By Cheryl Pellerin
February 16, 2017 – NATO arose out of strategic necessity and the alliance must evolve in response to the new strategic reality, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said today during a press conference after the Defense Ministerial meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Mattis is traveling in Europe this week on his second international trip as secretary. After leaving Brussels, Mattis will travel to the Munich Security Conference in Germany where he will hold a series of meetings with key international counterparts.
During the press conference the secretary said he and the ministers had considered in detail the strategic situation facing the alliance.
“We thoroughly discussed the increased threats facing our alliance and, unified by the threats to our democracies, I found strong alliance resolve to address these growing threats,” Mattis said, adding that his message to fellow ministers was simple: “Our community of nations is under threat on multiple fronts as the arc of insecurity builds on NATO’s periphery and beyond.”
The secretary said the burden-sharing message he delivered — that more NATO members must contribute 2 percent of their gross domestic product to the alliance — was expected and well received.
Among NATO’s security challenges, Mattis said, are new threats such as those in the cyber domain, and Russia’s aggressive actions, which are destabilizing and have violated international law.
Russia must “live by international law just like we expect all mature nations on this planet to do,” he said.
The United States and Russia “are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level,” Mattis added, “but our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground or a way forward where Russia, living up to its commitments, will return to a partnership of sorts here with NATO.”
Russia will have to prove itself first, he said, and live up to commitments made in the Russia-NATO agreement.
According to NATO, the relationship between Russia and the alliance is governed by the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security, agreed by to NATO allies and Russia in 1997 and reaffirmed at NATO-Russia summits in Rome in 2002 and in Lisbon in 2010.
The act says that NATO will carry out its collective defense and other missions and may reinforce infrastructure against a threat of aggression and for exercises. Russia, the agreement says, will exercise similar restraint in its conventional force deployments in Europe.
Mattis said other challenges include terrorism emanating from the Middle East and North Africa and that he called “a direct and immediate threat to Europe and to us all.”
In response to such threats, the secretary said, NATO is reinforcing deterrence and defense and adapting to more directly address terrorist threats along its southern flank from the Mediterranean to Turkey.
“The alliance faces not only these strategic realities but also political realities,” Mattis said.
“I depart here confident that we have an appreciation of the burden sharing that we must all sustain for deterrence, peace and prosperity. I am optimistic the alliance will adopt a plan this year, including milestone dates, to make steady progress toward meeting defense commitments in light of the increased threats that we all agree that we face,” he added.
Nations that already have met the two percent defense spending commitment are Estonia, Greece, Poland and the United Kingdom.
“These countries are leading by example, making real sacrifices,” Mattis said. “All allies recognize that they are benefiting from the best defense in the world so I’m optimistic that all nations are on a steady path to reach the level of commitments made at the Wales and Warsaw summits.”
The transatlantic bond built on common values remains very strong, the secretary added.
“I see here in Brussels a quickened purpose in this alliance and a profound determination to stand together and honor our commitments to each other, Mattis said. “I have confidence that we will sustain the legacy we’ve inherited and do what is necessary to defend our freedom.”