Secretary of Defense James Mattis warned NATO defense ministers in a speech that the "impatience Secretary Gates predicted is now a governmental reality" when it came to America's share of the military burden of the alliance. "Americans cannot care more for your children's future security than you do," he added.
According to a report by the European edition of Politico, Mattis was passing on a warning from President Donald Trump, who had been critical of the lack of defense spending by NATO allies.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis talks with British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon during a North Atlantic Council meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 15, 2017. (DoD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)
"Disregard for military readiness demonstrates a lack of respect for ourselves, for the alliance, and for the freedoms we inherited, which are now clearly threatened," Mattis told the assembled ministers according to the Defense Media Activity. Mattis particularly mentioned the events of 2014, including Russia's seizure of the Crimean peninsula from the Ukraine.
Mattis wasn't only there to spank NATO for being defense-spending cheapskates, though. Referring to the alliance as "my second home," he noted that NATO "remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the transatlantic community" in his opening remarks.
M1A2 Abrams Tanks belonging to 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade, 4th Infantry Division fires off a round Jan. 26, 2017 during a gunnery range. The Soldiers are completing gunnery ranges before taking part in combined exercises with their NATO counterparts later this year. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Corinna Baltos)
In remarks welcoming Secretary Mattis, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg cited Secretary Mattis's past service as Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation, saying, "You made sure that NATO adapted to a new and more demanding security environment. But NATO has to continue to adapt and that's exactly what we're going to address at our meeting today, how NATO continues to adapt to a new security environment."
Stoltenberg also addressed concerns about NATO members paying their fair share, saying, "Our latest figures, which we published yesterday, show that defense spending among European allies and Canada increased by 3.8 percent in real terms in 2016. That is roughly $10 billion U.S. dollars. This is significant, but it is not enough. We have to continue to increase defense spending across Europe and Canada."
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, front row, center right, and fellow defense ministers pose for a photo at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 15, 2017. (DoD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)
Politico noted that NATO has set a benchmark of 2 percent of GDP as the minimum size of a defense budget. An April 2016 report by CNN.com noted that only five NATO countries met that benchmark.