Juncker attacks US on Nato spending
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker has said the US was wrong to push European members of Nato to spend more on their militaries.
"It has been the American message for many, many years. I am very much against letting ourselves be pushed into this," he said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Thursday (16 February), according to the Reuters news agency.
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He added that the US idea of security was “too narrow” and that it should also count EU countries’ spending on development and humanitarian aid as a contribution to overseas “stability”.
"I don't like our American friends narrowing down this concept of security to the military," he said.
"If you look at what Europe is doing in defence, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the United States looks rather different. Modern politics cannot just be about raising defence spending," he added.
"Europeans must bundle their defence spending better and spend the money more efficiently," he said.
Juncker spoke after US defence chief James Mattis, in Brussels on Wednesday, warned that if European Nato allies did not spend more then the US might “moderate” its commitment to Nato.
Mattis said on Thursday: “I depart here confident that we have an appreciation of the burden sharing that we must all sustain for deterrence, peace and prosperity.”
He noted that Europe needed to spend more due to the “political reality” in the US after president Donald Trump said he might not defend Nato states that refused to.
Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary general, said on Wednesday that Mattis’ comments did not mean that the US was putting pressure on Europe because all Nato members had agreed, in 2014, to spend at least two percent of their GDPs on defence.
Estonia, Greece, Poland, and the UK are the only ones to have met that target so far.
Stoltenberg added on Thursday that Mattis should not be understood as putting into doubt article five of the Nato treaty on mutual defence.
“Article five is absolute, it’s unconditional and it’s the core of the alliance,” he said.
Mattis will attend the Munich conference this weekend together with US vice-president Mike Pence and secretary of state Rex Tillerson.
They will be closely watched for signs of how the US plans to handle Russia amid Trump’s erratic remarks on the issue and amid leaks on his aides’ clandestine contacts with Russian officials.
Position of strength
Mattis said on Wednesday that he was prepared to enter into dialogue with Russia, but that this should be done from a “position of strength.”
He said on Thursday that the US and Russia were “not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level.”
He was echoed by Stoltenberg, who said dialogue with Russia must be accompanied by “credible deterrence”, just as it was in Soviet times.
Tillerson, who spoke to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday at a meeting of the G20 leading nations in Berlin, also indicated a wary approach.
“The United States will consider working with Russia when we can find areas of practical cooperation that will benefit the American people,” he said.
“Where we do not see eye to eye, the United States will stand up for the interests and values of America and her allies,” he said, adding that he expected Russia to “de-escalate” its aggression in Ukraine in line with a ceasefire deal.
Nato accused of ‘provocation’
Russian leader Vladimir Putin hit back at Mattis.
He said on Thursday in a speech to his FSB intelligence service that “they [Nato] have been constantly provoking us in order to embroil us in confrontation.”
Russia defence chief Sergei Shoigu also said it would be “fruitless” to try to hold talks from a position of strength, while Russia’s Nato envoy, Alexander Grushko, said Russian interest in Nato dialogue “might vanish in the long run”.
Lavrov was more optimistic, saying that Trump had told Putin on the phone that he was ready “to overcome this period” of poor Russia-US relations and that the two leaders would meet "in the next few months."