“Americans cannot care more for your children’s security than you do,” U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis cautioned NATO defense ministers in Brussels in mid-February, urging European allies to get serious about providing for their own defense.
Mattis put the alliance on notice that U.S. patience was finite and suggested that Washington’s commitment to European security was potentially at risk, noting, “[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.”
Do Mattis’s warnings represent a genuine shift in U.S. policy on European security? Here are three things to know.
1) U.S. concern over European allies’ low levels of spending is not new. Mattis is only the latest U.S. defense secretary to voice frustrations about NATO burden-sharing. Former secretaries Ashton Carter, Leon Panetta and Robert Gates all offered similar concerns during their tenures at the Pentagon. Even former president Barack Obama expressed worries about “free riders” in Europe. This sentiment is not without merit, as the United States is the leading direct funder of NATO — and U.S. defense spending represents nearly 75 percent of the total defense spending of the 28-member alliance.