Mattis Highlights U.S. Commitment to NATO, Warns of 'Arc of Insecurity'
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Feb 15, 2017)
WASHINGTON --- Defense Secretary Jim Mattis highlighted the U.S. commitment to NATO today, stressing the alliance's importance in regional and global security while calling on nations to meet their military funding commitments.

"For seven decades the world has watched NATO become the most successful and powerful military alliance in modern history," Mattis said in prepared remarks to a NATO defense ministerial meeting in Brussels.

He told the assembled defense leaders that NATO, with its members' shared commitment, will remain what President Dwight D. Eisenhower described as a "valuable, necessary, and constructive force."

Evolving Security Challenges

Mattis, who as a Marine Corps general served as NATO's supreme allied commander for transformation, noted how the security landscape has changed in recent years, to include threats from Russia as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

"The year 2014 awakened us to a new reality: Russia used force to alter the borders of one of its sovereign neighbors, and on Turkey's border ISIS emerged and introduced a ruthless breed of terror, intent on seizing territory and establishing a caliphate," he said.

While some in the 28-member alliance "have looked away in denial of what is happening," he said, NATO needs to adapt to meet the changing security situations.

"For despite the threats from the east and south, we have failed to fill gaps in our NATO Response Force or to adapt to modem threats, or increase the readiness of much of our force structure," he said.

The transatlantic alliance is built on the common defense of its members, Mattis pointed out. It arose out of strategic necessity and now must now evolve for that same reason, he said.

"Our community of nations is under threat on multiple fronts as the arc of insecurity builds on NATO's periphery and beyond," he said. "We must act in the interests of our 'democratic islands of stability' if we are to live up to our responsibilities as guardians for our nations and sentinels watching for threats."

The transatlantic bond is "essential to countering Islamic extremism, to blocking Russia's efforts to weaken democracies, and to addressing a more assertive China," he said.

NATO, he said, must tighten its decision cycle both in determining the actions of the alliance and in resourcing those decisions with robust and interoperable capabilities, he said.

Balancing Collaboration and Confrontation: Russia

How the alliance responds to threats and provocation is "not lost on any nation, not least the nation to our east, nor on its leader," Mattis said.

"While the United States and the alliance seek to engage Russia, we must at the same time defend ourselves if Russia chooses to act contrary to international law," he said.

The United States, the defense secretary said, remains willing to keep open political channels of cooperation and de-escalate tensions.

"We remain open to opportunities to restore a cooperative relationship with Moscow, while being realistic in our expectations and ensuring our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength," Mattis said.

"We are not willing, however, to surrender the values of this alliance nor let Russia, through its actions, speak louder than anyone in this room," he said.

The United States will stand firm against the threats, the defense secretary said. "We will buttress this alliance and defend ourselves, even as we watch for a Russia that lives up to its commitments in the NATO-Russia Founding Act," Mattis said.

He added, "Balancing collaboration and confrontation is admittedly an uncomfortable strategic equation."

Meeting Two Percent Defense Target

Mattis called on alliance members to meet the goal of spending two percent of their respective country's GDP on defense. Only Britain, Estonia, Greece, Poland and the United States have done so, the defense secretary said.

The American taxpayer must not continue to carry a "disproportionate share of the defense of Western values," Mattis said.

"Americans cannot care more for your children's future security than you do," he said. "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."

Immediate and steady progress toward the goal of meeting the two-percent target must become a reality, if NATO is to remain a credible alliance and able to adequately defend itself, the defense secretary said.

US Commitment in Europe

The United States under U.S. Operation Atlantic Resolve, he pointed out, is moving armored units into the Baltic States, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria to support and supplement NATO's commitment to deterrence.

The United States will soon join the Britain, Canada and Germany in leading combined and enhanced forward presence defensive forces in Poland and the Baltic States, the defense secretary said.

"In so doing our nations are demonstrating the trans-Atlantic bond, standing up for our values, and recognizing that the freedoms we hold dear are worth defending," Mattis said.

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U.S. Defense Chief Urges Allies to Increase Defense Spending
(Source: Radio Free Europe; issued Feb 15, 2017)
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has told Washington's NATO allies that the United States will "moderate its commitment" to the alliance unless they boost their defense spending.

Mattis told NATO defense ministers gathered at NATO headquarters in Brussels on February 15 that U.S. taxpayers could no longer carry "a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values."

Mattis told the ministers that if their countries "do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance," each of their capitals "need to show support for our common defense."

Earlier on February 15, Mattis said the NATO alliance "remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the transatlantic community."

"As President Trump has stated, he had strong support for NATO," Mattis told reporters in Brussels ahead of his meeting with NATO defense ministers -- his first since being sworn in on January 27 as the defense chief in President Donald Trump's cabinet.

NATO members have voiced concern about Trump's attitude toward the alliance, which he referred to as "obsolete" during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.

NATO allies have also expressed concerns about Trump's campaign statements suggesting he may take a softer approach toward Russia than his predecessor.

Trump has also criticized NATO members that fail to meet the alliance's defense spending target of 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP).

Mattis told reporters on February 15 that it was "a fair demand that all who benefit from the best defense in the world carry their proportionate share of the necessary cost to defend freedom."

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen supported the U.S. position of February 15, telling reporters ahead of the NATO ministers meeting that it was a "question of fairness that we Europeans together also make an effort and the burden [of defense spending] is not too much on the Americans."

In 2014, the year Russia seized Crimea and backed separatists in a war that has since killed more than 9,750 people in eastern Ukraine, NATO leaders committed to halt defense spending cuts and move to raise their military budgets to 2 percent of GDP within a decade.

Twenty-four of the 28 members have stopped cutting defense spending. Stoltenberg has said the United States, Britain, Poland, Greece, and Estonia are "already meeting the 2 percent target," while Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania are getting close.

The ministers said they will also aim to send a clear signal of unity.

"I'm absolutely certain that the message of this meeting will be a message of transatlantic unity, of the importance of that we stand together and protect each other, and a very strong commitment of the United States to NATO," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told journalists before the meeting.

The fight against terrorism, in particular against the extremist group Islamic State (IS), was also expected to be high on the agenda during the two-day meeting.

The ministers were set to decide to establish a coordination center in Naples, Italy, where intelligence from countries such as Libya, Syria, or Iraq would be analyzed.

"This will help us to coordinate information on crises...and help us address terrorism and other challenges stemming from the region," Stoltenberg said.

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