In Tense Times, Mattis Credits Allies as Key to US Defense Strategy

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis accepts award from the Center for the National Interest on July 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (DoD Photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis accepts award from the Center for the National Interest on July 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (DoD Photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday night that the allies America has gained since World War II remain a key part of the Pentagon's national defense strategy, countering his commander in chief's criticism of NATO partners for underspending on defense.

"I had the privilege to fight for America many times; I never fought in a solely American formation," Mattis told an audience upon accepting the Center for the National Interest's 2018 Distinguished Service Award.

"The greatest generation created these alliances to which we owe so much because history is clear: Nations with allies thrive, those without wither," he added.

Mattis' comments conflicted with President Donald Trump's disapproving remarks of fellow NATO nations at a meeting in Brussels in early July while attempting to pressure European countries to spend more on defense.

Trump tweeted that the United States "pays tens of Billions of Dollars too much to subsidize Europe" and demanded NATO members make good on their promise to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense, The Associated Press reported.

One of the priorities of the Pentagon's 2018 National Defense Strategy calls for strengthening America's existing alliances and building new partnerships, Mattis said.

But he tried to put recent tensions between the U.S. and its partners into perspective, adding that true allies will survive disagreements.

"Trusted and honest allies will always have disagreements on secondary issues, but those who believe today's debates are unprecedented have not read enough history," Mattis said. "Nothing under the sun is new. Nothing we face now is harder than the strains of the Suez Crisis of 1956 or the Euromissile debates of the 1970s.

"Like us, our allies have recognized the dangers looming," he said. "And from Europe to the Pacific, traditional and non-traditional partners are now spending more on defense as democracies stand together. From Nordic lands to the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, we are building stronger military ties."

But strong allies are only part of an effective defense strategy, Mattis said.

"We are restoring military readiness and building a more lethal force. Our adversaries must know: Work with our diplomats, for if you threaten our experiment in democracy, if our military is called to the forefront, it will be your longest and worst day," he said.

"A capable military is key to deterring conflict. Our military is returning to its readiness to fight and win, the best way to enhance deterrence and stability and to avoid war," Mattis said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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