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission. Defense ministers will discuss the security situation in the country, the reforms Georgia is making and what still needs to happen to bring the country closer to the alliance.