- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2018

Defense Secretary James Mattis praised the progress made by NATO allies toward the administration’s defense spending plans, with the former four-star general noting the effort represents the enduring importance of the Cold War-era alliance.

“You see the defense portfolios being raised everywhere,” he said after concluding a recent visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels. “[Just] to look around that room and see 29 nations all working together … you have to remember the fundamental strength of that alliance.”

His comments came despite statements from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that only half of the 29-nation alliance were on track to meet the 2 percent investment of their country’s gross domestic product into Europe’s joint defense.

“Fair burden-sharing is crucial for our shared security,” the NATO chief said during a press conference at the onset of this month’s NATO ministerial in Brussels. He noted the 15 nations expected to hit the 2 percent mark in the next six years represented “substantial progress and a good start.”

In addition, Canada and its European allies in NATO have increased major weapon buys for the alliance’s collective defense by $19 billion since 2016, he said. The alliance, as a whole, is anticipated to sent aside at least 20 percent of their military budgets toward NATO weapons, equipment and operations, Mr. Stoltenberg added at the time.

But alliance leaders “still have a long way to go” before getting all NATO countries on board with the investment plan, Mr. Stoltenberg said. Mr. Mattis took a more optimistic take on Mr. Stoltenberg’s assessment, saying each alliance partner’s strategy toward hitting the 2 percent mark would be different, but the main goal among NATO nations remains the same.

“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,” the Pentagon chief said. Mr. Mattis‘ praise echoes comments made by President Trump on the issue.

“Because of our actions, money is starting to pour into NATO,” Mr. Trump said during a joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in June. “The money is starting to pour in. Other countries are starting to realize that it’s time to pay up, and they’re doing that. Very proud of that fact.”

The issue of global investment has come to define the Trump White House’s occasionally testy relationship with NATO, which then candidate Trump had made into a pillar of his defense and foreign policy platform.

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