WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary James Mattis said Thursday that NATO is stronger than ever and that the U.S. is 100 percent committed to the alliance.
Mattis attended the NATO summit briefing in which President Donald Trump chided other NATO members about paying more into the security organization and suggested, at one point, that the U.S. would leave the security group.
Trump was asked specifically if he thought he could pull out of NATO Thursday without congressional approval and he said: “I think I probably can, but that is unnecessary,” he told reporters.
Mattis said the reality is the U.S. and NATO are still strong and together.
“(NATO) is stronger today than it was yesterday, stronger today than it was a month ago, stronger today than it was a year ago,” Mattis told Pentagon reporters traveling with him from Brussels to Croatia. Regarding U.S. support for the alliance, Mattis told reporters it was “exactly as the president described it: 100 percent committed to NATO.”
Mattis’ comments were made to the small group of reporters traveling with him, known as the press pool. His remarks are shared to all organizations that participate in the pool, including Talk Media News.
“We are in very strong shape coming out of it (the summit),” Mattis told reporters. He said NATO members are not “much more purposeful” and that it is time to “roll up our sleeves and get to work” on initiatives ranging from the Baltics to the Mediterranean.
One outcome of the summit that was important to Mattis were adjustments to the NATO structure that included creating two military commands squarely focused checking Russia.
Mattis, a former NATO commander, worked hard to push through those changes. He also worked, in the shadow of Trump, to finalize agreement on a plan known as 30-30-30-30. That scheme will require NATO to have 30 land battalions, 30 air fighter squadrons and 30 ships ready to deploy within 30 days of being put on ready.
Mattis’s efforts carry weight with the European allies, in large part because he pushed through a 91 percent increase in Pentagon funding requests for the U.S. military’s European Deterrence Initiative. That was created as a balm for allies after Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
On Thursday, Mattis travels to Zagreb, Croatia, where officials said he will meet with defense ministers of the U.S.-Adriatic Charter to reinforce U.S. support to southeast Europe. NATO has agreed to begin the ascension process into NATO for Macedonia; that country, like Croatia, was part of the former Yugoslavia.
Mattis also plants to stop in Oslo, Norway, to meet with Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen and Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide. The Pentagon has recently agreed to double the number of Marines conducting training in Norway.
Moscow objects to an increased NATO presence in the Balkans and more U.S. troops in Norway, which borders Russia.