In July, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump caused shudders across Europe when he suggested the United States might not defend NATO allies against Russia if they did not spend their share on defense.
On Wednesday, it appeared now-President Donald Trump could make good on that pledge when Defense Secretary James Mattis warned NATO allies Washington will “moderate its commitment” to the alliance if allies do not commit a minimum of two percent of their GDP to their defense budgets.
“America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense,” Mattis told allies during a closed-door meeting at NATO headquarters on Wednesday.
Mattis did not say how Washington might alter its commitments to the 28-member alliance.
Among the five NATO members that meet the commitment are Greece, which pays nearly 2.5 percent, and Poland, Estonia and Britain pay just above the expected two percent. On the other end of the spectrum, Germany falls well below at 1.19 percent and most, including Canada, Italy, and Spain, also fall below the mark. France pays just below two percent.
The United States pays more than 3.6 percent.
"I owe it to you all to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” the U.S. Defense Secretary said to NATO ministers Wednesday.
The United States has long pressed NATO allies to boost their contributions, with calls going back to the Obama administration and beyond.
Then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned in his 2011 farewell speech, "The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the United States Congress, and in the American body politic writ large, to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”
Gates served in both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.
Trump put politeness aside, with his campaign warnings going as far as including statements in which he called the alliance “obsolete.”
Once in office, Trump has somewhat tempered his remarks.
British Prime Minister Theresa May told reporters last month after meeting Trump, she and the new U.S. leader had reaffirmed their commitment to the alliance. “Mr. President, I think you said, confirmed, that you are 100 percent behind NATO,” May said at a White House news conference.Trump did not correct her.
But Wednesday’s warning in Brussels was a sign Trump is not letting up on pressure to have nations ease the burden on the United States, which has been paying up to 75 percent of NATO’s military costs.