Fresh from his confirmation, Defense Secretary James Mattis declared the United States has an “unshakable commitment to NATO” as NATO was demonstrating its unshakable commitment to the Baltics by putting 1,200 troops in Lithuania.
Mattis’s commitment to NATO — which he expressed in a phone call to the U.K.’s Michael Fallon — seems at variance with President Donald Trump’s criticism of the alliance as “obsolete” and unfairly dependent upon American funding.
Mattis the grand strategist knows NATO is still needed, whatever reforms might be called for. He said as much during his confirmation hearings and made a point of adding that he agreed some NATO members needed to both make bigger investments and spend more wisely. Some of the much-discussed difference between Mattis and Trump is a question of style rather than substance.
Interestingly, CNN has this take on the significance of the Mattis phone calls:
While Mattis calls could be seen as an attempt to assuage fears that the Trump administration might pull back from the decades-old military alliance, the statements following the conversations issued by Fallon and Stoltenberg also addressed some of the issues that Trump has spoken about, including that NATO is ill-suited to tackle terrorism and that members do not spend enough on defense.
“We talked of our joint leadership in NATO, including modernizing the Alliance and how we ensure that all members meet the NATO 2% spending commitment alongside America and Britain,” Fallon said in a statement.
It sounds like what Trump and Mattis are doing is working, and Trump’s critique has been taken seriously.
Mattis also spoke with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who later referred to the new Secretary of Defense as “an old friend of NATO” and said he was “absolutely certain” Trump and his administration “will be fully committed to NATO and to the transatlantic partnership.” As noted by CNN, he added that European members would need to “invest more in defense.”
The third call, to Canada’s Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, concerned Canadian leadership of an impending NATO deployment to Latvia. Tuesday brought news that the first elements of a 1,200-member NATO force have arrived in Lithuania, as agreed during the 2016 summit in Warsaw.
The Associated Press reports:
The more than 100 Belgian army troops and five dozen military vehicles sailed to Klaipeda, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, which has a navy base and long-range missile systems.
The Belgians will join German, Dutch, and Norwegian troops at the Rukla base in central Lithuania.
U.S. special operations forces have also reportedly been present in Lithuania since the beginning of the year. For their part, the Lithuanians have been building a two-meter-high, 130-kilometer border fence to cut down on smuggling and surreptitious incursions.