In a meeting with his British counterpart on the sidelines of a NATO defense ministers conference in Brussels today, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis noted his intent to keep the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom uniquely close by actively tending to it and showing it remains a cornerstone of U.S. security and defense policy, a spokesperson for Mattis said in a statement.
Navy Cmdr. Sarah Higgins said Mattis also thanked Defense Secretary Michael Fallon for his country’s sustained leadership in NATO, acknowledged the United Kingdom’s increased defense spending, and discussed opportunities to adapt the alliance in response to increased threats.
The two leaders pledged to continue their dialogue on shared security interests and on their nations’ bilateral defense agenda, Higgins added.
Mattis is in Brussels to attend the defense ministers conference and to meet with partners in the coalition countering the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. He also will attend the Munich Security Conference in Germany during thisoverseas trip.
Mattis highlighted the U.S. commitment to NATO, stressing the alliance’s importance in regional and global security while calling on nations to meet their military funding commitments.
“For seven decades the world has watched NATO become the most successful and powerful military alliance in modern history,” Mattis said in prepared remarks to a NATO defense ministerial meeting in Brussels.
Mattis, who as a Marine Corps general served as NATO’s supreme allied commander for transformation, noted how the security landscape has changed in recent years, to include threats from Russia as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
“The year 2014 awakened us to a new reality: Russia used force to alter the borders of one of its sovereign neighbors, and on Turkey’s border ISIS emerged and introduced a ruthless breed of terror, intent on seizing territory and establishing a caliphate,” he said.
While some in the 28-member alliance “have looked away in denial of what is happening,” he said, NATO needs to adapt to meet the changing security situations.
“For despite the threats from the east and south, we have failed to fill gaps in our NATO Response Force or to adapt to modem threats, or increase the readiness of much of our force structure,” he said.
The transatlantic alliance is built on the common defense of its members, Mattis pointed out. It arose out of strategic necessity and now must now evolve for that same reason, he said.
“Our community of nations is under threat on multiple fronts as the arc of insecurity builds on NATO’s periphery and beyond,” he said. “We must act in the interests of our ‘democratic islands of stability’ if we are to live up to our responsibilities as guardians for our nations and sentinels watching for threats.”
The transatlantic bond is “essential to countering Islamic extremism, to blocking Russia’s efforts to weaken democracies, and to addressing a more assertive China,” he said.
NATO, he said, must tighten its decision cycle both in determining the actions of the alliance and in resourcing those decisions with robust and interoperable capabilities, he said.
He told the assembled defense leaders that NATO, with its members’ shared commitment, will remain what President Dwight D. Eisenhower described as a “valuable, necessary, and constructive force.”