"How was I?" James Mattis wanted to know. And his staff immediately knew what he meant. The new U.S. secretary of defense is not a narcissist egomaniac like his boss, Donald Trump. He only just started his job and he wanted honest feedback.
It went well, his team told him, following his hour-long meeting with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen last Friday in the Pentagon. Mattis was friendly and polite, constantly referring to von der Leyen as "Madame Minister," as protocol demands. He demonstrated to his German counterpart that the Pentagon is now led by a retired four-star general who knows what he is talking about, is affable and is measured. A soothing contrast to the president in the White House.
But following the meeting, his staff believed there was one problem, and Mattis himself agreed. The visitor from Germany hadn't seemed to completely understand what he had meant. Mattis had opted for a polite formulation, saying diplomatically that there was a certain amount of "impatience" in Washington regarding the German contribution to the Western alliance. In other words: It's time to finally pay your share or things will get uncomfortable! It seemed as though von der Leyen had been lulled into complacency by the friendly atmosphere and hadn't recognized the urgency of Mattis' message.
At the NATO summit in Wales in 2014, the 28 NATO member states pledged to increase defense spending to the equivalent of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). It was seen as one of the alliance's responses to the Russian annexation of Crimea. But most countries in the alliance are far away from meeting that target.
Aside from the U.S., only Britain, Poland, Greece and Estonia spend the requisite 2 percent and Germany is well behind, at just 1.2 percent. Washington has long been insisting that Germany finally deliver on its pledge, even before Donald Trump moved into the White House, but Berlin has always managed to stall. Now, though, the demands are becoming more insistent. (end of excerpt)
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