- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2017

The Trump administration’s demand that all NATO members begin meeting their financial requirements to invest in Europe’s collective defense is “clear, firm and fair,” the alliance’s chief said Monday.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN that he agreed with U.S. President Trump an “unfair burden sharing” exists among NATO allies, and added that alliance members cannot simply expect the U.S. to pay the lion’s share of investment.

“We are starting to turn the corner” on those investments, the NATO chief said, adding that countries such as Romania and Latvia are poised to reach the alliance’s goal of 2 percent of a member nation’s GDP that must be invested into the alliance’s collective arsenal.

When asked what the ramifications would be from the U.S. on the alliance, should top-tier allies like Germany and France not meet the 2 percent goal, Mr. Stoltenberg replied: “My focus is what can we do to succeed.”

His comments came just as Vice President Mike Pence delivered an ultimatum to the European Union that its countries needed to meet or exceed the 2 percent minimum, or suffer the consequences.

“America will do our part. But Europe’s defense requires Europe’s commitment as well as ours,” Mr. Pence said Monday during a speech at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

“The president expects real progress by the end of 2017,” the vice president said, adding that “the patience of the American people will not endure forever.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis echoed a similar message during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels earlier this month.

Less than half of the dozen NATO member countries currently meet the 2 percent goal, Mr. Mattis said.

“By contrast, the commitment of other nations lags considerably despite benefiting from the best defense in the world,” he added during a speech Wednesday.

“Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do,” the former four-star general said, adding: “If your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals need to show support for the common defense.”

During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump repeatedly questioned the relevance of the alliance and whether the Cold War-era organization is unable to counter modern-day threats from extremist groups such as the Islamic State.

Mr. Trump went so far as to opine publicly in April that NATO countries who have ostensibly shirked their fiscal responsibilities should be removed from the alliance.

“And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO,” he told The Washington Post in March.

Despite such criticism, Mr. Stoltenberg remained convinced Washington would stand alongside the alliance as NATO members in Eastern Europe face growing threats from Russia and its allies.

“The message from all of them is that the United States is strongly committed … and will continue to support [NATO] not only in words but in deeds,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

The vice president made similar comments regarding Washington’s resolve, saying the U.S. “is committed to continuing and expanding our collaboration on the collective security of all of our peoples.”

“The United States’ commitment to the European Union is steadfast and enduring,” Mr. Pence said.

Dave Boyer contributed to this report

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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