The US vice-president has delivered the most uncompromising message yet from the Trump administration to NATO allies that they have to step up financial contributions towards defence spending.
On his first visit to Europe since taking office, Mike Pence said “some of our largest allies do not have a credible path” towards paying their share of NATO’s financial burden. Although he did not name individual countries, his targets included Germany, France and Italy. “The time has come to do more,” he said.
This section of his speech to the Munich security conference, which is being attended by 500 delegates including government leaders and defence and foreign ministers from around the world, was greeted with lukewarm applause.
He was speaking immediately after the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, made it clear she would not be bullied by the US over defence spending. She said Germany had made a promise to increase defence over the next decade and would fulfil that commitment rather than be forced into the faster rises that Trump is looking for.
Merkel said the focus on defence spending could be misleading. Even if Germany was to spend more, there was not the military capacity available to invest in. She added that Germany saw spending on development in countries in Africa and elsewhere as vital to security as military spending.
The conference marks the first major meeting between the Trump administration and leaders from across Europe since Trump took office.
Pence went further than the US defence secretary, James Mattis, at NATO headquarters on Wednesday in warning NATO allies to stump up more. He said: “As of this moment, the US and only four other NATO members meet that basic standard.”
Those four countries are the UK, Estonia, Greece and Poland. The other 23 NATO members do not meet the target of spending 2% of GDP on defence.
In a thinly veiled warning, Pence said that while the US was bound by NATO’s article five– an attack on one member would be an attack on all – he also reminded the audience that article three contained a commitment to sharing the financial burden, echoing Trump’s warning last year that he did not feel bound to come to the defence of countries that did not pay their share.
Pence peppered his speech with regular references to Trump, stressing that he was delivering messages from the president. He softened his criticism of allies with assurances that the president, in spite of rhetoric about isolationism, valued NATO “The US strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our support of this transatlantic alliance,” he said.
Pence also attempted to square the contradictory comments made by Trump towards Russia. While the US wanted a new relationship with Russia, he said that the US expected Russia to honour the 2015 Minsk peace agreement aimed at ending violence in Ukraine.
“Know this: the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground which, as you know, President Trump believes can be found.”
After the meeting, Pence was scheduled to hold bilateral talks with Merkel and also with the leaders of Ukraine and the Baltic states.
Merkel made the case for more multilateralism rather than a retreat into “parochialism” because of the dangers posed by “no fixed world order”.
With Pence in the room, she avoided direct references to Trump even though many of her comments during her speech and in a question-and-answer session afterwards were aimed at him.
Asked about attacks on the media, Merkel said: “Freedom of the press is a pillar of democracy.”
Source: The Guardian