Mattis ‘Heartened’ by NATO Nations’ Increased Defense Budgets

Global democracies are working together, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said yesterday to reporters traveling with him as he wrapped up a European trip to reaffirm key partnerships and alliances.

The secretary’s travels included meetings with defense leaders in Rome, taking part in this year’s first meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, attending the 54th Annual Munich Security Conference in Germany, and meetings with leaders and troops from U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command.

The Defense Department has three lines of effort that include creating stronger alliances by working by, with and through partner nations, Mattis told reporters.

To that effort, “NATO remains our No. 1 alliance,” he said, adding that he was heartened at the ministerial by various nations’ continued increased defense budgets.

“[Just] to look around that room and see 29 nations all working together … you have to remember the fundamental strength of that alliance,” the secretary said.

Visits to Combatant Command

Mattis called Eucom a “very focused outfit,” and said his visit with troops and leaders there shows the “degree of rapport we maintain through thick and thin.”

In his visit to Africom, the secretary discussed with leaders the elements supported across Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Horn of Africa to stop violent extremists. It is by and through allies and partners there that those efforts continue, he emphasized.

At the 54th Munich Security Conference, Europe’s largest security conference, the secretary said he saw a much stronger European focus on defense.

Defense Budgets Climb

While many of the democracies at the conference are coming out of challenging economic times, he said, “you see the defense portfolios being raised everywhere.”

Germany keeps a strong balance in its form of government between development and defense, Mattis said, adding that he endorses and supports it. “Americans continue to put out hundreds of millions of dollars a year, billions total, in development funding. [We] all do it our own way, but what you see, again, are democracies working together,” he said.

Bilateral Talks

The secretary said he held bilateral talks with the defense leaders of several nations, including Georgia and Ukraine.

“We stand with them on their territorial integrity,” he said of those two nations. “Both of those countries have territory occupied by illegal Russian forces or Russian-supported forces. So in both those cases, we stand with them in term of international law, in terms of strengthening their government-reform efforts, especially, in my case [where] I work with their ministries of defense.”

Mattis said he appreciates those nations’ “full-fledged” efforts.

“They came out from underneath Soviet domination. They went through the gathering of freedom without many of the internal controls that we in the West enjoy, and they’re now having to go through the reform effort to try to put in place the kind of things that you and I take for granted,” Mattis said.

“So we talked at some length about the reform efforts, and what we can do to assist them. We are very responsive to their needs. That’s the way we do it,” he said.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)