U.S. Backs NATO but Urges Europe to Boost Military Spending
MUNICH—Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. would be unwavering in its commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but demanded that Europe step up its military spending, marking one of the Trump administration’s most full-throated efforts yet to reassure nervous partners.
Mr. Pence, speaking at the Munich Security Conference to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and scores of other leaders and senior officials from around the world, said he was bringing to Europe a message from President Donald Trump about the importance of the trans-Atlantic bond. He promised Europe that the U.S. would be “your greatest ally.”
“We will stand with Europe,” Mr. Pence said.
It was the broadest speech on foreign policy that a member of the Trump administration has delivered abroad, and part of a barrage of speeches by top officials aimed at reassuring allies that have been rattled by Mr. Trump’s comments that NATO was obsolete.
But though Mr. Pence promised the U.S. would continue to “hold Russia accountable” for its military intervention in Ukraine, he didn’t address many of European allies’ broader concerns, particularly on how the new administration views the European Union.
Ms. Merkel, speaking before him, refrained from criticizing Mr. Trump directly but delivered a defense of multilateral institutions, including NATO, the United Nations and the EU. She said Germany would continue increasing its military spending until it reaches 2% of gross domestic product, the NATO standard. But she cautioned against believing that “security is only ensured by raising one’s defense spending.”
Speaking later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the West and Moscow needed to abandon confrontation and turn to dialogue. By working together, Moscow and the West can “overcome the post-truth period and abandon the hysteric information wars…Let it be a post-fake era.” But he criticized NATO’s expansion and military buildup in Eastern Europe, as well as Western support for Ukraine.
He added that Moscow is looking for a new kind of world order, one where Russia has a loud voice. “If you want you can call it a post-West world order,” he said.
Mr. Lavrov also said the U.S. has produced few hard facts backing up its accusation of Russian interference in the American presidential election, which Moscow denies. He said people complained that Mr. Trump provided no evidence when he said there was voter fraud in U.S. election but didn’t demand evidence in this case.
European officials were muted in their criticism of Mr. Trump in Munich. Many appeared to be looking for common ground or gentle comparisons between European and U.S. foreign policy.
Some officials pushed back against isolation.
“We are linked across the Atlantic with our friends in the United States,” said Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign-policy chief. “When we see that it is Europe that needs America, it is also America that needs Europe.”
Others called for security spending in Europe to be viewed through a bigger lens. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel pushed back on demands for additional military spending, arguing that nations should also evaluate how much is spent on development aid and other issues, including support for migrants.
German, French and European officials all argued that Europe should increase its spending through the EU to get more capability for every euro spent.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has taken up Mr. Trump’s call for allies to spend more on defense and has been pressing allies to develop spending plans ahead of the president’s visit to Europe in May. On Thursday, Mr. Stoltenberg evoked Mr. Trump’s inauguration day slogan while trying to make the point that it is in the U.S. interest to continue to work with Europe. “I don’t believe ‘America First’ means ‘America Alone,’” Mr. Stoltenberg said.
Since Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s visit to Brussels last week, European leaders have been wondering what the U.S. might do to reduce its commitment to Europe should allies not spend more on defense.
On Saturday, Mr. Pence took one option off the table. He promised the U.S. would continue to support its contribution to the NATO deterrent force in Poland and the Baltic states. And he said the Trump administration would boost its military spending to strengthen its forces and better protect NATO allies.
“Peace only comes through strength,” Mr. Pence said. “President Trump believes we must be strong in our military might.”
But he was careful to add that Mr. Trump was clear that the alliance would be weakened if European allies didn’t do their part by increasing spending.
Without mentioning Mr. Trump, Ms. Merkel pushed back against the notion that the West is at war with Islam. German officials worry that Mr. Trump’s emphasis on bringing NATO more directly into waging the war on terrorism—rather than doing so in a broader coalition with Arab countries, as the Obama administration did—could feed anti-Western attitudes in the Middle East.
“The Europeans alone cannot finish the fight against terrorism—we need the military power of the United States of America,” Ms. Merkel said. “But it is just as important to me that we have pulled Islamic, Muslim states into this coalition, since I believe that it is these very states that must contribute to making it clear that a misguided Islam, rather than Islam itself, is the cause of terrorism.”