Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to clear up possible confusion on the U.S. commitment to NATO by declaring Thursday that President Donald Trump is "100 percent" in support of the alliance.
Despite Trump's clashes with NATO members over their defense spending, Mattis said the 29-member alliance is "stronger today than it was yesterday, stronger today than it was a month ago, stronger today than it was a year ago."
He said the U.S. commitment to NATO and members' pledges to mutual defense are "exactly as the president described it -- 100 percent committed to NATO," Reuters reported.
Mattis made the comments to reporters traveling with him as he left the NATO summit in Brussels for talks with military counterparts in NATO-member countries Croatia and then Norway on alliance readiness initiatives along NATO's southern and northern flanks.
On Wednesday, Mattis was a silent witness at a series of meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where Trump berated and argued with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others. Trump demanded that all NATO members spend at least two percent of their gross domestic products on defense and possibly double that to four percent.
Trump threw out statistics that appeared to be wildly off the mark. He charged that the U.S. is paying 90 percent of NATO's costs, although NATO officials maintain that the U.S. contribution is about 22 percent.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Merkel rejected the demands, but Trump on Thursday claimed success.
At a hastily arranged news conference before leaving Brussels, he said, "I let them [NATO members] know that I was extremely unhappy with what was happening. People are paying, money that they never paid before, and the U.S. is being treated much more fairly."
The president and first lady Melania Trump later flew to Britain, where he will spend the weekend before leaving next week for Helsinki, Finland, and a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mattis has previously taken on the task of reassuring NATO allies of the U.S. commitment following similar criticisms by Trump that member states are not paying enough for U.S. protection.
With Army Gen. Curtis M. "Mike" Scaparrotti, the supreme commander of NATO and head of U.S. European Command, Mattis has quietly worked to bolster the NATO presence in the Baltic states, enhance the training of Ukraine's military and reform NATO's command structure.
With Mattis' guidance, NATO is in the process of setting up two new military commands -- one in Norfolk, Virginia, and a second in Ulm, Germany -- aimed at speeding up its response to potential Russian aggression.
NATO has also signed onto the so-called U.S. "30-30-30-30 plan" to have 30 land battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 ships ready to deploy within 30 days of being put on alert.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.