WASHINGTON – A Pentagon spokesman said Friday ahead of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s visit later this month with NATO defense ministers that members of the alliance should “pay their fair share.”
“We have had a long-standing policy in our government: we want everyone to pay their fair share when it comes to defense,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters at an off-camera briefing.
Mattis is scheduled to depart for the meeting next week in Brussels, Belgium — the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The 28-nation NATO security alliance was formed in the wake of World War II to provide collective defense for European countries against the threat from the then-Soviet Union.
Since then, the U.S. has provided the bulk of the funds for the alliance, as well as security for the region, despite a membership requirement that each member should spend at least two percent of their gross domestic product on their military budget. Only five nations, including the U.S., meet that benchmark.
President Donald Trump on the campaign trail had repeatedly emphasized that NATO members need to meet that benchmark and had called the alliance “obsolete” because it was not doing enough to counter terrorism.
Davis indicated that those two topics would be on the agenda at the meeting next week.
“We have always said we expect the benchmark that we want people to reach is two percent of their GDP — gross domestic product,” Davis said.
“And we do that, and a couple of our other friends do it, but some don’t. And the issue becomes one of we want to make sure that they are fulfilling their obligations financially…by what they’re spending on their military,” he said.
Ahead of the meeting, Mattis met Friday with German Defense Minister Ursula Von de Leyen at the Pentagon.
“The two hit it off very well,” Davis said. “They discussed the importance of the alliance between the U.S. and Germany, both bilaterally and as members of NATO.”
The meeting continued Mattis’s emphasis on shoring up the U.S. relationship with NATO, even as he will press its members to contribute more to the shared alliance.
One of the first phone calls Mattis made to foreign leaders was to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and his Canadian and British counterparts, who are also members of NATO.
Davis said Secretary Mattis thanked Minister Von de Leyen for her country’s leadership in NATO activities and acknowledged the role Germany plays in fighting terrorism, specifically in the military coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“Both look forward to working together at the NATO defense ministerial and Munich Security Conference next week,” Davis said.