US urges Europe to spend more on Nato
The US has threatened to reduce its involvement in Nato if Europeans did not spend more on their militaries. It also criticised Russia, amid confusion on Trump's foreign policy.
US defence chief Jim Mattis issued the warning after a meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels on Wednesday (15 February).
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“I owe it to you to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States … America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defence,” he told press.
“No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defence of western values,” he added.
Nato allies agreed in 2014, the year that Russia invaded Ukraine, to spend at least 2 percent of their GDPs on security, but three years later just five out of the 28 members have reached that level.
US president Donald Trump had earlier said he might not defend Nato allies who did not spend more.
He has flip-flopped on Nato, both calling it “obsolete” and saying that it was “very important.”
He has also praised Russia, while his senior aides, according to leaks by US intelligence, cultivated contacts with Russian diplomats and intelligence officers.
Mattis tried to put the “obsolete” jibe to rest with staunch praise of the alliance.
“The alliance remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States and the trans-Atlantic community, bonded as we are together,” he said alongside Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday.
“As president Trump has stated, he has strong support for Nato,” Mattis said.
The White House has also talked tough on Russia in reaction to the intelligence leaks.
Trump’s spokesman said this week that Russia must give back Crimea to Ukraine, while Trump tweeted that if the former US administration had been more “tough” on Russia it might not have invaded Ukraine in the first place.
Mattis ploughed the same furrow at the Nato meeting.
He said the Trump-Russia leaks had had “no impact” on his message.
He said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine meant that “our hopes for some kind of partnership with Russia were finally shown to be unavailing.”
“We must … defend ourselves if Russia chooses to act contrary to international law,” he said.
“We are not willing … to surrender the values of this alliance nor let Russia, through its actions, speak louder than anyone in this room.”
When asked by media what Mattis meant by “moderating” US involvement in Nato, Stoltenberg said the US envoy had voiced an “extraordinarily strong commitment to Nato” in Wednesday’s talks.
He noted that the US was increasing the number of its troops in Europe as part of a Nato force designed to deter Russian aggression.
He urged European states to increase spending, but added: “We’ve a long way to go”.
He also raised the alarm on Russia’s cyber threat, saying that “several” Nato states had reported “a steep increase” in cyber attacks and that Nato’s own IT systems had seen a 60 percent spike in Russian assaults last year.
Stoltenberg announced that Nato would open a new command centre in Naples, Italy, to coordinate information on the situation in Libya and in the Middle East, but he ruled out any “combat role” for Nato in Syria.
Middle East bombshell
US vice-president Mike Pence, secretary of state Rex Tillerson, and Mattis will go to the Munich Security Conference in Germany this weekend to shed more light on Trump’s foreign policy.
Trump himself on Wednesday indicated a potential U-turn on a decades-old US and EU position on the Middle East peace process.
UN powers had said that Israel and Palestine should have states of their own with Jerusalem as a shared capital.
Trump said alongside Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington: “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like."
He also said he would “love” to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Israel has claimed for itself.
The former US administration and EU diplomats have said that a one-state solution meant either that the Palestinian population would one day form a majority in Israel, or that Israel would become an apartheid state that denied Palestinian rights in order to maintain its Jewish identity.