Tillerson to NATO: Get It Together in the Next Two Months, Or …

Pony up, cowboys.

On Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told NATO allies in Brussels that the United States is spending a “disproportionate amount” on defense compared to other NATO members. He also said that he expects NATO allies to either increase their defense spending or come up with plans to do so by May 25, when President Donald Trump will meet with other NATO member heads of government, according to the Associated Press.

That’s a continuation of Bush and Obama administration policy in many ways — Washington for years has urged NATO countries to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense, something that only four other countries do. But the Trump administration has turned up the volume. Trump himself on the campaign threatened to reduce U.S. support if NATO allies don’t cough up more. And at a February meeting in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Washington will “moderate its commitment” if NATO allies do not begin paying more.

Many NATO member countries have acknowledged that they need to increase their defense spending. The tricky part is getting there. Germany, for example, is planning to hit the 2 percent target — not by May, but by 2024.

Seven countries, including Canada, would essentially have to double their defense spending to reach that target. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that, aside from money, “it’s also really important to look at capabilities and what countries are actually doing.”

Tillerson’s comments may have been intended for his boss back home, who appears to believe that other countries not spending domestically on defense is the equivalent of owing a debt to the United States. Still, ultimatums don’t always go down well at NATO — especially since the only time in its history the alliance has activated the mutual defense clause was after Trump’s hometown came under attack in 2001.

Less controversially, Tillerson also said that the United States will keep sanctions on Russia until Moscow “reverses the actions” that led to sanctions being put on in the first place — that is, annexing Crimea and invading Ukraine.


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